A Sulz on Women

Economy, Education, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, War and Politics

A few brief thoughts on the New York Times-Sulzberger-Abramson affair.

  1. It’s awfully difficult to feel badly for income discrepancies where people are making hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars. Beyond a certain income level, which I would set at significantly less than $100,000 per year, it’s all just surplus value; its only purpose—if that word applies—is luxury purchasing for purposes of status signaling. This is not to say that women executives should be paid less than their immediate male counterparts; rather, no one should be paid so much money to be a general manager.
  2. In any case, the focus on corporate income inequality between men and women is a classic example of mistaking a symptom for a syndrome. Women are not paid less than men—whether in the executive office or at the greeters line in WalMart—because late capitalism is malfunctioning, but rather because that is a function of capitalism. Yes, women’s inequality long predates the modern economy, but the systems of capitalism incorporate preexisting forms of social and material inequality to their own end. A great deal of time and attention and political will is about to be frittered away “addressing the growing concern” over income inequality in the nation’s corporate media. Meanwhile, the question of what it means to have the nation’s singular newspaper a publicly traded corporate entity and the nation’s media in general an elite enterprise accessible as an occupation almost solely to those whose families have the previously acquired resources to support their effectively unpaid labor for as much as a decade will go largely unasked and entirely unanswered.
  3. In other words, yes, it is a problem in a narrowly defined sense that a woman reporter for the Times is making eighty grand a year while her male colleague is making ninety-five, or what have you, but it is a problem in a much broader sense that she went to Bryn Mawr and he went to Brown and both of their New York rents were floated by their parents for 4-5 post-undergraduate years of internships and sub-$30K reporting gigs; that these two employees consider this a natural state of affairs; that their employer considers it so (obviously) as well. These are the people who report on “income inequality.” In a very circumscribed sense, they experienced and performed low-income labor—for them, a rite of passage, a way station.
  4. Here is where the difference between the C-level and the checkout lane start to look a little more important. Let’s go back to that certain level of income. For all practical purposes, the difference between $400K and $500K—this is roughly the range we’re talking about for these Times editors—is meaningless. There is nothing of actual value that these people can’t buy; they can buy anything they reasonably want or need many times over. The idea that the arithmetical equality of dollars-per-annum for a bunch of rich people is a measure of anything beyond mere counting is the fundamental error here. What is at stake is a status claim.
  5. Meanwhile, a representative sentence from The New York Times:

Republicans contended [that Seattle’s attempt to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour] would be a job-killer, while Democrats asserted it would help alleviate poverty. Economists said both might be right.

