The “Gender Pay Gap”: Part 2

A quick recap. Men earn more than women. But this shouldn’t be surprising considering that, compared to women, men work more hours, take less time off (accumulating more experience) and pursue careers in higher paying industries. What’s problematic is how frequently even intelligent people jump (or perhaps teleport) to the conclusion that the difference in incomes must be due to discrimination or bias without even stopping to consider these other factors. It is one thing to be mistaken but it is something else to be confidently mistaken and label those who disagree or question your methods as sexist or ignorant. But if we do a proper investigation, what do we find?

According to Time magazine, “The pay gap between a single, childless woman and her similar male colleague is 0.6%, after controlling for factors like years of experience, education, skills, management responsibilities, and company size…” (source) It’s frustrating that they didn’t mention hours so I’m not sure if they took that into account or not. But a 0.6% difference, huh? I guess discrimination knows no bounds! Prepare the pitchforks! In all seriousness, to still call this a “gap” is to proudly proclaim “I’m a moron” to the world. Your height varies by about the same percentage from morning to night. And don’t forget, just because they’ve adjusted for 8 or so important factors doesn’t mean we can assume that discrimination is the only factor left.

Now this 0.6% figure is looking at men and women who are single and without children. The interesting, if hardly shocking, thing is that when men get married, their pay tends to go up whereas with women, their pay goes down. Why is this? What is it about marriage that splits the sexes in terms of earnings? It’s almost as if something about having children results in fathers making decisions which tend to increase their pay and mothers doing the opposite. This conspiracy is getting deeper by the minute!

This is when I have to stop and point out how I’m far more of a feminist than so-called “feminists” are. I have this crazy belief that women know what they want and will do whatever it takes to go out there and get it. If mothers stay home to look after children while fathers go out and win bread, that’s because they made a mutually beneficial decision between each-other to do things that way. Does anyone doubt that in a marriage, it’s the wife who makes all the decisions?

But “feminists” want to decide on behalf of other women what they really want. How arrogant and presumptuous can you be? And what a lack of faith in the inner strength of women to fight for what matters to them! Some women work, some stay at home, some work long hours while others don’t but it’s always the woman’s choice (abusive relationships are another story). Even if the evidence indicated that women are less aggressive in promoting their careers, for example, that would merely reflect on the attitudes and choices of women themselves. If that was the only thing holding women back, I’d have no hesitation in telling them to pick up their game.

These statistical patterns are not new. Thomas Sowell wrote: “As far back as 1971, single women in their thirties who had worked continuously since high school earned slightly more than men of the same description. As far back as 1969, academic women who had never married earned more than academic men who had never married.” (source) Unfortunately, propaganda has been more effective in stirring the masses than the calm, properly researched writings of economists like Sowell. As much as I’d like to blame politicans and the media, the ultimate source of the problem is the general public. More specifically, anyone who is more interested in passionate calls for action than plain facts and logic. But I’ll have to delve into this another time…

How do we prove discrimination exists in the first place? I believe there are two approaches. One is nearly impossible and the other is trivially easy. The first is to look at broad statistics, control for every conceivable factor (this is optional depending on your integrity) and then whatever “gap” is left over can, by assumption, be attributed to some kind of “institutional discrimination”. A malicious phantom which can’t be seen directly but leaves subtle clues as to its existence. A bit like ghosts. The other way is when an individual or company explicitly discriminates against someone. This tends to leave behind obvious first-hand evidence. For example, a male boss groping a female worker or a meeting room with a sign saying “no women allowed”. In this case, the perpetrator can be targeted directly and held accountable for their actions.

But the second approach is not nearly as exciting as the first. Whereas gravity is dull and obvious, talking to the dead is intriguing and sells tickets. There’s something enticing about the idea that society itself is sexist and somehow biased against women. That men discriminate without even realising it and only through social action can we even things up. It has the same appeal as any good conspiracy theory, which I’m afraid is what it is.

Let’s look at a case study where we can see these two approaches in conflict with each-other. Thomas Sowell wrote: “Years ago, the Sears department store chain spent $20 million fighting a sex discrimination charge that took 15 years to make its way through the legal labyrinth. In the end, Sears won — if spending $20 million and getting nothing in return can be called winning. … In the Sears case, there was not even one woman who worked in any of the company’s 900 stores who claimed to have been discriminated against.” (source)

The charge against Sears was originally brought up because the higher positions at Sears were dominated by men (whereas regular workers were more evenly divided between the sexes). Bear in mind, this statistical evidence did not control for other factors (like years of experience). But on the other hand, there was no explicit evidence of discrimination – not one woman who claimed to have been unfairly treated. Now which are we to trust? First-hand-experience or an overall statistic with no adjustment or analysis?

If you believe that broad statistics are enough to prove discrimination, here are some nefarious examples of human rights abuses in the USA (I’ll list the group and the area in which they’re discriminated against): white people in basketball, non-Indians in spelling bees, non-Kenyans in marathons, non-Asians in average income, men in psychology courses, women in manual labour, boys in dancing, girls in sport, men in staying home and looking after kids, non-blacks in rap and men in being nurses.

Unless you seriously believe that all of these are major issues, you must concede that overall statistics without careful adjustment cannot by-themselves prove discrimination. But who are we kidding? The people who loudly advocate for equal pay for women and drastic action against “the patriarchy” already know in their hearts that women are held back by society. Any piece of information which fits this belief will do, with little consideration of its actual merits. Furthermore, anything to the contrary poses a serious threat to their cause and must be dealth with, preferably by morally denunciation (as opposed to reasoning). This puts facts on a lower standing than agendas, an approach which reminds me of fascism for some reason…

Finally, I want to look at things through a different lens. Let’s say an inventor claimed they had developed a vehicle which could run indefinitely without any power supply. Undoubtedly this would cause a stir of excitement in the general public – the possibilities would be endless! But anyone with a basic understanding of science would be unlikely to take the claim seriously at face-value. They may be quite open to evidence but otherwise remain confident that the whole thing’s a hoax and hence take little interest in it. Why? Because of a simple principle – energy cannot be created or destroyed.

