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April 11 2012

Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Isn’t a War on Women

Carrie L. Lukas

One hopes the public recognizes just how much easier it is to make the case for government-as-Santa Clause.  Promising all manner of freebies and magical results from another government program like a huckster in an infomercial certainly takes less thought than explaining why government can’t deliver an endless stream of benefits.  I imagine most supporters of limited government have fantasized about just giving up and saying “fine, you are right, let’s just pay everyone a benefit of $10,000 a month for no reason at all, we will fund it through a huge tax on fat cat billionaires, and of course this will be a great economic stimulus.” 

The Left gets to celebrate how great it is for government to provide women with free health care services, students with more generous tuition support, seniors with big transfer payments, the unemployed with bigger unemployment checks, teachers with higher salaries, economically-insensible energy companies with million dollar loans, all without ever considering how one would actually pay for any of this, other than planning on passing the bill on to “the rich.”

But adults know—or they should know at least—that none of these goods and services just materialize for free, and if government is going to give one person a check for one thousand dollars, it has to take one thousand from somewhere else.   Adults also know that policies have consequences and that incentives matter.

That’s why the public should see right through the Left’s latest claim that the Right is waging a “War on Women.”  The Left’s tactic is to argue that if you oppose a new government transfer program, you aren’t just someone worried about the economy or the exploding national debt, you are now a misogynist who wants to harm women.  The progressive view, apparently, is that women are helpless, cannot care for themselves, and rely on Uncle Sam to subsist.  (Somehow this view isn’t recognized as profoundly insulting and a direct contradiction of the whole concept of women as men’s equals, but that’s another topic.)

The latest example of the so-called “War on Women” is the Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s repeal of a 2009 law, called the “Equal Pay Enforcement Act,” which made it easier and more financially attractive for women to file sex discrimination lawsuits.  This is being painted by the Left, of course, as an effort to keep women from having their day in court and encourage employers to exploit female workers.  

Yet that’s really not what the debate about this law is about.  This fundamental question is about the process of suing employers and how large the potential payout should be for discrimination awards. 

Americans should understand that this is a balancing act:  We need a system that provides redress for those who are actually discriminated against and harmed by employers.  But we also do not want a system that makes it so financially advantageous to sue your employer that businesses are all tied up in court wasting money defending themselves against frivolous lawsuits.  And it’s not just CEOs who should be worried about the costs of our legal system—when businesses spend more money on litigation, they have less money to expand their business and hire workers, and have to charge consumers more.  Women should also be particularly concerned since employers worried about costs of fighting sex discrimination cases have reason for trying to keep down the number of female employees.

Governor Walker thought that the 2009 law went too far in the direction of making suing too attractive, which would encourage frivolous lawsuits and discourage economic growth and job creation.  One can disagree with this, but it’s intellectually sloppy to pretend this constitutes a “war on women” or is evidence that the Right doesn’t care about female employees.   

We need to have serious discussions about policy issues like these and to have an honest weighing of the costs and benefits of different approaches.  Political rhetoric like the Left’s new “war on women” debases political debates and discourages needed conversations about policy.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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