Fairness, Equality, Efficiency and Parent Perks

I assume the existence of an adversary in this post. I think the adversary actually exists, but be warned, I could be wasting good TV time on a straw man.

First, I read the opening question of this installment of Dear Prudence over at Slate. (Yeah, I read Prudie…SO FREAKIN’ WHAT?!) In short, a childless, junior attorney complains that she has to pick up the slack for her more “Quiverfull” coworkers while they attend to their various parental duties, and she doesn’t think this is fair. Then a little later I read this article, also over at Slate, which takes a more general and principled stand against the same thing, arguing that granting parents more slack is a form of discrimination. (Was the author of the article inspired by the Prudie question?)

In the comments, people bring up a lot of different points about how the parents probably do more work from home that others don’t see, or how each employee may have negotiated different combinations of pay and vacation, etc. These are all worthwhile points, but for now I want to just assume for the sake of argument that these workplaces do, in fact, systematically shift some work from their parent employees to their childless ones without providing any other direct or indirect compensation. In addition, I’m going to make two further assumptions, either of whose failure would make me susceptible to the aforementioned straw man.

  1. A non-trivial number of people (especially childless ones) would find such a workplace discriminatory, or at the very least unfair.
  2. A non-trivial portion of those same people from 1 also think that the US government should require workplaces to provide more lavish, pro-parent benefits, like the ones apparently found in Sweden and Norway.

If you think either of these assumptions is obviously stupid, you can stop reading here and perhaps tell me why. However, in absence of contradictory evidence, they feel right to me.

So, the natural question then is what plausible premises dissolve the apparent contradiction here? When it comes to this kind of pro-parent, redistributive policy, why does fairness trump equality/efficiency at the firm level but not at the federal level?

One reason I found this interesting despite its fairly narrow scope is that debates between pro-market and pro-government folks usually revolve around whether or not the market would provide certain goods that society requires and/or needs. So, one naturally assumes that pro-government people would be satisfied if they believed that the market was already allocating resources justly. However, this makes me wonder if that assumption is wrong because here it seems that the redistribution is deemed just only if it’s done at the “highest” level. Are there any other examples like this?


2 Responses to “Fairness, Equality, Efficiency and Parent Perks”

  • Perhaps the contradiction is that people don’t really understand taxes. That is they don’t connect that: taxes take money from them and the government distributes this money.

    • Yeah, I sort of think that the out-of-sight-out-of-mind phenomena might play a large role here. I hesitate to ascribe it all to that because it seems like such an easy answer, but maybe that’s a feature rather than a bug.

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