Similarly, anyone who has spent time learning the basics of economics is unlikely to get uproarious over a claim of rampant discrimination in a free market (without some extremely solid evidence). Why? Because of a simple principle – employers care a lot about making money. If a misogynist had a choice between hiring a man who will increase profits for him by 4% and a woman who will increase them by 5%, who would he choose? Of course, we can’t know. But the point is that he faces a dilemma between maximising profits and appeasing his personal tastes. The free market creates strong incentives for employers to hire the most productive individuals available regardless of their superficial attributes. And incentives are like gravity – you can hold a handful of things in the air for a while but your arms will soon get very tired.

“Prejudice is free but discrimination has costs.” – Thomas Sowell

In a competitive market, to discriminate is to burden yourself with less-than-optimum workers. This is not something which is sustainable when every other business is doing whatever they can to beat your prices, steal your customers and hire the best workers. Put another way, companies which don’t discriminate will tend to be naturally rewarded for doing so in a free economic system.

There is no greater weapon against discrimination than a free market.

This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true. For example, blacks in America started to dominate professional sports well before the civil rights movement began. I doubt this had anything to do with a passionate striving for equality by sports coaches. I’d wager it had much more to do with money and the fact that many talented black sportsmen were able to win games and bring in a lot of fans. And today, sports like basketball and American football are hardly places to find equality (of outcomes) between races. But what you do find is excellence and a severe lack of discrimination. The players are there because they’re the best.

Maybe by now I’ve convinced you that the hysteria surrounding the “gender pay gap” is based on a myth. Or maybe your face is red and you’re convinced that I hate women. Well, it is a myth. But unlike harmless myths about dragons and unicorns, this one is causing a huge amount of damage. Lawsuits like the one against Sears are a burden on the economy, but worse, they pressure companies into carrying out “positive” discrimination in order to avoid such lawsuits.

Many are openly in favour of explicit discrimination against men so that women as a statistical group can have a higher place in the economy. This results in many important positions being filled by a person partially due to their gender rather than preparedness for the role (no negative side-effects, I promise). It can also foster uncertainty and resentment between men and women. “Did I get the job because I was the best or was it a hand-out?” “Why did she get the job? Is there some rule that they have to even up the numbers?”

An unnecessary and destructive war between the sexes is underway and the matriarchy is winning to the detriment of humanity overall.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Leave a comment

The “Gender Pay Gap”: Part 1

“Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap is 15.3%.”

This comes from the WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency). This statistic is comparing men and women who work full-time. Such statistics are commonly brought up in the media and they are frequently accompanied by passionate cries for action to lessen the “gap” between the genders. Unfortunately, this reaction seems to be based on conclusions which are invalid, having been reached via sloppy thinking, economic fallacies or even blatant lies. But let’s do something unusual: break down the reality behind the so-called “gender pay gap” first, before we get allow ourselves to get worked up over it.

Firstly, the word “gap” is incorrect and misleading. A gap implies something you can fall into. But men and women who are employed full-time have a wide range of incomes with a substantial amount of overlap. It’s true that the average income of men is usually much higher than that of women but this is a difference in the averages, not a gap. The only gaps to be found are the logical ones in most discussions on this topic. A parallel example is the fact that men are taller than women (on average) and yet there is no gap between the shortest man and the tallest woman.

This may seem like nit-picking but precision is important when talking about serious topics. A gap arguably sounds more sinister than a difference and for people to take advantage of this is dishonest and manipulative. Incidentally, I would hazard a guess that the standard deviation for men’s incomes is larger than that for women (meaning men’s incomes are more widely spread compared to women’s) but I’ve never seen this aspect mentioned.

Here are two hardly surprising facts which seldom get brought up (they apply practically everywhere I’m aware of):

  1. More men are employed than women.
  2. Of working men and women, a higher proportion of men work full-time.

Only a completely inept patriarchy would arrange things this way (which makes me suspicious that such a thing even exists). But what do these facts tell us? Would it be valid for us to conclude that women are lazy and not pulling their weight in the workforce? Well, for whatever reason, these particular facts are consistently dismissed as being completely harmless and unworthy of discussion.

So let’s now focus on full-time workers, male vs. female. Apples and apples, right? Surely the only possible cause for any discrepancy would have to be bias and discrimination. Well, if you can only think of one possible explanation for a phenomenon, that doesn’t automatically mean that it must be the correct explanation (as hard as that may be to accept). Indeed, there are a number of benign factors which affect men’s and women’s incomes which are easy to think of (if you’re into that kind of thing). But first, I want to address a phrase which frequently arises in relation to gender pay differences:

“Men earn more than women for the same job.”

Now, I have a maths degree and those 4 little words on the end are not something that can be casually tossed in. They have to be earned (for lack of a better word). Taken literally, they make no sense – men and women are two large, heterogeneous groups with plenty of overlap but vastly different patterns of employment. What job exactly are we talking about? I’ve worked as a clown, DJ, teacher, musician, tutor and crewer (setting up and packing up for big entertainment gigs). None of these explicitly paid the sexes differently (although the demographics differed – crewing was very male-dominated). This can only mean that there must be other jobs which have an even bigger “gap”! Who works these mythological jobs where women are so blatantly down-trodden?

So let’s assume that when they say “for the same job”, they mean that they’ve taken the relevant factors into account. To get an idea of these factors, let’s explore some of the differences between men and women in terms of employment (focusing on full-time workers). These are critical things to take into consideration when trying to explain differences in total pay. Note that the sources I’ve quoted are quite arbitrary, but I believe these are generally undisputed trends which occur all over the world.

1) Men work more hours than women (resulting in higher earnings).

“…even among full-time workers (those usually working 35 hours or more per week), men worked longer than women—8.4 hours compared with 7.8 hours [per day].” (source)


2) Men and women specialise in different industries (which pay differently).

