Saturday, September 29, 2012

Conceptualizations of freedom

Todd Akin offers one of his:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Why do you think it is okay for a woman to be paid less for doing the same work as a man?

AKIN: Well, first of all, the premise of your question is that I'm making that particular distinction. I believe in free enterprise. I don't think the government should be telling people what you pay and what you don't pay. I think it's about freedom. If someone what’s to hire somebody and they agree on a salary, that's fine, however it wants to work. So, the government sticking its nose into all kinds of things has gotten us into huge trouble.

This is a pre-civil war conception of freedom. He can embrace the freedom to pay people whatever a business owner wants because he is a white man who has never been discriminated against. But to anyone who isn't a wealthy white man the limitations of free enterprise and the benefits of freedom are apparent.

Notice that he tries to dodge the question. But he doesn't. In a way he is correct that he isn't making a particular distinction. The problem, when he embraces a wide ranging view of free enterprise and the concept of freedom, is that he is making distinctions across the board. He is letting business owners discriminate against whoever they want for whatever reason they want.

The audience member is rightly concerned about how Akin's conceptualization of freedom affects women. But in theory, he would be completely in favor of a business owned by a woman paying men 50% less than their women employees who do the same job, or a muslim businessperson paying all non-muslim employees a lower wage than the muslim employees. It would even mean going back to Jim Crow-style laws that allowed white business owners to deny offering their products to black customers.

But like I said, Akin isn't worried about any of those things because he has never experienced them and he is in a position in which he very likely will never experience them. His concept of freedom is purely about how society can benefit him and people just like him. He has no concept of how the freedom to discriminate can lower the freedom of those being discriminated against.

Though it would be interesting to ask him a follow up question, such as: If you are fine with letting a business pay a woman less than a man are you also ok with a business paying a man or christian (or, Akin himself) less than a woman or a muslim? I'm not sure how he would respond. But based on what he said he would support it in theory. And that should tell you how wrong that theory is if he would discriminate against himself.

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