  1. Wait, that isn’t fair! The Times has strongly editorialized in favor of raising the minimum wage!
  2. Well, sure, but then again, a few months later.
  3. Stop looking at the stories and start looking at the coverage. The narrative it builds is of a fraught and deeply technical political and economic question being argued passionately at the highest levels of government, in academia, and in the media—a debate mediated by and, in a perverse sense, for people who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars—the sort of people for whom there is something called “the economy.” “Both might be right”!
  4. These are the sorts of ersatz and imponderable conversations that capitalism, personified by its functionaries, likes to have both with and about itself. Have you recently used the phrase “rising inequality.” Ding-ding-ding! You listen with some anguish to NPR pieces on the “growing gap between the rich and the poor.” You, like the Times, recognize that it’s impossible to live on the minimum wage alone, and that even $15/hour condemns a wage-earner to a life of struggle and fretting over the bills. But isn’t it true that mandated upward pressure on the low end of wages will force businesses to slow hiring? The unemployment rate is so high! We need more jobs! No, we need good jobs! Oh, woe, what is a “the economy” to do?
  5. Pause. Here’s a question that you rarely hear anyone ask. What is money? I’ve always been very fond of the late author Iain M. Banks formulation in his first science fiction novel. Money is a “crude, over-complicated and inefficient form of rationing.”
  6. Rationing! You mean, like communism?
  7. Yes, Virginia.
  8. Stay with me. In 2010, women comprised 47 percent of the total US Labor Force. Now, estimates differ, as the Times might say, but broadly speaking, women are assumed to make somewhere between 75-85% of what men make in, as the Times might say, broadly comparable positions.
  9. Okay, I want you to imagine the Times, or any similar publication, publishing an editorial that says women should not make as much as men for the same work because of the fundamental damage that “some Republicans” or “some economists” say that “equal pay” would do to our old friend, the economy.
  10. Because, after all, the cost of bringing the compensation of all women in the workforce into wage/salary parity with men would far exceed that of increasing the minimum wage—even dramatically—for the just several million people who earn it. So why, then, is the one a debate and the other a moral imperative?
  11. I’m glad you asked! Capitalism is a system of surpluses, and it allocates them upward. It gives more rations to people who already have a pile. Should women make as much as men, blacks as much as whites? Yes. But these debates are moral proxies for debates that we are not having, at least, not in the pages of the Times. The answer to the question of whether a woman line worker should make as much as the guy next to her is yes. The answer to the question of whether Jill Abramson should have made as much as Bill Keller is smash the system of state capital and reallocate the surpluses in the form of lifetime guaranteed housing, clothing, food, and study for everyone. I am not being crass here. There is, quite literally, plenty to go around.
  12. Yeah, well, how does this affect Hillary’s chances in 2016?
  13. There is, of course, a corollary debate. This debate has to do with the question of why it is that women in leadership roles are pushy and opinionated while men are strong and decisive, or, well, you pick the opposing pairs of adjectives—why, in short, is the behavior of women judged on measures of temperament, and men’s on measures of will? It strikes me that the actual question being asked here is: why, upon achieving a position of dominance, aren’t women as free to act like monstrous dickheads as men? The management behaviors ascribed to both Abramson and her predecessors are the worst kind of B-school blowhard psychopathy: management based on fear; power maintained by its own inconsistent application. These sorts of hard-driven, hard-driving, chair-tossing, dressing-down applications of personal power within a rigid hierarchy of authority are, like that big ol’ salary, a kind of surplus; an excess; an overage. So the question can’t be: how do we permit a few more women to behave like the lunatic men who’ve been running the show all these years, but how do we prohibit or prevent anyone from acting this way? And here, too, the answer is a more fundamental sort of levelling, because the other option, which is the false promise of our society, which is the belief that it is the duty of each person to scramble madly from the broad base toward the unattainable height, is a Sisyphean punishment where we all—well, most of us—under the weight of our own bodies are forever sent tumbling down the sides of the same brutal slope.

28 thoughts on “A Sulz on Women

  1. Nice post! Money is fake!

    Every person, regardless of occupation, should receive the same wage for every hour spent in “the economy,” as opposed to, “at home farting around with the family, or whathaveyou.” And let the idlers, and aspiring artists, have their subsistence, too. 😉

  2. Holy Wizard Of Ioz…

    The moral imperative of “equal pay” factors motherhood and homekeeping, how exactly?

    1. Well, yeah, I think that’s an implicit point here: that “equal pay” is a very, very narrow way of looking at what “equality”–of conditions, of outcomes, whatever–would or should look like. It’s an inhuman hierarchy of value.

  3. Related to Banks: I’m halfway through Delany’s Tales of Nevèryön, and he just dropped a definition of “money” on me that I wish I’d read at age 19. Would’ve saved me a lot of time.

  4. This was a fun post: makes me wonder if IOZ has been reading Alone @ TheLastPsychiatrist, who’s done a few posts, lately, that have taken a nice hard jab at the relationship between women, power, economics and media. I say several, and you’re all welcome to peruse for yourself, but these two were most decidedly the best:

    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2013/01/no_self-respecting_woman_would.html

    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2013/03/dont_hate_her_because_shes_suc.html

    I’ve enjoyed our host here and at IOZ for years and years, and I notice a writing style in TLP that I think I enjoy in much the same way.

    1. TLP isn’t questioning how to tear down the current, unsustainable system, as he is encouraging readers to reject the system via rejection of its own self-narrative (particularly the New York Times).

