History suggests inefficient economies benefit the most.Where Does New Technology Have the Biggest Impact?
Capitalisn’t: Is Discrimination Still Causing the Gender Pay Gap?
- October 07, 2021
- CBR - Economics
In her book Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity, Harvard’s Claudia Goldin says that though the gender pay gap persists, it’s not clear that gender discrimination is currently driving it. She thinks that job design may be the real culprit, and that we need to rethink the flexibility and substitutability of work. On this episode of the Capitalisn’t podcast, Goldin joins hosts Luigi Zingales and Bethany McLean to discuss the gender pay gap and the ideas presented in her book.
Claudia Goldin: I think of patriarchy as being at the root of many of the norms and traditions that we carry with us. I don’t know whether I would say that it’s reinforced by “capitalism.”
Bethany: I’m Bethany McLean.
Phil Donahue: Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism and whether greed’s a good idea?
Luigi: And I’m Luigi Zingales.
Bernie Sanders: We have socialism for the very rich, rugged individualism for the poor.
Bethany: And this is Capitalisn’t, a podcast about what is working in capital-ism.
Milton Friedman: First of all, tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed?
Luigi: And, most importantly, what isn’t.
Warren Buffett: We ought to do better by the people that get left behind. I don’t think we should kill the capitalist system in the process.
Luigi: One of the problems the pandemic has exacerbated is the tension be-tween our work and our family. They used to be separated in two different places. Now, it’s not even clear they’re separated into different rooms, depending on how many rooms you have in your house. And we are very fortunate to have today as a guest Claudia Goldin, who is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University.
It’s not out of the question that in a week she might win the Nobel Prize for gender studies. Honestly, she was a pioneer on that. My favorite paper is actually the blind audition for the orches-tra, where she follows an experiment by an orchestra to do blind auditions. All of a sudden, the number of female members of the orchestra went up dramatically as a result of the blind auditions. The directors of the orchestra were somewhat influenced in their decision by the gender of the person. She and Cecilia Rouse, the coauthor, proved that this is wrong, and maybe it is even a sub-conscious bias, which makes it more difficult to uproot, but it does exist.
Bethany: I think that’s true in so many competitive fields today. It wasn’t so long ago that the editor of the Atlantic, or one of the editors of the Atlantic, said that it was such a shame that there weren’t more women who were ca-pable of writing a 10,000-word cover story. And I wondered at the time, if you presented him with blind drafts written by people, would he be able to tell that one was written by a man and one was written by a woman?
And I thought, is there something about my writing that marks it as being somehow feminine? I don’t think so. It was yet another example of how, in these very competitive fields, people’s per-ception of what they read, what they hear or what they read, is shaped by their gender views. Their very subconscious gender views and, of course, racial views as well.
Luigi: I think what I find remarkable, given this paper about the blind orches-tra experiment, I find it interesting that her book Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity emphasizes that the biggest obstacle today is not discrimination, but it is the organization of work.
This is really quite an alternative view of the world. First of all, this is a very scholarly book, but I think it’s certainly not a people-pleasing answer. And so, I think that she is owed—at least by me, but hopefully by a lot of other people—a big round of applause for her academic integrity, which I think is something that is rare these days, and so when you see it, you have to recognize it.
I don’t want to read too much into your book, but when I read it, my impression is that you are saying that, given this extraordinary progress we have seen, now this situation of women is much more a problem of technology and location of work than of discrimination. The discrimination is in the past, and now it is more trying to restructure the work so that you can do both, to some ex-tent.
Claudia Goldin: It’s not just the correct reading of what I’m saying, but if you read just about any work on the summary work on the gender gap in earnings, you will see that the gap has diminished by a tremendous amount. And what we can explain in the gap is very, very small now. We used to be able to explain quite a lot on the basis of differences in the x’s, the education, for example, experience, and now the gap is much smaller, and we can explain a much smaller amount.
Among the very best of these is a review piece by Fran Blau and Larry Kahn, when they compile evidence from a host of studies, and their answer is that even putting together all of the, what one might call the conventional and unconventional explanations, they’re just not going very far.
Let me step back and say that there are a lot of bad actors. I’ve encountered them, I’ve got my own stories. Every woman in the business has stories. Getting rid of the bad actors is a very, very good thing. It’s sort of like having cockroaches in your New York City apartment. You should get rid of as many cockroaches as you can, but you are still going to have cockroaches. But your enjoyment of that apartment is not a function entirely, or even to a very great degree, of the cockroaches. And so, get rid of the cockroaches, but that’s not really the big issue.
Bethany: Can you pause on that a little bit, because I found that we read so much about the gender wage gap, and we all assume must mean discrimination. And you really get underneath that number to show what it is and what it isn’t. Can you talk about that for a little bit? Because I found that totally fascinating.