“Men dominate in construction and engineering, women in care and office jobs.” (source)

3) Men and women major in different subjects in higher education (which lead to different career opportunities).

Men dominate in computer science and engineering while women dominate in health professions, public administration, education and psychology. (source)

4) Women get pregnant more often than men.

4) Women take more time off work than men, affecting their accumulation of experience and hence their chances at getting higher positions.

By a margin of about 50% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1999. (source)

5) Women take more sick days than men.

“Women are almost 42% more likely to take sick days than men.” (source)

6) Men are more likely to die on the job (which goes a long way to explaining why life-expectancy is consistently higher for women).

“From 2011 through 2015, men accounted for 92.5% of all workplace deaths.” (source)

At the very least, any decent study needs to directly acknowledge these factors, then carefully measure and incorporate them into their results and conclusions. But surely the media would only report a finding if the study was sufficiently thorough, right? One can dream. I would check for yourself. Even after this, however, there may be yet other factors which affect men’s and women’s employment, some of which are harder to measure. Examples include personal preferences, proactivity in getting promotions, travelling or moving house for the sake of work opportunities and genetic differences between the sexes.

Let me emphasise something before going any further.

Statistical facts are not the same as value judgements, nor do they imply them.

Or as Ben Shapiro likes to say: “facts don’t care about your feelings”. For example, men are bigger and stronger than women (on average, with plenty of exceptions to the rule). But that statement in no way asserts that men are superior to women (no matter how many people may interpret it that way). So let’s bear in mind that none of these statistics I’ve brought up have anything to say about the inherent value of men or women. They are merely observations about patterns in human behaviour.

Regardless of the popularity of “equality” as a noble goal, men and women are factually not equal in terms of physical strength (as statistics groups). This lack of sameness almost definitely applies to many other areas including those which are harder to detect or measure. And there may be plenty where women are far superior to men (in that specific area) and vice-versa. We needn’t worry ourselves with fully understanding the details of all the differences (and similarities) between the sexes (and it may be impractical or impossible to achieve a satisfactory understanding anyway). But it’s wise to acknowledge that such differences may exist and affect outcomes in the real world.

The reality of the “gender pay gap” is that men really do earn more than women. There is such a thing as earning money and men earn more of it than women. And I don’t see any problem with this. If one person has more years of experience, works more hours and earned a degree in a field which helped them work in a high-paying industry, we should hardly be surprised or up-in-arms if they earn quite a bit more than someone without those same attributes (man or woman). I will look more at the terrifying specter of discrimination in Part 2.

Now maybe I conveniently left out the fact that women do a fair amount of “unpaid” work, like cooking, cleaning and caring for children. But to call it “unpaid” seems a bit rich when: “Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases.” (source) Where do women get this money from? That leaves 15% to be spent by men, a ratio of more than 5 to 1 in favour of women.

The statistics may vary but how can women spend more than men unless they’re getting the money from somewhere? Based on commonplace experience, is it more expensive for a man to have a girlfriend or a woman to have a boyfriend? Does anyone really think women’s standards of living are lower than men? Is it worth pointing out that more men are homeless than women? “In the sleeping rough category, women numbered 2,180 and men 4,633.” (source) If anything, a strong case can be made that being a housewife is quite a lucrative line of work indeed.

To be continued…

Posted in Economics, Politics | Leave a comment

The Minimum Wage: Part 2

Time for some basic economic analysis (which involves thinking) to help us make predictions about what effects a minimum wage law will tend to have. Then we’ll look at real-life examples.

Let’s remember that prices are not arbitrarily set but are affected by supply-and-demand. In the case of labour, that means the price is affected by how many employers exist and what their options are as well as how many workers are available and what their options are. Economics does not allow us to predict the exact price (there are far too many factors to consider, including personal preferences of individuals), but it allows us to make some simple cause-effect predictions. For example, if the supply increases without the demand changing, the price will tend to go down. And vice-versa if the balance goes the other way.

Now here’s a simple thought experiment which, I think, immediately embarrasses the reasons for implementing a minimum wage at all.

Scenario 1. Let’s say the government decides to set the minimum wage to some amount: $15/h. And let’s assume that this represents some increase in the minimum wage (either from some previous lower limit or from no limit at all). Then every employer who was paying a worker less than $15/h faces a simple choice: do they give the worker a raise to $15/h (or higher) or do they fire them? And so they make their decisions for each worker.

Scenario 2. This time, the government does not increase the minimum wage and even promises to never change it. Meanwhile, all workers unanimously decide (either independently or as a collective) that they will refuse to work for less than $15/h and so they each confront their employers with this ultimatum. The effect would be that every employer with a worker who has been getting less than $15/h will face a (rather familiar) dilemma: do they raise the worker’s pay or let them quit? They will make their decision for each worker.

It’s not hard to see that the economic result will be the exact same in each case, since the choice faced by employers is identical with identical outcomes. And of course the logic applies to new workers as well (the choice would be to either hire for at least $15/h or don’t hire at all in both scenarios). What have we shown? That the minimum wage was completely redundant in helping people increase their pay – people bargaining for raises is exactly as effective as enforcing the limit by law.

However, I did make one major assumption in Scenario 2: that all workers would agree to pursue the raise at the risk of losing their job. Which brings us to the essence of what the minimum wage actually “achieves”. It takes the choice out of each individual’s hands (not exactly what I’d call “protection”). If some people would prefer to continue to work for less than $15/h, they no longer have that option. The free market allows people to engage in mutually beneficial exchanges if and when they want to. A minimum wage law simply makes some of those exchanges illegal. That means less exchanges in total (and thus less wealth being created), but especially, less exchanges involving workers whose market-value is very low.

Let’s look at the choices businesses will tend to make if a minimum wage is enforced. For every worker they choose to keep (by giving them a raise to $15/h), that extra money has to come from somewhere. What are their options?

