Monday, September 21, 2009

Society Values

The focus of discussions on pay equity have changed. Laws requiring equal pay for equal work have been in place for nearly twenty years, but the gap between male and female incomes still remains. The problem is that female employment is concentrated in low paid jobs. For example, supermarket checkout operators are poorly paid and most are female.

The statement is often made that society puts a low value on the types of work that women do. This statement misses the point. In a free market, wage rates are not a reflection of the values of society, but the outworking of supply and demand. The reason that wages are low for supermarket checkout operators is that there are limited numbers of jobs and large pool of people (mostly women) who are seeking this type of work. The demand for checkout operators is unlikely to increase much in the future. If the supply of people seeking this type of work continues to grow, then wage rates in the supermarket sector are unlikely to increase.

The best way for women to increase their incomes is to develop skills that allow them to move into the types of work where the supply of employees is more constrained.

The idea that society puts a value on things like work is a nonsense. God can value things. He looked at the earth he had created and saw that it was good. He looked at what mankind had done in the times of Noah and did not like what he saw. Humans are made in the image of God, so we have the same capacity to make value judgements. Individuals can look at situations and decide, if they are good or bad. Sin has contaminated this ability, so sometimes our judgements are twisted or distorted. As our thoughts are renewed and we develop the mind of Christ, our judgments and values should become like those of God.

Individuals can make value judgments, but society cannot. There is no calculus for adding up individual judgments into an aggregate society judgement. Some people will value the service they get from checkout operators. Others will not even notice what they are doing. To say that society as a whole puts a value on their work does not make sense. What is usually happening in these situations is that a self appointed spokesperson for society puts a value on something.

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