Should more women work outside the home?
If additional women desire to do so, sure — of course.
But what if those same females wish not to labor outside their humble abodes?
The answer follows just as easily: no, they most certainly should not.
I don’t even need to hear the reason. You see, a woman is first a free individual with certain inalienable rights. Women are not merely cogs in the machine of their nation’s state.
Does that matter to the debate?
It really should.
Let’s consider this issue not in America, but in Japan. A front-page feature story in The Washington Post presents the perils of childbearing and rearing in the land of the setting sun. Not the risks to the mother or child or the family, mind you, but the impact on national economic output and power.
In a recent speech, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touted his new economic policies, explaining simply that, “Abenomics won’t succeed without womenomics.” By that, he means that to end nearly two decades of economic stagnation and deflation in Japan, more women must enter the workforce.
Due to the island nation’s low birth rate, combined with official animosity toward immigration, The Post reports that, “the population is on track to shrink 30 percent by 2060, at the same time 40 percent of its citizens will hit old age.”
In addition to a drag on economic growth, this obviously presents huge budgetary problems for maintaining a welfare state wherein smaller numbers of young workers are forced to pay for larger numbers of older retirees.
Be advised that the labor participation rate in Japan is 84 percent for men and 21 points less, 63 percent, for women. In the United States, labor participation rates are lower, with 70 percent of men working, 58 percent of women working.
Meanwhile, bean counters have discovered a magic economic elixir: pushing more women into the 9-5 economy. Kathy Matsui, Goldman Sachs’s chief Japan strategist, points out that, “If you could equalize this, you could boost GDP by almost 13 percentage points, because you would be adding 7 million-plus workers to the labor pool.”
We’re informed that Japan “is at the low end of most statistical charts when it comes to women in the workplace.” The Post cites a report by the World Economic Forum, which ranked Japan 105th out of 136 on gender equality issues.
Of course, in this same survey, Cuba bested the USA. Seems to me most women would prefer living in Japan or the U.S. to living in Cuba.
Now may be a good time to counter the notion of women at home rearing children and running the household as somehow “outside the workforce.” Frankly, we all know better.
And who is to determine where their highest values lie — and value to whom?
Seven million women entering Japan’s taxable economy isn’t an improvement if those women didn’t want to be employed outside their homes to begin with, if they and their families valued their time at home more than the salary they can earn by working.
It follows that the most important public policy is to allow each woman and each man and each family to decide for themselves what is best. Simply: freedom. Government must stop subsidizing, taxing and regulating people into making life decisions that the prime minister or president or any other politicians want people to make.
In Japan, that means ending tax penalties for two-earner incomes as well as ending the massive government subsidies for private daycare and spending on publicly run nurseries. Yet, the Japanese prime minister is instead trying to expand those subsidies, and to have the government create 400,000 new child-care slots nationally.
He’s convinced Japanese families need more child-care to encourage more women to seek employment.
“Only 38 percent of Japanese women return to their jobs after having their first baby,” notes The Post, concluding that “Japanese women are opting out.”
By 2020, Prime Minister Abe wants that statistic to be at least 55 percent going back to work.
I wonder what Japanese women want … and if anyone will ask them … or simply permit them to make their own decisions.
I also wonder why, if indeed they value going back to work after giving birth to a child, their combined yen can’t purchase the child-care supply they demand?
The one shining example of success in providing more daycare appears to be in Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city, where the mayor gets credit for solving a tremendous shortfall in child-care.
What did the mayor do? “She offered incentives, dramatically boosting the number of private providers …” reports the Post. In short, she threw public money at the problem, but through private providers.
That’s a long way from a free market, and with decisions still made by politicians and not people individually.
Get government out of the way in Japan, and elsewhere, allowing a free market and freedom of choice for all. Then, perhaps, more women will find ways to enter the workforce. And then again, maybe they will choose not to.
Either way, we win. Because they win.
As if led by Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” people as a whole tend to win anytime free individuals make their own decisions — without taxes and subsidies and a rat-like maze of government regulation overturning the scales of their individual judgment.
Whether those people are Japanese or American.
August 3, 2014
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.