  1. They could decrease the pay of other workers to cover the cost. This would risk losing those workers to other companies or industries where they can earn more.
  2. They could increase the price of the products they sell. That would mean less sales and less satisfied customers who may choose to shop elsewhere.
  3. They could take the money out of their profits (probably the most popular “solution”, based on the assumption that these profits normally go straight to “rich” people and have no other function). This would make it harder to pay back investors, harder to get loans in the future and there will be less opportunities for the company to expand (say by hiring more workers, paying for training or getting a more experienced CEO).
  4. They could fire some of the cheapest workers instead of giving them a raise at a relatively small loss. This seems to be the most feasible and harmless option from the business-owner’s perspective. For example, instead of paying 5 workers $12/h, they may opt for 4 workers at $15/h. But is the latter situation really an improvement assuming we as society want to “protect” workers? This change is certainly not more efficient for the company as otherwise they would have done this without being forced to. The fact is that they lose money (or maybe break even), no matter how you cut it.

The true minimum wage is always zero (unless you have 100% employment) since that is how much the unemployed earn, regardless of what the government or anyone else tries to do. And if you’re implementing policies which may increase unemployment, it’s not clear that the possible gains in some wages are worth the loss of work altogether for others. But people seem to assume that by setting a limit, you’re giving people raises to “fairer” wages when their jobs are anything but guaranteed.

Furthermore, if you’re running a business and you have to pay $15/h, would you prefer to hire someone whose market-value is $15/h or $10/h (there is such a thing as market-value, not everyone has the same skills and qualities)? Chances are you’d go with the first option. Any person whose skills (or lack thereof) make them worth less than $15/h will find it nearly impossible to get hired.

What’s the best way for an unskilled person to develop skills? Education is an issue I’ll deal with another time. Other than that, paid work is one of the best ways to develop new skills even if the pay is low (and most minimum wage earners are transient, something like 90% get a raise within a year). It means a person learns some of the basic ins-and-outs of a certain kind of job, they learn to be punctual, they learn that they have to be respectful to their boss, co-workers and customers, they learn that you have to work even if you don’t feel like it or else you won’t get paid. In other words, they get exposed to the real world and get a chance to find ways to make themselves useful to others. I highly recommend Walter E. Williams’ “Good Intentions”, a short documentary from 1985 in which he explains this whole concept in much detail.

Alas, there’s no free lunch. If there was, why don’t poor countries drastically increase their minimum wages and reap the benefits? Why doesn’t the government simply set all prices low and all wages high? I can’t see the costs so they mustn’t exist!

What about in practice? Do minimum wage laws have the effects economists predict or are they the sparkling “solutions” some politicians would have us believe?

Switzerland has no minimum wage limit. So workers are ripe to be “exploited” by their employers. But the unemployment rate has remained low (click on MAX below the graph, you can also pick other graphs on the right – it’s an awesome website) while the GDP per capita has grown greatly (as have the average wages). Countries in the European Union which have minimum wage limits tend to have higher rates of unemployment than those with no limit at all.

One of the problems with measuring the effect of such policies in real-life is the large number of factors constantly affecting the economy which may be unrelated to what you’re interested in. A small increase in the minimum wage around the same time as a healthy boom in the economy may in fact see a lowering in unemployment. But you can’t attribute that to the minimum wage increase. To use an analogy, any time you cut your hair, it gets shorter. But if you only cut it a little, the change may be difficult to see and of course your hair will soon be longer anyway. Someone might innocently observe: “Your hair has grown ever since you got that haircut! Haircuts result in longer hair!”. The same is true of poison – poison is always bad but a tiny dose won’t be obviously harmful. I’m claiming that the minimum wage is like poison – always harmful but easier to detect when a major change occurs.

American Samoa was hit with several rapid increases of the minimum wage between 2006 and 2009 (since their limits have been falling behind the rest of the USA). Many predicted devastating outcomes and things turned out about as well as predicted (taken from this James Sherk article):

By May 2009 the third scheduled minimum wage increase in Samoa took effect, rising to $4.76 an hour and covering 69 percent of canning workers. This did not increase purchasing power, stimulate demand, and raise living standards, as many minimum wage proponents theorize. Instead StarKist—one of the two canneries then located in Samoa—laid off workers, cut hours and benefits, and froze hiring.[22] The other cannery—Chicken of the Sea—shut down entirely in September 2009.[23]

The Government Accountability Office reports that between 2006 and 2009 overall employment in American Samoa fell 14 percent and inflation-adjusted wages fell 11 percent. Employment in the tuna canning industry fell 55 percent.[24] The GAO attributed much of these economic losses to the minimum wage hike.

Turning to the USA, “…the black-white gap in unemployment rates for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds was virtually non-existent back in 1948. But the black teenage unemployment rate has been more than double that for white teenagers for every year since 1971.” – Thomas Sowell (full article). A minimum wage law did exist in 1948 but inflation had made it practically meaningless by then. But several increases were carried out in the 60s and since then. And most would agree that racism was on the downturn during those decades. This phenomenon is consistent with what economists would expect to see – less employment for lower-skilled workers (young blacks being highly represented in this group for various reasons). It is difficult to come up with a better explanation for such a huge change in employment for a specific group.

In the past, many groups have openly advocated for equal pay laws or minimum wages with the explicit intention to discriminate against lower-skilled minorities. “During South Africa’s apartheid era, racist unions, which would never accept a black member, were the major supporters of minimum wages for blacks.” – Walter E. Williams (full article). He gives many other examples in different times and places around the world.

Finally, here’s a real feast: an organisation fighting for increasing the minimum wage whilst simultaneously complaining about the problems the policy causes for them. This would be hilarious if I didn’t get the impression ACORN was completely sincere and ignorant of their blatant hypocrisy (taken from this Larry Elder article):

The now-defunct organization called the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now came to California years ago to gather signatures on a petition for a ballot measure to increase minimum wage. Incredibly, ACORN sued the state to exempt itself from the then-current minimum wage and overtime laws. In its filings, ACORN said, “The more ACORN must pay each individual outreach worker — either because of minimum wage or overtime requirements — the fewer outreach workers it will be able to hire.” Can’t make this stuff up.

