With the Democratic race for the presidential nomination now in full swing, I want to take on one of the issues that was brought up at the debate.
All of the candidates are proposing big government programs. The cynic in me says it is all an attempt to buy votes. It is a contest to see who can propose the biggest promises to the most number of people.
Proposals have included raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women, free college tuition, free child care, and paid family medical leave. That is not nearly an exhaustive list.
The only candidate amongst the Democrats who has acknowledged that there is a cost to these programs is Jim Webb. Otherwise, they all have an answer of bigger government to every problem, or even every non-problem.
In the case of Hillary Clinton, she proposed equal pay for women in the same breath as paid family medical leave. In other words, according to Clinton, employers should be required to pay women more, while also being forced to pay them for having babies. If you are an employer, it would give you an incentive to not hire women.
This is common in government proposals. The groups that are supposedly going to be helped by a new government program are the people who actually get hurt the most by it.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act passed and put strict requirements on what employers had to provide, it actually gave an incentive to employers to not hire handicapped people. Who wants to deal with significantly higher expenses along with a bigger threat of a lawsuit?
I have dealt with the issue of equal pay for women before. As a libertarian, I believe fully in freedom of association, including the right to discriminate. I also believe that the free market makes discrimination less likely to occur. Money is a great motivator in that respect.
So what about paid family medical leave? People like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will say that the U.S. is the only advanced country that doesn’t provide this. But who really is “providing” it?
From a libertarian perspective, this government program – like most others – is morally wrong because it uses force or the threat of force. If an employer does not abide by the law, it will result in fines, possible bankruptcy, and eventual arrest if taken far enough.
In terms of economics, this is also bad policy, unless you happen to be a family giving birth to a child. Then you will benefit in the short term at the expense of others. You probably won’t benefit in the long term.
Let’s say the government passes a new law requiring employers to pay a woman for 6 weeks if she is out on maternity leave. What if the woman was just hired? Can she start collecting a paycheck and then go off on maternity leave and continue to collect a paycheck while not working? Will the law require a woman to be with the company for so long?
This would be an incentive for a pregnant woman to get a job. She can collect her free money and then quit her job as soon as her paid maternity leave expires. In the world of Bernie Sanders, maybe she can collect her vacation time too before quitting.
This law would also be an incentive for companies to not hire pregnant women, or even women of child-bearing age. Do you really want to hire someone and then be forced to pay them when they are not giving you any productivity?
A law such as this would likely have the perverse effect of making it more difficult for women to find jobs.
Also, as the Democrats talk about equal pay for women, a standalone law requiring paid maternity leave would actually lead to lower pay for women. A company is going to spread out its risk by paying women slightly less, knowing that a certain percentage will be collecting money while not working.
This view by people who support forcing employers to pay for leave is that the mission of businesses should be to take care of employees. But a business’ mission is to take care of its owners/ shareholders by taking care of its customers. Its decisions are really based on pleasing customers because they are the ones paying the money.
This isn’t to say that companies should not treat employees well. Part of running a successful company is usually treating employees well enough that you retain good talent. In a free market environment with increasing capital investment and competition to retain dependable employees, real wages will increase.
Some companies may choose to voluntarily pay women a certain amount when they are on maternity leave. That should be their decision as to how they want to retain employees and keep a healthy work environment.
In the long run, mandating pay for those taking maternity leave or other kinds of medical leave will make virtually everyone poorer. It is a misallocation of resources that incentivizes less production.
It imposes an added cost to employers at a time when employers already have huge costs in the form of payroll taxes, unemployment taxes, corporate taxes, and huge regulatory burdens. This would essentially be another tax.
This gets passed on to somebody in some way. Wealth does not automatically appear with the signing of new legislation to fund the people going on medical leave. It may mean lower profits for companies, meaning reduced shareholder value. It may mean reduced wages for employees. It may mean reduced employment. It may mean higher prices for consumer goods. It may mean all of these things.
Politicians who advocate programs such as paid family medical leave are likely not doing it because they are kind and caring. They are doing it to exploit the economic ignorance of the people. These programs are morally wrong, and they are bad economics.