Claudia Goldin: Sure. Absolutely. My sense of what’s going on is that we know that the gender gap widens enormously when families are formed, that women begin to reach some plateau. Men, on the other hand . . . One of the most annoying things is that in all em-pirical work we find that men with children seem to get a boost in terms of their earnings.
How we explain that is a whole other thing. But I think that the main issue is that it has some-thing to do with caregiving responsibilities, mainly with children but not necessarily with children. And this doesn’t mean that women leave the workforce. It means that they take positions in which flexibility is cheaper. Every job can be flexible, but it’s the cost of flexibility that really matters. And so, I think about this in terms of the concept of greedy work.
Greedy work is a very simple concept. It means that the implicit earnings per unit of time in-creases with the amount of time or with the type of time: rush, on-call work, work on weekends, evenings, vacations. And the concept really matters a lot, because a couple with children—and it could be a heterosexual couple, or it could be a same-sex couple—they’re going to be torn be-tween career and family.
Someone has to be the on-call, at-home parent. That doesn’t mean that parent has to be at home, it’s you have to be on call at home. But for many couples, having a 50-50 relationship on jobs or greedy becomes extremely expensive. Children require time, and time is often uncertain, and one parent must have the ability to be on call at home. But that means that person can’t be on call in the office, and the greedier the work, the more the couple will need to give up to have both of them be on call at home.
And this means the more expensive time is in terms of flexible time, at work, the more the couple will specialize. And one person is going to be the lawyer in the boutique firm, and one is going to be a lawyer in the Park Avenue firm. One’s going to be a full professor at Ohio State and one’s going to be an adjunct. And for heterosexual couples, interestingly, this means that couple equity and gender equality are actually the two sides of the same coin. When you give up couple equity, you actually increase gender inequality. For same-sex couples, you only get only one part of that.
Bethany: I can’t help reading that as sort of a hopeless situation, which may reflect my ongoing slightly cynical take to the world. But work isn’t going to get less greedy, and if particularly in those jobs that do offer the opportunity for the highest incomes, whether it’s a partner at a law firm or the CEO of an investment bank. There was just a stunning statistic today that women are now 60 percent of all college students. But we don’t see that translating into For-tune 500 CEOs.
Claudia Goldin: Women have been 50 percent or more of college students and college graduates in America ever since 1980. That’s 40 years ago. Women were a larger frac-tion of high school graduates throughout the entire early part of the 20th century in every state of the US. Women do better in school. Why is it that the caregiving responsibilities fall mainly on women? And that has to do with primarily the fact that traditions die hard.
But now, let me bring us more into the very, very present. Has anything happened to the cost and the price of flexibility recently? I think it has. I think that the price of flexibility has gone down, that if the pandemic did one good thing, if there was any silver lining to this incredible dark cloud that has descended on us, we learned that you could do a deal in Tokyo, you could do a handshake in Beijing without going there.
And this means that a very large number of women who couldn’t take those trips because they were the primary . . . They were the person who was on call at home. You can’t be on call at home and be in a plane going to Tokyo . . . that they can do that. So maybe we’ve done something good, maybe these little squares . . . I feel as if I know Bethany. Of course, I know Luigi. I see Bethany smile, I trust Bethany. I’m going to sign a contract with her.
Bethany: Except that doesn’t square with the numbers that we have seen so far. And of course, we are talking at the different ends of the income spectrum. But we have seen most of the job losses and the brunt of jobs losses have been borne by women.
Claudia Goldin: Actually, Bethany, let’s bring that up to date. I have a piece that I have to revise, but it’s on the web somewhere, which is essentially about five somewhat misleading state-ments the press has made in the past couple of months.
Bethany: Say it isn’t so.
Claudia Goldin: So, yes. Women have borne the brunt of lots of different things, particularly the mothers of school-aged children. But in fact, they’ve stayed in the work-force, and the fact that they’ve stayed in the workforce is the reason why they’re so stressed. Whether this is going to have an impact in the future on their careers, and that’s something that we don’t have a lot of data on yet, the people who have been hurt the most are the less-educated women. The most-educated women, the ones with college degrees, have been hurt a lot less, in terms of job loss. In fact, by today, it’s pretty even with men.
Luigi: So, I think one of the interesting aspects is that you suggest that a lot the current wage gap is due to job design. That jobs are designed so that people are now very sub-stitutable, and so there is a premium for people who are willing to put in the extra hours, or they can put in the extra hours.
But one puzzling aspect is, if I am a corporation, I do want to design jobs to be substitutable, because it’s in the interest of the company to do so. And you have this interesting example of a pharmacist, which is that when pharmacies were independently owned, there was more the role of the single pharmacist, and so men were prevailing on the job. And as pharmacies became more corporate-owned, they broke down the job in a way that was easily done by either. And so, women fare as well as men in the corporate pharmacies.