    2. I’ll second these links. A great paragraph from the first one:

      ‘I can’t predict the next field of power, I’m happy to hear your projections, the point for now is that while power moves ahead of you and your family, it leaves behind the appearance of a gender (or racial) struggle; and the immediate result of this is that people consider it a societal achievement that they are merely playing, even if what they are doing is ultimately meaningless. So while women (appropriately) fought for, and got, equal access to college educations– and now women even outnumber men in colleges– today we find that college is irrelevant. Huh. NB: what women did not fight for, and this is to my point, is the specific power of being taken seriously without a college education. “But how will the world know we’re equal?”‘

  5. i take out my pound of pen and swipe TOO IOZZY!! tomemos sees the crumbs falling from the masters’ feast & endorses the bitches’ scrambling under the table for scraps along with the rest of us mutts.

  6. nicely written and i like the numbering

    but i wonder if it’s really true that ‘there is, quite literally, plenty [of housing, clothing, food, and study] to go around’

    1) it is through the workings of the wage economy that these things are produced, and most of the people whose labor is part of putting food on the supermarket shelf and letting you take it out the door (and the labor of cleaning the floor, and so on) is done by people who are working for a wage – and who knows how many of them would keep it up if they could be satisfied with what just came their way when they didn’t HAVE to work

    2)money is info, obviously, not pieces of metal or pieces of paper – and we use it to keep track of who gets what physically – that half-gallon of almond milk, e,g.-

    AND ALSO – AND THIS SEEMS SEPARATE TO ME – who is in control of stuff – a piece of real estate, a bunch of honest politicians (ones who stay bought), an organization that creates and distributes sometimes-accurate information, and so on

  7. The answer to the question of whether Jill Abramson should have made as much as Bill Keller is smash the system of state capital and reallocate the surpluses in the form of lifetime guaranteed housing, clothing, food, and study for everyone. I am not being crass here. There is, quite literally, plenty to go around.

    Ah yes, just like in Russia and Germany and China and Cuba and Vietnam! Not to mention my favorite success story, North Korea. Plenty to go around.

    There is plenty to go around when somebody produces it. But plenty does not produce itself. People produce plenty, and they produce it because they are getting paid to. Furthermore, the people making plenty are the ones who know how to produce it. When you have “reallocated” their capital to you and your revolutionary cadre, all fired up with leveling fever but used to taking stuff by force and completely ignorant on how to produce anything (much less plenty), suddenly things don’t work any more. And then you get what they got: another in the long line of failures of socialism. When will men ever learn?

  8. women are assumed to make somewhere between 75-85% of what men make in, as the Times might say, broadly comparable positions.

    Assumed. Yeah. In fact, the wage disparity between men and women is largely a myth. It appears there may be actual biological differences between the sexes.

  9. As for money being a form of rationing, that is not what it is. Money is a medium of exchange and store of value; put more poetically, money is the bubble that does not pop.

    It is true that in capitalism, as in any possible economic system, most goods are scarce, and all scarce goods are rationed. Rationing by price is what capitalism does, and it works quite well. Rationing by other criteria has been tried repeatedly by socialists of various stripes, and always found wanting. It is really not hard to reason out why this would be, but of course most people learn nothing except from hard experience. And even then, most do not.

    1. i don’t understand money supply. i’m just a simple man that likes simple things…butter on my popcorn and…candy in my ass, but back in my great grandpappy’s day, real men traded in dames & didn’t give a cowpie for wage equality. he treated money like women and drew a lot of water in his town. and have you heard of a little thing called QE2? or inflation? money doesn’t go so far so…make more of it or they’ll be a scarcity of money? or maybe len you can just define scarcity for us & point out exactly what it is that’s so scarce?

      on a side note, you are in good company: larry summers thinks wymynz are more stuupider than men too.

  10. Well, since the NTY newsroom is merely a su[l]zerainty”, why is everyone surprised when the su[l]zerain decides to act like a su[l]zerain?

  11. yep!
    we had a couple of decades there where labor garnered more of the national income and capital less of it, and so the dudes took time out from their fight against capitalism to grant more equality to women, and the whites took time out from their fight against capitalism to grant more equality to blacks, and the straights took time out from their fight against capitalism to grant more equality to gays, and the natives took time out from their fight against capitalism to grant more equality to immigrants….

  12. perhaps by eliot’s “grace that prevents us everywhere,” or by coincidence, or more certainly cuz “the womens you have with you always,” i was reading woolf’s “a room of one’s own” when j.b. wrote this. like iozzy’s ‘niggerz is stupid brigade’, it just never seems to go away.

    reparations for women!

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