In summary, the minimum wage law is purely a limitation on what workers and employers can do. It can’t make money appear out of nowhere. It can’t bring poor countries or areas out of poverty. It can’t give you a raise without risking the loss of your job. But it can make it a lot harder for low-skilled workers to get a start for themselves. Simple logic shows that it is redundant at best while real-world evidence shows that at worst it can be incredibly harmful. Politicians like it because it gets them votes. Racists and union members like it because it decreases competition and suppresses minorities. Unfortunately the public also seems to like it but only out of ignorance and buying into the wonderful promises of “caring” politicians.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Leave a comment

The Minimum Wage: Part 1

In this part, I’ll focus on some of the main misconceptions surrounding minimum wage laws and their intentions. In the second part, I’ll focus on the actual effects of minimum wages, both theoretically and in practice. Be warned that some thinking may be involved.

You’ve probably heard something like this before:

“Greedy companies will do anything for a profit, including exploiting workers by underpaying them while raking in millions. That’s why we need the government to enforce an official minimum wage to protect workers and ensure they earn at least a decent living.”

Alas, like most government policies which interfere with free markets, the apparent motivation behind implementing minimum wage laws is founded upon fallacies and misconceptions about how economics actually works. Let’s break it down.

1) Greed has nothing to do with it.

Some may point to the rich as being good examples of greedy people, but you don’t become rich by being greedy. You become rich from people giving you money. And believe it or not, people don’t usually like to give away their money unless they’re getting something for it. In many ways, money acts like receipts for services rendered. The more money you have, the more transactions you’ve made which benefited others (an exception is if you inherited wealth, but being greedy doesn’t increase your chances of inheriting a lot of money).

If greed was proportional to income, children would be earning more than their parents (have you ever seen siblings fighting over something?). In reality, your income tends to be determined by things like skills, hard work, good decision-making and, admittedly, some degree of luck.

Greed is better measured by looking at how money is spent rather than how it is earned. Bill Gates is probably more accurately categorised as generous than greedy. I would go so far as to say that greed is more common among lower income earners (but people seldom even consider this possibility since greed among poorer people is harmless and of little interest). One of the best ways to progress economically is to figure out what people want and give it to them efficiently. To arrive early and leave late. To leave a good impression by working harder than you are required to. That doesn’t sound like the typical way of thinking for a greedy person.

If by greed we mean “acting in your own self-interest”, then everyone is guilty of it. Even Mother Teresa (she didn’t go around promoting Islam or Buddhism, she did what mattered to her). It’s healthy and wise to act in your own self-interest.

2) How do you decide if someone is being “underpaid”? Compared to what?

We need some kind of baseline. How much is anything truly worth? I have a deck of playing cards with me. How much is it worth? We might look at how worn it is, whether any cards are missing, is it a rare brand, is magic currently popular and so on. But there’s an easier way to answer the question: it’s worth however much people are willing to pay for it (in a free market, so no coercion, no government involvement).

You may be a wonderful guitar player but if there is no demand for guitar music, you will struggle to get money for your services. Or there may be hundreds of guitar players even better than you who make it difficult for you to find work. On the other hand, if people love guitar music and you’re a one-of-a-kind performer, you’ll probably be living in a mansion soon with gold digging whores attractive women swarming you wherever you go. Now here’s the key point.

Prices are not arbitrary.

They are determined by supply and demand; by competition among buyers and competition among sellers.

Note that this balance can change and prices will change accordingly. Note also that there is no simple formula for prices or a way to predict exactly how they will change in certain situations. We are simply recognising that they depend on the interplay of supply and demand.

Wages are the price of some kind of labour. When it comes to low-skilled jobs, the wages may be very low indeed since capable workers are abundant. So are they “underpaid”? No. Unfortunately, their labour is just not very valuable (until they develop some skills). And there is no quick fix for this factual reality (however much politicians may proclaim the opposite). Mandating a price does not change the supply/demand situation. Nor can it increase a person’s skills or in any way make them more attractive to an employer.

Finally, if by underpaid we mean a person who is paid less than they feel they should get paid, then everyone is underpaid. Especially me.

3) What is exploitation?

It’s one of the most loosely and over-used terms I can think of, but what does it really mean? Slavery comes to mind as a good example of exploitation. A slave lacks freedom and must do whatever he is told to do or else face injury or death. His owner gains from his work while he gains nothing. Are workers slaves? No. The existence of an employer willing to hire someone only increases their options. Workers are not forced to work. The alternative may not be ideal but no-one’s forced to obtain money. Indeed, many societies have lived without money in the past (although few would envy the lifestyle). Any sane person would only work for a particular wage if they felt it was in their best interest based on their available options.

If you offer a desperately thirsty man in a desert a drink of water in exchange for $1,000,000 in cash, is that exploitation? You have only increased his options and he can refuse if he so chooses. But if he has the money, he may be quite happy to be “exploited” so that he can continue to live. To take this hypothetical a little further, if someone else also had water in the nearby area, it would greatly benefit them to hurry over and offer a slightly better deal, say $900,000 for some water. The two water suppliers could then compete for the man’s money, acting in their own self-interest while decreasing the price of their water. In fact, if the price remained high and more remote people were aware of it, they might be willing to travel at great expense just to bring this man some water and make a profit. But let’s not digress any further.

If by exploitation you mean that the employer is making a profit from the employee’s work, then anyone who works for someone else is being exploited, including movie stars, sports professionals, investors, bankers and countless other occupations. A quite possible exception would be various government employees whose salaries are not determined solely by supply-and-demand but also by the personal whims of bureaucrats and politicians. They aren’t being “exploited” in some cases because they’re representing a net loss (which taxpayers bear). Indeed, they may be getting “overpaid” relative to their value in a free market.