The question I had is, why is it so difficult to redesign other jobs in that direction, because this seems to be the ultimate barrier for gender equality?
Claudia Goldin: But I think it is being done, so I have lots of other examples, too. And clearly, the more expensive it is for the firm, the more incentive there is going to be for them to do that. For example, a couple of years ago, I got a letter from Bank of America, saying, “Congratulations, rather than having one personal banker devoted to you, you now have a team.” It’s a team of substitutes.
When we think of the word “team,” team is two types. You can have a team of complements or a team of substitutes. A team of substitutes would drive down the cost of flexibility. A team of complements drives up the cost of flexibility. But we should also look at examples from pediatrics, not just pharmacy, because pediatrics was less from some technological changes from the outside, and it was more from demand from the inside.
We like to think that workers have voice, and they have exit. And voice and exit often bring about change. We see it in veterinary medicine. If I call up my local veterinary clinic at 10 at night, there is a message that sends me to a regional hospital. And these regional hospitals have grown enormously, they are popping up all over, just like what happened in pharmacies, they are corpo-rate owned. So, yes, firms should respond, and some firms are responding.
Bethany: But aren’t you guys talking about—and my numbers are going to be directional but not precise—aren’t you guys talking about the top 10 percent of wage-earning jobs, not the top 1 percent? Because in that top 1 percent, whether it’s partner at a law firm, partner at an investment bank, private-equity partner, they have no interest in being substitutable, and will do everything they can not to be substitutable. And there is no evidence that’s changing on any level, and people’s interest—unlike, Luigi, an example of a firm where it might be in a corpora-tion’s interest for people to be substitutable—it is not in those people’s interest at all.
Claudia Goldin: Up until several years ago, I used to say, there are certainly a number of in-dividuals in the economy and in the polity that I don’t want to be substitutable. One is the presi-dent of the United States. But then there was four years when I didn’t say that.
So, there is no question that there may be individuals—the CEO, for example—who may be less substitutable. But then there are lots of others. There are all sorts of lawyers who are far more sub-stitutable for each other, and what is going to improve that substitutability is the ability to hand off information. It’s all about information, it’s all about maintaining the large amount of information that individuals have, to hand it over so that it is perfectly well understood.
The other part is client trust. My lawyer is a member of a small, you might call it boutique, law firm of several women. My lawyer is one of three lawyers. Just like Bethany has two children, she had obstetricians for each one of them, I imagine that she didn’t have a home birth with her mother-in-law. And she had several obstetricians, because an obstetrician can deliver only one ba-by at a time. Now, why is it that a legal brief is more complicated than delivering a baby?
Luigi: Sorry, I think that Bethany raises a very good point, which is in many professions, the members of the profession want to be nonsubstitutable. I think about law part-ners, they have control. They make it not substitutable on purpose. On the other hand, there is a pressure from the corporation. If the corporation has power, they will make everybody substituta-ble, because they want to compress their wages. And so—
Claudia Goldin: Luigi, all you need is one substitute, OK?
Luigi: I understand. I understand, but—
Claudia Goldin: All you need is one. You really think that’s going to reduce like, there’s Luigi Zingales one, and Luigi Zingales two. And they’re identical. I know this is scary for everybody, but you’re absolutely identical. But there is no Luigi Zingales n, we just stop at two. And two might be enough, so that if his baby is crying and he has to run home or take care of it, Luigi Zingales two takes over.
Luigi: No, I understand it from a point of view of gender equality, two is enough. From the point of view of the company, if I want to squeeze your wages, probably I want to have three or four. Having a lot of substitutability reduces, of course, the premium. My concern is that we are going to see sectors where there is wage equality, but it is a bit like socialist equality in misery, it is equality in low wages.
And then there are the really high-value sectors, where there’s no substitutability, by design or by impossibility, where there are the huge salaries, and where men will prevail. And so, yes, con-trolling for industry sector, the gender wage gap disappears. But surprise, surprise, all the men are in the sectors that make a lot of money, and all the women are in the sectors where there is equal misery.
Claudia Goldin: Some of it depends upon how much you value couple equity. If these guys do not want to have couple equity, then that’s the way it’s going to be. But my guess is that more and more younger people want to have more couple equity. My sense is that it’s hap-pening in many, many different places.
Bethany: It’s interesting, I was thinking when you were talking that maybe part of the subterranean conversation that going on is about substitutability and the substitutability of jobs. The conversation has really moved, and we need to be looking at jobs and whether or not they are substitutable, and whether or not we’re encouraging that if we really want to make pro-gress on this issue of gender equity. And it’s a more subterranean discussion in some way, or a more subterranean battle or struggle than the idea of just looking at the gender wage gap.
