Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Work Balance Ain't Free

It must be some sort of women in the workforce day either in this country or just at the New York Times building, since the two Op-Ed columnists focus their writing on its issues in their column. One was good: John Tierney’s, and one was worthless: Guest Columnist Matt Miller's column. (Viewing both columns requires free registration at nytimes.com.)

Let me address points raised in Miller’s, as Tierney speaks for himself:

For years I listened politely but inadequately, to judge from Jody's grumbling. Now, thanks to her persistence and my exhaustion, I've discovered I'm a feminist ("humanist," Jody corrects). They say spouses come to look like each other; maybe their convictions do, too. In any event, now that I've internalized this, I can help other men avoid my agonizing learning curve.

Here's the deal: this isn't a "women's" problem; it's a human problem. Yet for 30 years women have tried to crack this largely on their own, and one thing is clear: if the fight isn't joined by men (like me) who want a life, too, any solutions become "women's" solutions. A broader drive to redesign work will take a union-style consciousness that makes it safe for men who secretly want balance to say so.

First of all, I am very annoyed by the assertion that term “feminist” should be changed to “humanist”. I do not know how popular this is, but it is a very manipulative way of changing the argument. While feminist have often raised reasonable complaints in the past, they were never bringing them up in order to help both sexes. They might have believed that what benefits a woman, benefits the whole society, but they are only looking to maximize a woman’s position in the world.

Seriously, how often have feminists advocated for men to have equal rights in custody decisions? How about making women register for selective service? Bringing up spending on men’s health issues up to par with the spending on women’s health issues? Call a spade, a spade and stop acting like feminism has a goal of helping out anyone besides women. Not that this is bad, but it is the truth.

Miller continues…
Some call this "whining." Others like working 24/7. Still others assert that you can never change the nature of work near the top. But our corporate experience persuades us that change is inevitable. In a globalizing world, many senior jobs are already impossibly big. If they need to be restructured anyway (we're working on how), why not do so in ways that give folks the option to have a life? Skeptics should recall that everyone once "knew" that a weekend or a minimum wage would spell economic ruin, too.

This is where Miller becomes the most inane. Minimum wage and the weekend were added to our work lives before the economy had become so global. We now live in a global economy and any change in our work effort needs to be analyzed in this context. Miller also needs to realize that the top jobs will never allow for a good work-life balance. Simply put, the top jobs in our society will always go to the ones with the most talent and the highest commitment to the work longer and harder. If someone who can do this, choose not to, someone else will exploit the opportunity left behind. Miller is silly if he expects some sort of unified agreement among the nation’s “elite” to change the nature of the top jobs. Even if he was successful in this goal in this country, developing countries with a citizenry willing to work harder will soon surpass us economically.

Europe has tried to go down this road before. France and other countries created shorter work weeks and other government interference in order to make it easier for workers to have “balance.” What happened? America has maintained a consistently doubled growth rate and Europe has been left with spiraling unemployment. (Double-digit unemployment has not been seen in many years here, but is the norm in Europe.)

I am not saying that giving up the highest career success for a happier and more enjoyable family life is wrong. I actually think it is admirable in a lot of ways. But anyone expecting a better balance without a cost is fooling themselves. Life is full of trade-offs and choices and this will never change.

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