The Law of Unintended Consequences Hits Liberals Again

We’ve noted here many times the economic illiteracy of the minimum wage, and even the media are picking up on the perverse effects the $15 minimum wage is having on low-margin businesses such as San Francisco comics shops or fast food restaurants installing touch screens to replace counter clerks (and how long before we have robotic burger flippers?), but this won’t deter liberals.

When I explain to students the 1923 case of Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, the case where the Supreme Court rightly struck down Washington DC’s minimum wage, it is easy to get students to realize that the standard line about this case—that it is an example of an ideological Court in thrall to some cartoonish laissez faire doctrine of unlimited individual liberty—is completely wrong. For one thing, the minimum wage only applied to women, in occupations such as operating a hotel elevator that were not in any way hazardous to their health or safety, thus failing the “police power” test that upheld many other kinds of labor regulations going back into the 19th century. The effect of having a minimum wage for women but not for men was obvious—it resulted in the loss of employment opportunities for women, since you could hire a man for the same job at half the cost. (It is amusing, by the way, to watch liberals and especially feminist legal scholars strain to attack a ruling that upheld women’s equality in the workplace. The contortions are fantastic and hilarious.) This is no more than a price-fixing law, the Court ruled. (For more from the opinion, see below.*)

This is all a long preface to a story in today’s New York Times about how—surprise, surprise!—politically-mandated “family friendly” policies are backfiring everywhere, and reducing wages and employment opportunities for women:

In Chile, a law requires employers to provide working mothers with child care. One result? Women are paid less.

In Spain, a policy to give parents of young children the right to work part-time has led to a decline in full-time, stable jobs available to all women — even those who are not mothers.

Elsewhere in Europe, generous maternity leaves have meant that women are much less likely than men to become managers or achieve other high-powered positions at work.

Family-friendly policies can help parents balance jobs and responsibilities at home, and go a long way toward making it possible for women with children to remain in the work force. But these policies often have unintended consequences.

Heck, a “conservative jurist” from the 1920s could have told you this. More:

Unlike many countries, the United States has few federal policies for working parents. One is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides workers at companies of a certain size with 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Women are 5 percent more likely to remain employed but 8 percent less likely to get promotions than they were before it became law, according to an unpublished new study by Mallika Thomas, who will be an assistant professor of economics at Cornell University. She attributed this partly to companies that don’t take a chance on investing in the careers of women who might leave. “The problem ends up being that all women, even those who do not anticipate having children or cutting back in hours, may be penalized,” she said.

I’m sure liberals will follow the evidence here. Settled science, and all that.

* More from Justice George Sutherland’s majority opinion in Adkins:

But the ancient inequality of the sexes, otherwise than physical, as suggested in the Muller case has continued “with diminishing intensity.” In view of the great—not to say revolutionary—changes which have taken place since that utterance, in the contractual, political and civil status of women, culminating in the Nineteenth Amendment, it is not unreasonable to say that these differences have now come almost, if not quite, to the vanishing point. In this aspect of the matter, while the physical differences must be recognized in appropriate cases, and legislation fixing hours or conditions of work may properly take them into account, we cannot accept the doctrine that women of mature age, sui juris, require or may be subjected to restrictions upon their liberty of contract which could not lawfully be imposed in the case of men under similar circumstances. To do so would be to ignore all the implications to be drawn from the present day trend of legislation, as well as that of common thought and usage, by which woman is accorded emancipation from the old doctrine that she must be given special protection or be subjected to special restraint in her contractual and civil relationships. In passing, it may be noted that the instant statute applies in the case of a woman employer contracting with a woman employee as it does when the former is a man.

Gosh, sounds almost like someone from NOW wrote this. Moreover, this reminds me of a lesson students also take to: it actually pays to read complete Supreme Court opinions, rather than swallowing the gross mischaracterizations that appear in superficial liberal textbooks.

Min Wage Replacements copy