Notes On The Current Scene

Hugh Hewitt urges Joe Lieberman to switch parties. This would be a tough thing for him to do and might cost him his seat in 2012. But he has already taken great political risks in the service of principle, and I think he is prepared to bow out of public office at age 70 if that is what the voters of Connecticut demand. He could still run as an independent. More important to him, it would snap his ties with the very many Connecticut and national Democrats he has worked with for many years. But many of those ties snapped when Lieberman lost the primary and the Democrats endorsed Lamont. I haven't noticed Lieberman running to endorse his colleague Chris Dodd's presidential candidacy.

David Broder takes a real swing at Harry Reid. He calls him the Alberto Gonzales of the Democratic Party--"a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance." Further down, he makes the most important point:

"It has been impossible for his own members, let alone the White House, to sort out for more than 24 hours at a time what ground Reid is prepared to defend." Reid's pugilistic zigzagging is not a helpful trait in a party leader. The Republican congressional leaders, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, are pretty steady guys. And I think Nancy Pelosi has been pretty steady too. But Reid is something else.

Comparable worth, a truly bad idea, has been endorsed by Barack Obama. Mickey Kaus has some useful commentary. In case you don't know what comparable worth is, it's an idea concocted by feminists in the 1970s or early 1980s. They said that jobs typically held by women pay less than jobs typically held by men. To eliminate this inequity, somebody--the courts, maybe, or some administrative agency, presumably with appeals to the courts--should decide what those jobs were really worth, based on some sort of convoluted criteria. So that it could be possible to prove that secretaries were of comparable worth to truck drivers and should be paid the same wages.

Earth to Obama: There's something out there called the labor market. Employers are setting wages to get the kind of workers they need. Employees volunteer to work at those wages--or seek better-paying work elsewhere. Listening to Fox News on satellite radio, I hear commercials run by truck companies seeking drivers and bragging about how much they pay. That's the labor market at work. The companies have jobs to fill, and they're offering more money to attract workers, presumably many of them working for other truck companies. I suppose many truck drivers have satellite radio (which proves they're paid well above the minimum wage) and that the companies think running ads on satellite radio homes in on the kind of workers they're seeking.

Comparable worth would subject the private-sector economy to the equivalent of the federal civil service system. Bureaucrats would have to classify every job, with their classifications subject to administrative and judicial review. Elaine Kamarck, who ran Al Gore's reinventing government project in the Clinton administration, once told me (as memory serves), "No rational person would choose civil service as the way to manage a large organization." As Kamarck points out, government work has been migrating from civil service employees to subcontractors since the 1960s. Social services are delivered not by federal employees but by nonprofits. Indeed, you can say the process started in World War II, when Franklin Roosevelt decided not to nationalize defense production (as Woodrow Wilson had nationalized the shipyards and railroads during World War I) but instead to contract the work out. Comparable worth would be a giant step backward from a process started by the Roosevelt and Kennedy-Johnson administrations and continued under administrations of both parties ever since. We will be a less-efficient and less-productive society if civil servants and judges set everyone's pay.

By Michael Barone