4) Not all businesses are making huge profits.

Many businesses which hire low-skilled workers are modest in scale and resources. They can and do go bankrupt on occasion. It’s worth remembering that the workers get paid first with the company only making a profit if there is money left over after that. Meanwhile, the multi-million dollar profits of large companies will often be distributed among many stock-holders. Banks may invest in large companies as well so if you have money in a bank, you may be affected by the growth/decline of such companies (interest rates or fees may need to change for the bank to stay afloat).

Most importantly, the income of an individual has nothing to do with the total profits of the company he works for. His income depends on how much value he is personally adding to the company. If he is adding $10/h worth of value, at most the company can pay him $10/h or else they’ll be losing money by hiring him. Setting a minimum wage forces businesses to either make losses or fire unskilled workers. It’s not rocket science.

6) Workers didn’t ask to be “protected”.

And it’s hardly protection to limit someone’s options by taking away their right to work below a certain amount. Actually, I’m wrong here. Some workers are most definitely protected but it’s those who are already paid a bit above the minimum wage. However, they’re not being protected from “greedy” companies looking to take advantage of them, they’re being protected from the competition of other workers willing to work for less.

That’s why labour unions are such strong proponents of keeping and increasing the minimum wage, even though all of their workers are usually earning comfortably above the proposed limit – it prevents employers from having the choice of hiring less-skilled workers at a lower price. On the other hand, have you ever seen unemployed or low-skilled workers demanding the “protection” of minimum wage laws? I think they’d prefer a job first.

7) What constitutes a “decent living” and who gets to define it?

A person is paid based on their productivity, not on the lifestyle they wish (or “need”) to maintain. If a job doesn’t pay enough for their liking, that’s a physical reality in the real world. This creates incentives for people to do whatever they can (including paying attention in school, studying and avoiding wasteful activities) to actually make themselves useful in society and earn money for themselves rather than getting paid a set amount as some God-given “right”.

In all this, there is an inherent presumption of the need for the government to do something. To fix the problem. To come up with an expedient solution. And to blame the free market for creating the problem in the first place. But what is the “problem”? Some people are paid less than what third parties (politicians looking for votes) deem tasteful. This judgement is made without considering the basic economics involved which determined these low wages in the first place. An unfortunate reality is still a reality.

“There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” – Thomas Sowell

All that can be done is to try to provide ways for these people to make themselves more valuable. And free markets happen to be great at this. But you can’t expect people to progress if you take the bottom rungs of the economic ladder away from them which is precisely what the minimum wage does. Hopefully this has cleared up any false assumptions you may have had about the necessity of minimum wages. Next time we’ll look at the effects of the policy in a bit more detail, in various contexts.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Leave a comment


Abortion is a controversial issue with strong proponents on both sides. Let’s take a step back and analyse things a bit.

What about the language used? Pro-life sounds good. Surely you’re in favour of life! The not-so-subtle implication is that the other side must be pro-death. However, those on the other side use the term pro-choice which also sounds good. If you disagree with them, you must be pro-tyranny. But just as when it comes to politics, it’s not the name or even the intention of a policy which matters but what it actually does and what the resulting short and long-term effects are. So let’s focus on the facts.

If a woman has become pregnant, should she be allowed to terminate the pregnancy if she so chooses?

The question really boils down to whether it is morally okay to kill an embryo/foetus/baby in certain situations. I think 99% of the time it is completely immoral. But I want to explain why and address the arguments on both sides.

Firstly, religion is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what a book written a long time ago said. If you ask someone why it is bad to murder and they refer immediately to the ten commandments, that’s a red flag. It suggests they would happily kill people except that the bible prohibits it. Similarly, quoting existing laws is not an adequate argument. We must tackle these questions directly with reasoning and by considering them from all angles.

Unfortunately there’s an abundance of bad logic to be found surrounding abortion, most of which falls under the category of “irrelevance”: something is used to justify/condemn an action which we obviously wouldn’t accept in other contexts. Let’s go through some of the most common points found on the pro-choice side and “debunk” them.

It’s just a cluster of cells.
Every living thing, ever, is a cluster of cells. Admittedly, an adult human being is a staggeringly ambitious cluster of cells but nonetheless, it’s a cluster of cells. This argument seems to imply that smaller things are worth less than larger things. Are women worth less than men? Are children worth less than adults? Is a mouse worth less than a blue whale?

It’s not yet really alive.
A rock isn’t alive. We know this because if you leave it alone for 9 months and come back, it’ll be in the same spot and won’t have changed much. But a fertilised egg grows into a baby, then a child and eventually an adult, capable of thinking, feeling, reproducing and dying. It’s on its way, that’s why you have to go out of your way to stop it in its tracks.

It won’t feel any pain.
If you shoot someone in their sleep, they won’t feel any pain.

It doesn’t have any memories.
Neither do amnesiacs or babies.

No-one will miss it because no-one yet knows it.
The same goes for an orphan who’s moved to a new town.

It takes pressure off the mother who may go on to live a wonderful life.
Then you can kill anyone who stands in your way, as long as it makes things easier/better for you.

Who will look after all the children who have single mothers and end up on the streets?
Should we be pro-active in killing poor and sick people to make the world a better place?

If abortion is illegal, women will attempt it themselves or via a black market with greatly increased risk.
This is a more persuasive point. And it does actually make sense for something like drugs. The War on Drugs has failed and arguably made things worse. Similarly, there is clearly a market for abortions whether they are legal or not, so why not make it legal so they can be carried out more safely? The problem is that whereas drugs only affect the individual, abortions affect third parties – the embryos. There is a market for murder in spite of its illegality, but that doesn’t justify it. We can’t give in simply because some people choose to do it.

My body, my choice.
This is one of stupidest slogans which should really have been adopted (pun intended) by the pro-life side of the argument. It is indeed your body and it’s your choice what goes into it. If you’re pregnant, it’s clear what choice you’ve made (to have unsafe sex, just in case you couldn’t figure that out). Also, the baby isn’t part of your body. It’s inside you and it’s connected to you but it’s a separate living thing (you won’t die without it and theoretically it could be taken out and kept alive with advanced-enough technology).