Claudia Goldin: I think that’s an excellent point. And I think that one of the reasons that this has eluded us so much is that it is somewhat subterranean. Everybody knew that flexibility mattered. People have been waving banners, “increase flexibility in the workplace.” Just about everyone who has a kid will say, “I need more flexibility.” And my answer is, you don’t need more flexibility, you need cheap flexibility. Because flexibility has always been expensive.
Luigi: As a man trying to promote women, for example, in the academic pro-fession, if I take your lesson seriously, what we should really spend time on is making, for example, the timing of tenure more adjustable, making the committee structure more flexible. Investing in flexibility rather than being concerned that women are discriminated against or trying to favor women in some form, in hiring decisions or in promotion decisions.
Claudia Goldin: Universities have been put in a very strange position. This is going to feed into Bethany’s pessimism, so I am sorry, Bethany. We thought we were going in the right direction with this when we said, “We want to be equal, and so any parent who has or adopts a child is going to get time off from teaching.”
We thought that we were being very fair and that we were doing something that was going to enable women relative to men. And, as many people know, there is a great paper that was written that showed us what all academics know, which is that when a woman gets a leave because she has a kid, she actually takes care of the kid 100 percent, and when a man gets the same, he writes a lot of papers.
And so, the point is that what Luigi wants is not easy to design. I mean, we have some very, very clever market designers, and we need them to figure out what to do. We know, for example, from recent work that even transparency in salaries backfires. All I can say is that women should be better negotiators and the most important thing that they should negotiate is their spouse.
Bethany: The world does, though, have an interesting way of wiggling free at attempts at equality, per your point, Luigi, and I thought about a lot of this as it applies to finance. Because in some ways, the advent of Dodd-Frank, and the conversion of investment banks into banks post the global financial crisis, had the result of a kind of equality in that all of those big firms have very deliberate policies in place to create gender equality.
And you have seen more women rise to positions of power within those firms. But at the very same time, as a result of regulation in the wake of the financial crisis—and, again, take this with a grain of salt, this is a journalist’s observation rather than empirical evidence. But the seat of mon-ey-making moved to private-equity firms and hedge funds, which is where people now make the tens, and twenties, and hundreds of millions of dollars. And in those places, there are no more women in high-ranking positions than were in the investment banks of old. So, even as the big banking sector became more friendly to women, the real money-making and power on Wall Street moved away from that.
Claudia Goldin: Yeah, this is a very, very good point, one that I haven’t thought much about. But this isn’t the case in which it’s a CEO that we can say, “Oh, if this is ap-pointed by a board of directors, let’s change boards of directors,” and then we do, and then noth-ing happens, and then we wonder why. This is different. Thanks for a new topic to explore, Betha-ny.
Luigi: But private-equity firms have boards of directors, too, and most im-portantly, they have funders that might demand more equality, because most of the funders are actually institutions, including the two we work for. So, I think that as funders, they could demand more gender equality there, too.
Claudia Goldin: How do you do that if women don’t go into private equi-ty?
Luigi: But they don’t go into private equity because they are not welcome, or because . . . I’m sure that if the moment the funders want to see, let’s say, at least 30 percent women, they are going to find 30 percent women. I witnessed what happened in Italy. Several years ago, they introduced a gender-equality law for boards of directors. The initial reaction was that there aren’t enough qualified women, and I knew that was wrong, because I actually wit-nessed it firsthand.
I was on the board of a company, and there was a proposal for one new member. I proposed a woman, everybody else wanted a man, and it happened that they were both academics. And so, in every other dimension, they were very comparable. I lost my vote 14 to 1, which was not unusual, because I specialize in fighting losing battles. But shortly afterward, when the law was passed, this person was hired as a board member, and a lot of other women were hired, and a lot of other women were available and qualified, And so, I think that sometimes you need a little bit of a push to make a difference.
Bethany: Maybe. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming decade. I’m going to try to be optimistic instead of my usual pessimism. So, I will say, yes, Luigi, that sounds right.
Claudia Goldin: I find it interesting that many economists are optimistic. I’m not quite certain why, but I am a very optimistic person.
Bethany: That’s interesting, whereas more journalists tend toward cynicism and pessimism, and I wonder why that is. That’s for a different field of study, right?
Luigi: But if you look at the economic history of the world, the economic history of the world is quite positive, if you think about how poor we were.
Claudia Goldin: And it’s quite positive in terms of the fact that the market does good things. I’ve always wanted to write a paper about, before the pandemic, about how the growth of the market saved more lives than most medical advances.
Luigi: To this point, I think that some radical feminists put together capital-ism and the patriarchy and women’s oppression. Since our podcast is called Capitalisn’t, I want to know, what is the relationship between capitalism and feminism, or the rise of women’s equality? How do you see the two related?
