TCS Daily

Let's Not Internationalize Fairness

By Diana Furchtgott-Roth - November 29, 2010 2:42 PM

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking for President Obama, has asked the Senate to ratify a treaty signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, more than 30 years ago. Backing her up are seemingly all self-described feminists in America, and more than a few from outside America as well.

The UN's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was the subject of hearings on September 18 before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee. Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues at the State Department, testified before the panel, representing Secretary Clinton, in favor of ratification. Samuel Bagenstos, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department, represented Attorney General Eric Holder.

Why is there suddenly interest in a treaty that has been moribund for a generation-and this in a lame-duck session of Congress at which the Administration's higher priority is to win approval of the START treaty to limit nuclear weapons?

Earlier this month, the Senate wisely refused to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. That Act, as pernicious as the Convention, was anything but "fair" because it would have subjected the pay of every woman in America to new forms of litigation and the American economy to untold harm. It would have not been good for women, or anyone, but trial lawyers.

But proponents of bad laws, especially ideologically motivated lobbyists, rarely quit. The Convention, long dormant, is still an attractive goal to professional feminists. It has been ratified by 186 U.N. member countries. The United States is the only country in the Western Hemisphere and the only democracy not to have done so. How come, the reader wonders? Other countries that have not signed the treaty are Sudan, Somalia and, Iran .

In a meeting with feminist leaders at the White House on November 17, the day the Paycheck Fairness Act went down, the president said, "I don't want you guys to lose heart at this point because we're just going to keep on moving until we get it done...We're going to keep on working on it."

And here is the motive for the testimony and the subcommittee hearing: Obama seeks to demonstrate solidarity with feminist leaders and lobbyists. Plus, the Senate and Administration want to embarrass Republicans by tagging them as anti-women. The hearing shows that Democrats are still willing to pass a treaty that would wreck the American economy by imposing draconian measures on employers.

The anti-discrimination Convention goes beyond basic protections for women, such as the right to vote and protection from violent spouses, and mandates equality of outcomes-not opportunity but outcomes-in education, occupation, and earnings.

Although the Convention sounds harmless-who could be against eliminating discrimination, after all?-it would require the United States to go beyond the provisions of the failed Paycheck Fairness Act in expanding the reach of federal law.

Consider Article 11 1(d), which calls for "The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value..." American women are entitled to equal pay for equal work now under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but defining work of equal value, known as comparable worth, would keep UN and American bureaucrats busy for years-nay, forever.

The American Bar Association has issued a document, a so-called Assessment Tool, that describes how to comply with the Convention.

The ABA notes that "Recommendation No. 13 also provides that States Parties should develop job evaluation systems based on gender-neutral criteria, which would facilitate a comparison of work and value of jobs predominated by men and by women."

Compensation in America does not go by "value," a term that lacks unambiguous meaning. In our marketplace economy, value is what a willing buyer will pay-for example, at an auction. In other words, value is determined by supply and demand.

While some social reformers may deem childcare to be as valuable as what oil drillers do, companies have to pay people more to work on drilling rigs because the work is dangerous and dirty and workers have to be away from families for long periods of time.

Similarly, violinist Anna-Sophie Mutter's playing might be deemed by some to be of equal "value" to Madonna's, but more people will pay higher prices to see Madonna's concerts, so she earns more.

Article 11 2(c) calls for States to promote "the establishment and development of a network of childcare facilities" in order to "enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities." This is another perennial feminist demand that would increase government expenditures and the deficit still further, putting more upward pressure on taxes.

This 30-year old Convention is a latter-day Trojan Horse with the Paycheck Fairness Act inside. If the Senate did not want the Paycheck Fairness Act, it certainly will not want this convention. In addition to all of the problems that the Paycheck Fairness Act would have created, the Convention would be enforceable by U.N. bureaucrats. This is not what we need to get the American economy growing again.

This article first appeared in RealClearMarkets.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a contributing editor of RealClearMarkets, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a columnist for the Examiner.


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