The point is that all of these so-called reasons made irrelevant points which don’t hold up to any real scrutiny. They also tend to fall apart if you respond with the phrase: “use a condom”. Which reminds me of another one.

The condom broke.
If you shoot someone in the head, the fact that you thought the gun wasn’t loaded isn’t a very good excuse. You’re a responsible adult. Check first. Also, if a family has children with ages of 17, 16, 14 and 3 (with the implication that the most recent child was an “accident”), it’s not okay to kill the 3-year-old.

But the abundance of bad arguments does not prove that the alternative is right. So why am I pro-life? It’s simple: I don’t think you can justify killing a living human being. I’m not playing with words here – embryos are living and in this case, they’re of the human variety.

Being an adult comes with responsibilities. There’s a reason for the historic stigma surrounding a young, unmarried girl getting pregnant: it’s irresponsible and tends to put a burden on the entire family, both financially and in terms of reputation. Hence the existence of shotgun weddings. Making abortions legal relieves irresponsible people from having to face the consequences of their actions (aka: reality) at the small cost of killing a living human being. Reducing the stigma (which exists for logical reasons) by legalising and promoting abortion as if it’s normal and commonplace will tend to increase the irresponsible behaviour. Again, the phrase “use a condom” is flashing in bright lights in my mind as I type this.

Now I want to acknowledge some exceptional cases before readers get too flabbergasted. Of course, a woman can get pregnant from a rape. In this case, she had no say in the matter and an abortion may be the lesser of two evils. Should she be forced to go through a full preganancy and give birth to the rapist’s baby, all the while being reminded of how she got pregnant in the first place? What will be done with the baby? Will she have to look after it or will it be put up for adoption? Killing the embryo early on and holding the rapist accountable for this additional crime seems appropriate. Of course, if the woman wants to keep the baby, that’s fine but she’ll have to commit to it.

Another circumstance is where medical complications arise with chances that the mother or baby will be harmed or die at some point. The best course of action may be an abortion, depending on the severity of the risks involved.

After all I’ve said, there’s a good chance you still feel abortion is a complicated issue with a lot of grey area. There’s much debate over where to “draw the line” (generally in reference to the question of when does the embryo actually become a truly living, feeling, human being whose life should be valued). But in fact, this phrase is what originally drove me to reach such a definitive opinion in the first place.

Let’s see. We have a not-pregnant woman who, at a specific point in time, becomes pregnant as a direct result of a specific action. The timeline goes something like: not-pregnant, not-pregnant, not-pregnant, UNSAFE SEX, pregnant, pregnant, pregnant. If only we could find a clear place to draw a line? An analogy I like is the “commit to buy” button on eBay. Once you click it, you’re past the point of no return. Conception is well-and-truly the point of no return.

Let me end with what I think is my most persuasive hypothetical scenario. A young couple have recently married and the woman becomes pregnant. She announces it on Facebook to hundreds of likes and congratulatory comments. Her entire family is ecstatic and they’ve already started picking names. But then someone slips her an abortion pill (maybe as a prank, maybe as revenge for something) and it works. Is this a crime? I mean, it was only an embryo after all. Even if the mother herself was the one who abruptly chose to have an abortion, how would the father and rest of the family feel when they find out?

One other thing. My mother used to work as a nurse, usually as a midwife. She observed that some of the same women who got abortions would be back at the hospital months or years later because they were having difficulty getting pregnant. Abortion is not without risks or side-effects. And prevention is better than cure so “use a condom”.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Status Update

I need something, or perhaps someone, so badly. I’m 29. So much of my life gone. I feel like I have nothing to show for it. Nothing has added up. It seems I did musicals to make friends that I never actually have any contact with other than Facebook (shudder). No regular friends of any kind at all. I’m in limbo with some people. Don’t know whether to make an effort or just wait or give up entirely. I’m not clear in my head. I alternate between different versions of what I should say and do. No-one from high school or university. No-one. Distant memories, less real than the movies I’ve watched in the last week.

What is my problem with Facebook? So many things. It’s hard to put into words: broken into little parts, it all seems harmless and cute. I think it’s similar to the issues I have with ads, sitcoms, the news, reality TV shows. There’s this world of media out there, vying for our attention non-stop. And we all want to be celebrities. And then Facebook is this magical site where you get to be a star. We’re all so happy to get so many likes, so much attention. But it’s fake. There is so little substance. It’s just another popularity game. People trying to outdo each-other with witty comebacks, memes, pictures, videos, references, hashtags, irony. It is the opposite of life. Frivolousness is glorified. Life is over-simplified. It feels completely corrupt. One person will post about losing a loved one, another will post an ambiguous and trivial status update, another will share a random article they found. I don’t know, maybe that’s what life is.

When I played soccer a few years ago, I had spasms one time and nearly felt like I had a heart-attack another. I was extremely stressed then and I clearly am now as well. Some sort of demon has stayed with me all this time. I don’t know if I will ever feel released from it. I hated the sport culture: I didn’t want to go drinking afterwards, training was too slow and not very fun (I didn’t need a coach, just practice and experience), I got low on blood-sugar during matches and felt sick, many of the players were overly aggresive dicks. AFL was similar. The bad sportsmanship I saw made me furious. Ironically these “masculine” sports felt like the gayest things I’ve ever done. Maybe that’s weird or irrelevant or homophobic but men act differently when women aren’t around. They’re all trying to be the biggest, toughest and roughest while actually showing how weak and shallow they are. I was always an individual. But still not quite confident for whatever reason. The problem is that I care about things so I’m emotional and unsure of myself. If I didn’t give a shit I could easily be intimidating, outgoing, a complete smart-arse.

