Battle of the Sexes

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Stop That Train!

States of Confusion

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Soak the Rich: Cut the Capital Gains Tax

How the Other Half Thinks

Taxing Fantasies

6/07/00 7:40 p.m.
Battle of the Sexes
Nike's new PC ads.

By Stephen Moore, NR contributing editor

ave you seen the latest Nike ad? A woman athlete makes a plea for pay equity in sports. She pleads to the camera: “Don’t we play as hard, sweat as hard, practice as hard, as the men? But we aren’t paid as much.” Ahh, the injustice of it all! No doubt sales of women’s sneakers will skyrocket in coming months.

The ad is no doubt inspired by the women from the U.S. World’s Cup soccer championship team who are complaining that the U.S. Soccer Federation doesn’t pay them what the men are paid. Michelle Akers from the ladies soccer team has even brought her grievance to the White House. There ought to be a law against this discrimination she has told President Clinton.

These days you can hardly pick up the sports pages and not read about women sports stars like Ms. Akers agitating for gender equity. Their demands sound reasonable: equal pay for equal work. But in reality the debate about ending salary discrimination in sports only unwittingly underscores the absurdity of the Clinton administration’s “comparable worth” legislation that would apply to all occupations — from secretaries to soccer stars.

Feminists point to the sports world as prima facie evidence of the lingering disparities in salaries between men and women. Female athletes are becoming walking billboards for the pay equity crusade. In professional tennis the ladies are complaining that Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are paid more than Lindsey Davenport and Martina Hingis. They’re so upset over this injustice that they’ve threatened to boycott either the U.S. Open or Wimbledon unless this pay discrimination is eradicated.

The women tennis pros don’t really want equal pay for equal work. They want equal pay for inferior work. There’s a very practical reason why Pete Sampras, for example, makes a lot more money than Martina Hingis does. He’s much, much better than she is. The day that Martina can return Pete’s serve is the day she should get paid what he does.

If there is an injustice in tennis, it’s that women like Martina Hingis and Monica Seles make millions of dollars a year, even though there are hundreds of men at the collegiate level (assuming their schools haven’t dropped the sport) who could beat them handily. Yet these men make nothing. Venus Williams is a multi-millionaire not in spite of the fact that she is a women, but precisely because she’s a woman. She receives much higher pay than an equally skilled man. Isn’t that precisely the opposite of what is meant by pay equity?

The fallacy of the pay equity issue in sports and all occupations is that it is predicated on the labor theory of value. If Martina Hingis deserves a salary equal to that of Pete Sampras because she “works as hard as he does,” then I deserve the same salary and speaking fees as Paul Krugman, because I spend as much time as he does writing about economics. (Compounding the injustice is that he’s paid more than me even though he’s almost always wrong, and I’m almost always right.)

If we reject the loony notion that the government should decide how much workers are “worth,” then we are left with the only time-tested way to determine salaries in this society, and that is the free market. The market does not somehow conspire against women — whether they are executives, computer programmers, bus drivers, or tennis players. Diana Furchgott-Roth reports in her latest edition of “Women’s Figures” that for graduates now entering the workforce the pay-differential between the sexes is almost nonexistent.

The U.S. Soccer Federation patiently explains that the main reason that women are paid less than the men is that men’s soccer generates 3 times more income a year than does women’s soccer. For the time being, and for better or worse, cash-paying customers are more interested in watching men than women play soccer. (As regular NR readers know, you’d have to pay me to watch anyone play soccer!) As women’s sports become more popular, the pay for women athletes has soared. It is quite possible that as viewership for women’s tennis rises and falls for men (the high-tech titanium rackets are ruining the men’s game!), Venus Williams may start making more money than Sampras.

And when that happens it’s going to be Pete whining in those Nike ads screaming for pay equity. With some justification, I might add.


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