Claudia Goldin: I think of patriarchy as being at the root of many of the norms and traditions that we carry with us. I don’t know whether I would say that it’s reinforced by “capitalism” and, to be perfectly frank, as a historian, I’ve never understood the term capitalism as used more broadly, because as a historian, capitalism is the separation of the ownership of capital from labor, but we use it to mean something bigger, having to do with global finance.
I think that I would much rather separate them and not think about the growth of the market as being the primary problem, but, in fact, that the growth of the market has countered patriarchy to an enormous degree. We see this in a stark relief in places like Korea and Japan and Hong Kong, but particularly in Korea and Japan, economic change was so rapid, educational change was so rap-id. And norms and tradition change far more slowly that educated women find themselves in a sit-uation in which they can’t have career and family, it’s really one or the other.
And an entire group has . . . There are names for young women who have careers. They’re called Gold Misses. Every one of these countries has a different name for this. So, in fact, if any-thing, I see the growth of markets, if that’s what we mean by capitalism, as fighting against holding women down, holding any group down.
Bethany: I was struck by a statistic in your book when I was reading it, that 20 to 25 percent of economic growth since 1960 is because of reduced barriers to employment for women. But it reminded of something Warren Buffett has said, which is, how can we have a fully functioning economy if we are leaving out half the workforce or depriving half the workforce of the ability to maximize its potential?
Claudia Goldin: That’s exactly right. And the question is, are we doing it, or is it coming from this more complicated set of structures that we’re talking about? Is it the cock-roaches? Because if it’s the cockroaches, we can just step on them. We could seal off the holes, we could call an exterminator. But it’s not the cockroaches only, it’s something more complex.
Luigi: Thank you very much, Claudia. I have to run.
Claudia Goldin: It was a pleasure talking to you, Luigi, and a pleasure meeting you, Bethany.
Bethany: The concept of greedy work to me is really, really interesting, be-cause I think that’s incredibly true. But I still do think that the existence of greedy work is a form of discrimination. Maybe it’s not causal, but there is certainly a correlation between the rise of these jobs that are the very, very tippy top of the income spectrum, the fact that they are incredibly male-dominated and the fact that they, by their nature, exclude women.
It’s structural discrimination as much as the structure of the family before the birth control pill, and there are cases where the woman is the one who goes to her greedy job, and the husband is the one who stays home. But those are still few and far between. The burdens of raising children, whether it’s the young years of children or frankly, these years . . . I was just talking to a friend of mine, who like me has a full-time job, and we are both going crazy with the amount of effort it takes to schedule our children and get them to their activities.
That burden falls on us. By its nature, it means that you can’t be all in on your job, and I can’t help but see a kind of structural discrimination in that. And then, of course, there is the fact that if divorce happens, whatever bargain the couple may have arrived at between themselves about who is going to do the greedy jobs ends up hurting the person who didn’t choose the greedy job, and that becomes a form of ongoing discrimination as well.
I guess what I am quibbling about is the idea that her work shows there isn’t discrimination. I think it’s discrimination, just of a different kind than it was in the past, perhaps.
Luigi: Let me push back a bit. There is no doubt that there are cultural fac-tors that make it difficult, and there is no doubt that the most highly paid professions are highly male-dominated, and they are greedy jobs. The question I have is whether this is done in a very economic way as a barrier to entry or this is done because these jobs want to keep out wom-en.
Why has the pharmacy profession changed so much, as Claudia documents? Because in the old days, it was an independent profession, where there was a relationship between the pharmacist and the clients. And so, to be there 24/7 was a big advantage, and it was a profitable profession where there were a lot of men in it. What brought equality, paradoxically, was corporate America that took over pharmacies, reduced that to very substitutable jobs, dramatically decreased the sal-ary, and made it very easy for men and women to do it equally.
And that’s the reason why the discrimination disappeared. Now, if I’m an investment banker, I want to try to protect the relationship with my clients by putting every possible obstacle in front of other people to do the same. Am I putting up an obstacle because you are a woman? No, I am putting up an obstacle because I am putting up an obstacle for everyone. And I make young associ-ates work to midnight every night to make it difficult to enter into this profession and maintain the rent I have today.
Bethany: I think that’s fair. I would point out that when it comes to the pharmacists, the fact that the pay of the job fell dramatically as women entered it, to me, sort of proves my point. And yes, to your point, I think men who are trying to protect their very high-earning jobs are trying to keep everybody out, not just women, but the structure of our society makes it easier for them to keep women out, because they can say, “Well, you can’t be here for the client meeting. You can’t answer the phone at 11 p.m.”
The primary reason for doing it isn’t to keep the women out, but the structure of our society makes it easy to keep women who choose to have children out. And then it’s a form of discrimina-tion, because it raises the barrier to success for women. Even though it’s not employer-sanctioned discrimination and it’s not directly because of a woman’s sex.
