- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Al Gore was desperate. Before polls began flowing his way, the usual oracles decreed that he needed to solidify his liberal base. So he went for one of the kookiest proposals of the loony left, "comparable worth." This is the doctrine that the government can determine which jobs are of comparable worth to all others and can decide how to pay everyone equally for equal work.

These poor liberals just cannot help themselves. The early polls showed Vice President Al Gore did not have enough support from women. Women believe they are not paid enough (as if men do). But statistics show women only make 76 percent of what men earn and the AFL-CIO found women put equal pay as more important even than health care. Naturally, Al Gore concluded the solution was a government program to set everyone salary and that campaigning for "equal pay" for women would be good politics.

Of course, Gore & Co. do not utter the words "comparable worth." Indeed, they quietly whisper to friendly reporters who ask what business thinks, that they oppose Sen. Tom Harkin's "Fair Pay Act" that would directly impose comparable worth. Mr. Gore "only" supports Minority Leader Tom Daschle's bill using "voluntary guidelines." But the bill directs the labor secretary to develop "guidelines" for job categories to be used "voluntarily" by all employers to compare wages for different jobs as a means to eliminate "unfair wage disparities." The hook is that businesses sued for being unfair would be subject to massive punitive damages. In fact, when courts try to enforce laws, they look to whatever is there. If there are guidelines, they will be enforced. Quotas and job preferences were imposed in this exact way, with courts imposing "guidelines" the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures as law.

None of this is new. Equal pay for women for equal work has been the law since 1963. It is true that since Congress toughened the penalties, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has forced more settlements upon business. But that is only because they calculate settlement is cheeper than bureaucratic harassment or punitive damages.

No data show widespread wage discrimination. Liberals tried to impose comparable worth in the 1980s, first for everyone and then only for the federal government as an easier target. This is how yours truly became an expert on this madness. One could marshall the scores of studies several were done by former Congressional Budget Office head June O'Neill, and a new one was just released by the Employment Policies Institute by Barry Hirsch showing that when one controls for number of hours worked, the number of years of experience and education in a given occupation, there is no gender gap at all. But no one cared. Even between occupations, the gap almost disappears or shows an advantage to women if the value of choosing preferred types of work is counted. Nothing, however, dissuades the pay police of the left.

Pray tell, how is someone to determine how "comparable" is the work of nurses and carpenters? It would take a Solomon or rather since he would wisely decline a fool, probably many fools, working for the government with computers and piles of statistics that signify nothing except political correctness. Every existing method is arbitrary. The very reason the government was chosen was that it was outside the market and cannot go out of business even with arbitrariness. When the unions tried this before they were restrained by the blue collar unions who knew they would be paid less under any such scheme. The decline in these male-oriented industries now makes it easier for the unions to sell them out.

Mr. Gore has thrown every liberal nostrum he can think of into his campaign. He has promised to cure cancer, diabetes, AIDS and crime, specifically to cut the crime rate every year for a decade. Now he will set the salary for every job at just the right rate. How nice. All that is needed is a bit of government. Hey, pal, this has been tried before. Where has this man been?

The United States or at least the Democratic Party and its constituencies may be the last to find out what is happening in the world. Socialism has fallen everywhere, and Al Gore wants to set everyone's salary. If Americans were not willing to swallow government-run health care, how would they trust the Feds enough to regulate what every citizens is to be paid? If he can sell this, he will exceed V.I. Lenin in the pantheon of those who believe in government and its plan to kiss everyone's booboos and make everything all right.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a columnist and a Washington-based policy consultant.

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