Everything I’ve done was always to make myself more loveable. I wanted to be smarter, more attractive, stronger, kinder, funnier. Obsessed with learning and finding the keys. I feel like I will die alone. With only my thoughts and memories. But I’m so guilt-ridden that it’s hell. I’m restricted and frustrated. Every moment of hope is false. There is no end-point. But of course, that makes sense. Life is constantly moving. The problem is that I’m not enjoying the ride. I dread it. Almost all hallways lead to pain. Happy thoughts are perhaps the most painful because they remind me of regrets, what I’ve missed out on and what I may never have.

I have to take a chance. On several things. On jobs I don’t want to do anymore. Creative things I want to try. Making things, lots of things. Educational things, my own ways of explaining things, my own theories. Have more fun and silliness. More indulgence in music and movies. The things I love. I have to stop respecting bullshit. Get more confident calling it out. Be tactful but say something!

Every skill I work on is the one that will save me. Just a little better and then everything will fall into place. I will finally love myself and accept that everything is okay. If I was really good at chess then at least people would have to respect me or like me a bit. They couldn’t ignore me completely. I think the problem is that I was good at things as a kid. So I thought I might get really good at something as an adult. But nowadays we can see everything and everyone on the internet. For anything I can do, there’s a kid in Japan that can do it blindfolded. I feel like I have nothing. I don’t feel sexy. Women can wear suggestive clothing and move a certain way and it just affects me. But I don’t feel I can do anything to affect anyone. I’m too isolated. Don’t get out enough. I open up to the wrong people. My family constantly fails to help. And yet I turn to them because there is nobody else. I have to turn to myself. Trust my instincts. In retrospect, I have been right for years.

Posted in General | Leave a comment


Feeling strangely emotional and outside of time. I watched a home video of myself and some friends in year 12 from 2002. Instantly familiar faces, but now they just look like kids, these teenagers who were once my peers. It’s triggering a stream of other memories and feelings. The hope and excitement I used to have. Life was an adventure, I was going to learn so much, meet so many people, make such an imprint and fill my life with love and awesome things. There were so many interesting things I missed at the time. The way a person spoke, held themself, the way they would pause or think. The universe is so infinitely complicated. Thousands of millions of people living lives, having all sorts of conversations. Hundreds of days every year, mornings, afternoons, celebrations and gatherings. Okay, so maybe a lot of it is extremely boring. But the details, the body language, all those subtle little things are extraordinary.

I feel like a ghost now. I barely remember my high school, I’m hardly the same person. I would only recognise a fraction of my classmates and practically no-one from other years. Funny how years can just pass like that. Anything you haven’t looked at, anything you don’t regularly come back to, will fly right by you. Imagine all the people and things in your life that you’ve already seen for the last time. There are moments when you’ll discover something by accident and then realise how easily you could have missed it literally for the rest of your life. These hidden relics of the past can be so powerful when found again. Even beautiful things you’ve never seen before are lying around, waiting to be instantly loved and appreciated in a familiar kind of way and yet you may never find them.

Our world is so full of advertisements, external forces trying to grab our attention or influence us, that it becomes difficult to find the things we really want. Search for anything and you’ll find a million things that aren’t what you want but which desperately want your time and consideration. Ironically, if you tried to separate yourself from these cultural forces to be able to clearly reflect, you’d be sacrificing active living, no longer creating new memories but just trying to understand and keep precious everything from before a certain point in time.

It’s scary. This will be lost, this moment. Eventually it will be completely forgotten. Unless I can somehow make something. Start something. Leave a permanent mark (hopefully a good one). Even marks can be forgotten. They become words – so and so happened which caused this. We leave it like this, so please don’t touch it. We forget we can change a mark, fix or improve it, reinterpret it in a new light. We can leave new marks. We can make an even bigger impact. But we freeze ourselves in time, trap ourselves. It’s funny. When you’re ready, the universe is ready. And it will all flow, a metamorphosis will take place. Maybe it was already happening and this transition is simply the big reveal. You let it go, tear it down or modify it and all of a sudden you’re free. There’s some new space available in your soul.

Piles of partially read books. Mentally noted partially watched movies, TV shows and documentaries. Reviews and trailers. Snippets from forums. People I’ve seen or met and dreamt about. Fantasies I had about my future. A collection of ideas of things, but not actually things themselves. There are so many. Even finished things feel unfinished. What was the aim again? Why did I start this in the first place?

I used to catch so many buses and trains. It was a kind of ritual. Entering a new space. Assessing the people. Glancing at the cute girl every so often. She’s really pretty and I’ll probably never see her again. Trying to see what that person is reading. Why are they highlighting so much? Looking out the window. Endlessly drawn to the passing buildings, roads, clouds, trees, people, everything. A whole world out there and I’m somehow a part of it. I can think and make noises and move around and touch things. This whole place is real, all of it. My mind wanders. It discusses things back and forth. Consciousness ebbs and flows. Different things are in the background of my mind at different times, it knows what it’s doing. I am silent, deep in thought. Struck by an inner peace. This music was made just for me here, for this time right now. It’s so soothing, so invigorating and affecting. I get off the train, constantly observing people, laughing at little details. Now I’m walking. Familiar streets and paths. How is the weather? Isn’t the sky beautiful? I don’t get this music but I’m excited that I must be learning in some way from it. My existence is becoming richer, my world is expanding. This is a journey, an adventure. A barrage of passing images and sounds, faces and expressions and I can look at whatever interests me the most. I finally arrive and enter either home or school or some university lecture hall. The morning’s or afternoon’s meditation is over.

How much of my life has been spent fully awake? Truly absorbed in my surroundings, using all of my senses? Perhaps that is the best feeling. Being fully alert and having the freedom to do anything, think anything. My soul is intact and I own it. I define myself and communicate to the world through my being. I don’t fear death. My sensitivity is heightened. I will remember this experience and gain insight into the world or even myself from it. Then I wake up years later, not realising I’d fallen asleep. Where do I begin?

Posted in General | Leave a comment