Luigi: Yeah, if you want to call every form of barrier to entry discrimination, that’s fine. That becomes semantic. But if you are a single father, you are in the same situation as if you are a single mother, vis-à-vis those kinds of jobs.
Bethany: I agree with you on semantics, whether we call it barriers to entry or discrimination. But I do think it takes on a life on its own in that within these very greedy jobs, women often don’t feel welcome, it’s harder to feel like you are a part of the pack, it’s harder to get satisfaction out of work.
In some cases, within very high-performing hedge funds, or private-equity firms, there is sort of still a sense of, “I’m never going to say this, but I don’t want to hire the female. She might sue if I fire her for any reason. I am opening myself to a gender-discrimination suit, and I am a small, pri-vate company, and nobody is going to look at me, and I can get away with this.”
I think all of these factors build together to exclude women from the very highest-paying jobs. And call it what you will, call it discrimination, call it people’s efforts to maintain their barriers to entry so that they can keep their rents. I’m not sure it really matters what you call it.
But on to the idea of whether substitutability is a cure for this, I actually don’t think it is, and I am not sure I want it to be. I don’t think it is, because in these very tippy-top-paid jobs, whether it’s investment banker or top litigator or writer, it’s personal, it’s individual. You can’t substitute somebody else. No company who’s going to trial, no client, is going to want their lawyer to be swapped out for another lawyer.
When I am given a contract—and to be clear, I’m not at the tippy top of the pay scale—but when I am given a contract to write a book, I am not going to be able to go to my publisher and say, “By the way, I’m really busy for this next month with my children and their schedule, so I am going to substitute another writer and bring in that person.” It’s not the way it works, and what I mean by I don’t want it to be the way it works, is that I think the concept of substitutable jobs, you can make an argument that work has too much primacy in all of our lives, sure, but to argue that every job should be substitutable also makes us all robots and takes away from the very real, im-portance and satisfaction that work can bring you.
I don’t want to do a job where I can be substituted for somebody else, because that makes my job just a way to earn money. It takes away the love I have for my work if somebody else can come in and do it as well as I can. So not only do I not think that it’s realistic, a world where we’re all substitutable work-wise is not really a world I want to live in, either.
Luigi: Then the only solution I see is that we really make it much more ac-ceptable to have it inverted, to have the man staying at home and the woman working until late at night. Because I was thinking when you were talking, it’s not just the substitutability, it’s also, for example, the fame. As a writer, it does make a big difference if you write one big piece or if you write 10 big pieces.
We know that the market tends to be a winner-take-all market, so the pay is incredibly differ-ent and once you have success, you are recognized much more. So, all these jobs that have this characteristic tend to be jobs in which you cannot be substituted. And so, if we want to see more women in all the professions that have this superstar component, I think work on two margins. Number one, this is a private margin, but negotiate better inside the family, and number two, in the public margin, also maybe do put some limits on how much you are on call, because in some situations, it’s necessary, but in some it is a bit excessive. And it’s basically, mostly, a competition to suck up to the client, rather than availability because there is a need.
Bethany: It is, but I don’t think that’s going to go away. I think that’s human nature that if you are paying your service provider a great deal of money for their services, then you are going to want that person to be on call. I remember being a young investment banker at Goldman Sachs way back in the day and being told that I would work all week and 12 hours a day, maybe even more, it might have been 20 hours a day, to have a presentation on the client’s desk on Monday morning, not because they needed it on Monday morning, but because we are being paid a lot of money, and we had to show that we could do that.
Now, I know you could argue that I am proving your point. Perhaps I am, but I think this is a function of human nature that I don’t think is going to change. I guess my preferred way of chang-ing it is to work on the structure of relationships, be they male-female relationships, female-female, male-male, whatever it is, so that it isn’t always the accepted nature of society that the male in the relationship is the one doing the greedy job and the woman is the one not doing the greedy job.
And the more we work on that, and it may be slow changes, but if I were an optimist, I’d say that Claudia or the next economist will be looking back in 20 years and saying these subtle changes added up over time. And that the structure of relationships changed such that it isn’t automatically the male who’s doing the greedy jobs.
Luigi: The only point I disagree with you is, I think that actually something could be done on the client side, so especially if you are the client receiving the report on Monday morning, you should be aware that people have been kept working all night. And rather than being proud or happy of how hard you worked, you should be disgusted and annoyed and say, this is not the kind of supplier or partner I want to have, if this partner is treating the employees like this, is overworking them in a way they cannot have a normal life. And by the way, I think there is an ele-ment that having a more balanced life at home makes you a better, more normal employee, be-cause—
Bethany: But who wants to be a normal employee, Luigi? I’m sorry.
Luigi: I know, but I remember reading, many, many years ago, Den of Thieves, about Michael Milken, and Drexel, and et cetera. What happened is that they were working so hard that everybody was going through a divorce, everybody had an affair on the job, because if you never see your spouse, you are always at the job, in the end it becomes inevita-ble.
Bethany: I don’t disagree with that necessarily, but this is maybe perhaps worth another conversation. I am going to push back in the sense that there is some something to be said for learning to work really hard. We talk about hard work as this thing that people either know how to do or don’t know how to do. You’re either a hard worker or you’re not a hard worker.
I actually learned how to work during my internship at Goldman Sachs. And that ability to work has proven itself useful to me at times. I don’t do it all the time, I’m too lazy, too busy with other things, too busy having a life. But I know how to do it when I have to do it. And there is something to these internships that teach you that ability to function when you have to, and I don’t know, maybe we have a kinder, gentler world without that, but I am a little bit mixed about that. But I think I sound a little bit like a version of a victim of Stockholm syndrome.
I was captured by my early experience even if I don’t want to be, and I can’t help defending it in some ways, even though fibers of my being are screaming, “No, no, no.” But I hear you, and I do think there is, as you have more women in positions of power at clients, you may also have more pushback against this idea that the presentation has to be on people’s desks Monday morning. That all moves of a piece and maybe it is all moving of a piece.
Luigi: Yeah. And in many jobs, actually, people stay after five or six, just to show their bosses that they’re good. And that depends a lot on bosses. In fact, in Japan they’re try-ing to invert this, they’re trying to have more kids and if people don’t get married, they don’t have kids, they’re actually forcing people to go to home at five o’clock in the evening. That’s clearly a bit aggressive, but maybe it’s the necessary sort of push to create more equality on the job.
Bethany: It’s interesting, Gary Cohn, who was the chief operating officer of Goldman before he left, said— and this is something that stands out to me—in 2004, in a piece I did for Fortune on Goldman, that the only thing we have to set us aside is our hard work. We’re all the same as the bankers at other firms, and so the one thing that differentiates us is our willingness to work really, really hard.
And I think that’s the core question we’re debating here. Does a willingness to work really, re-ally hard, is that a differentiation, and is that a differentiation that we want to continue to reward in society? Or is it one that we would like our society not to reward, so that there is more oppor-tunity for others and so the jobs aren’t greedy jobs? It’s an interesting question, right? To me that’s at the heart of some of what we are discussing.
Luigi: It is definitely at the heart of what we’re discussing, but I would like to draw the line between working hard because you are producing a lot and working hard because you are basically sucking up. Certainly, if we can reduce the wasteful sucking up and favor equality, it seems like a famous win-win situation.
Bethany: I agree with that. I think the line between those two things is more blurry than you might think.
Luigi: No, I agree. It is definitely very blurry. My only claim is that we are so much in one direction that moving a little bit in the other is not going to be very costly. But if you move a lot, the blurriness of the line becomes a real problem.
Bethany: Speaking of which, my little monsters are home, and so I am going to go draw that blurry line in a different way.
Luigi: OK, draw the line.
Bethany: So, we decided to discuss as today’s Capital-is or Capitalisn’t the Facebook scandal.
Speaker 8: Explosive whistleblower testimony, a former Facebook product manager telling Senate lawmakers that Facebook knowingly harms its users.
Bethany: And whether whistleblowers in general are a Capital-is or a Capital-isn’t.
Frances Haugen: I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy. The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes, because they have put their astronomical profits be-fore people.
Bethany: And whether the whistleblower in this specific case is a Capital-is or a Capitalisn’t. And, yes, you can hear the very peaceful, dulcet tones of my daughter playing her harp in the background. Luigi, your thoughts?
Luigi: I actually think, in general, that whistleblowers are the ultimate Capi-tal-is manifestation, especially in the cases where people reveal information for money. This is ac-tually a reward to bring evidence to the forefront, and without them, we would be in a much worse situation. I actually was a big supporter of extending what is called the False Claim Act, that gives a reward to whistleblowers of fraud against the government, to the corporate sector. And I think Dodd-Frank did bring it to the picture, a little bit softened up, I don’t want to get into the details, not as aggressive as I would’ve liked, but I think it’s working so well that there is in the corporate sector a big push to stop it.
Bethany: I always think it’s interesting when people criticize whistleblowers for being financially motivated. Because there’s something about the figure of the whistleblower in popular conception that this person is supposed to be perfectly pure and not motivated by any-thing selfish, and not motivated by financial considerations. And that’s what companies will say in response, “Oh, they’re trying to make money.”
But wait a minute, why does that mean that what they are saying isn’t valuable or valid? Whis-tleblowers are always characters who sit outside the structure. And because they sit outside the structure, sometimes they are just flat-out crazy. But we still want to hear from them, we still want to hear what they have to say, because sometimes that person who sits outside the structure has the insight that no one inside the structure is going to have.
Luigi: Oh, absolutely. I think that actually I would go even more aggressive than you. Most of the time, especially when there is no specific award in mind, most of the time whistleblowers are crazy, because the only reason why you reveal certain stuff at the cost of your reputation, your life, the hate of millions of people, blah blah blah, is because you’re crazy. But they’re an essential element of a functioning capitalist system.
My case in point of this, I’m sure you remember the movie The Informant, of the Archer Daniels Midland case, in which an insider actually was wiretapping in order to expose a case of price-fixing of international dimension. It involved Japanese companies, it was all over, and without him, we would never have known that the price of lysine was fixed with great damage to consumers worldwide. The guy at the same time was accumulating some money in Swiss bank ac-counts and doing all crazy stuff. So how somebody like this could become a whistleblower is be-yond my understanding, but I think that’s the ultimate case that many whistleblowers are crazy, but they are very important.
Bethany: Yeah. And for some reason I am thinking about Alice in Wonder-land, and there is a wonderful quote where the Mad Hatter says, “Have I gone mad?” And Alice says, “I’m afraid so, you’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret, all the best people are.”
So, let’s get to the specifics of the Facebook case and what you think this means. Because it sounds like we can’t have whistleblowers who are off point in their whistleblowing. Would you say that the Facebook whistleblower is on point or off point?
Luigi: No, I think she’s very much on point. First of all, she doesn’t seem to be crazy. To be honest, she just seems to be politically motivated but in the good sense of the word. We always say politically in a negative sense. Kudos to her, that she had the courage to stand up. Because I can assure you, this is not going to be good for her career. Bethany, you know better than I do, but the whistleblower in Enron did not have a happy life afterward. Even if she was com-pletely right.
Bethany: No whistleblower has a happy life afterward, because corporations want loyalty above all else. And once you’ve shown that you can be disloyal, it is a permanent black mark on you employment-wise. Which is why, I think, the False Claims Act is so important in ena-bling whistleblowers to make money, because they are going to have a really tough time making money in their field of employment afterwards.
But back to your point about this being important and valid, I think lots of people on Twitter have drawn comparisons to Big Tobacco. And, yes, her revelations show what we all knew was hap-pening, but we didn’t have proof that it was happening. And yet, as you and I have talked about before, the documentation of things that you know in a loose way is really, really important.
Luigi: The second point, which at least from my point of view is even more important, is these studies were done by Facebook. Nobody else could do these studies, because the only one with access to the data is Facebook. Here we have a company that has a gigantic im-pact on democracy, has a gigantic impact on the well-being of billions of people, but nobody else can study it. And I am not just saying the government, I’m saying private institutions, et cetera, un-less they are blessed and recognized by Facebook.
And so, we don’t have access to information. I think the power and the control of the data is distorting not only the regulatory system but also the academic system, the media system, every-thing. And this is something that I have been saying for years, not just about Facebook, but about all the platforms. Finally, people are starting to recognize it, and the moment has come to do something about it.
Bethany: Yes, I think, Luigi, your point about the black box of the data is in-credibly important. We push corporations to disclose things that are in shareholders’ interest and the public interest, and disclosure is key. I’d almost make the analogy between banks and their de-rivative positions. Banks have said for a really long time, “Well, we don’t need to disclose the de-tails of our derivative holdings, because this is proprietary information.” And people have pushed for a long time to say, “No, the world needs to see this.”
And I think the same is true of some of the inner workings of social-media models where the companies say, “This is proprietary information, we don’t need to disclose it.” But the truth is, they do, both as ta financial matter and as a social matter. And they hide behind this notion that it’s proprietary information and therefore protected from disclosure. But it shouldn’t be.
Luigi: Yeah, I think that the misuse of proprietary information is pretty scary. I’m afraid to say this because you know much more on the issue of fracking than I do. But I read that there was, in the process of fracking, one employee got completely wet with some liquid they were using. And he was in serious health condition so they took him to a hospital. They asked the company what this guy was hit by, and they said, “No, no, this is proprietary information, we can-not reveal it.” They said, “A life is in danger, we need to what it is.” But they knew that once they revealed it, they also revealed what they put in the water. And so, that’s a problem.
Bethany: Right. Why are people afraid of transparency? And it always raises a big question when you know that an industry or a group of people is afraid of transparency. It’s that old rule about sunshine.
More from Chicago Booth Review
The depletion of the funds points to bigger fiscal issues.Should We Worry That the Social Security Trust Funds Are Going Bust?
The Capitalisn’t podcast examines the fate and function of labor unions in the United States.Capitalisn’t: Is Labor Benefiting from the Union Boom?
We want to demonstrate our commitment to your privacy. Please review Chicago Booth's privacy notice, which provides information explaining how and why we collect particular information when you visit our website.