The full conversation between Rosemarie Fike and Chelsea Follett can be found here. The transcript is below.
Chelsea Follett: Joining me today is Rosemarie Fike. Rosemarie is an instructor of Economics at Texas Christian University, and a Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute. She received her MA in Economics at George Mason University, and her PhD in Economics at Florida State University, and her current research focuses on understanding the effects that different types of economic institutions have on the lives and status of women. To that end, she is the author of the Fraser Institute’s Women and Progress Reports, which we’ll be discussing shortly, and attesting to the quality of her research, she has received numerous scholarly awards and distinctions, including the Addington Prize for Measurement, and her scholarly work has been published in the Eastern Economics Journal, Journal of Economic Education, and Journal of Benefit Cost Analysis, among others. She has published opinion editorials in news outlets such as US News and World Report, The Hill, and Roll Call, and I’m very excited for this discussion with her today. So Rosie, how are you?
Rosemarie Fike: Great, thank you so much for having me.
Chelsea Follett: Thank you for joining me. Before we get into the details of your work and the Economic Freedom of the World Report and the Women and Progress Report, I’m curious why you chose this topic to focus your research on, the relationship between economic freedom and women’s well-being? What led you to this research area?
Rosemarie Fike: Well, it just seems like there was a gap in this conversation. So, when I was in my PhD program at Florida State, I was working for James Gwartney, who was the main author who… He is the main author on the Economic Freedom of the World Report, and we were talking about how a lot of the data just kind of implicitly assumes that men and women have the same access to markets, and that’s just not true in the majority of the world. So, it just seemed like there could be a sharpening of how we measure economic freedom and economic institutions, and then once we have a better, more precise measure of economic institutions and their quality, we can start exploring how these economic institutions affect women’s lives. I like to consider myself a feminist, and I like to consider myself… I’m an economist as well, so I love market, and people who tend to care about gender issues and issues that are important to women, often overlook the benefits that markets can provide women and the benefits that they have provided women historically. So, I think that this is important work, important conversation, and I’m not the only one doing work in this area. There’s great scholars like Jayme Lemke who’s also exploring similar topics, but there’s not a lot of us. So it’s an important conversation to have.
Chelsea Follett: Right. It’s an important gap to fill, so going… Moving on to the Economic Freedom of the World Report, for those who are not familiar with it, it’s the world’s premier measurement of economic freedom ranking countries based on five areas: size of government, legal structure and property rights, access to sound money, freedom to trade internationally, regulation of credit, labor and business. And in the beginning, and you alluded to this, the report didn’t have any kind of gender component, not until I believe, 2015. And that actually created some distortions in the measuring of economic freedom and created an inaccurate picture, in the case of some countries more than others, by implicitly assuming that all members of a society have equal access to economic freedom. It did ignore the reality you mentioned that that is not always the case, unfortunately. It’s not the case for too many women around the world. So, before we get into what you did to fix it, what exactly were the problems with the index when you first encountered it?
Rosemarie Fike: I mean, it definitely measures many aspects of what we would think of as economic freedom, so kinda the hallmarks of economic freedom, our personal choice, being able to voluntary… Voluntarily exchange with each other, enter into contractual agreement, pursue the career of your choice, basically give you control… To what degree do you have control over your life. But a lot of the data when you’re looking at marginal tax rates or the soundness of the monetary policy, or the extent to which the government is a major player in the market, it’s not really capturing everybody’s experience. We’re just looking at that one number, and we’re assuming that 100% of the population has the same experience. So, if I, as a woman, don’t have access to market, if I’m not able to own property or if I’m not able to open a bank account or engage in a business transaction, then what good is it how free… How economically free we are, what good is it if I don’t have that same access? So, it wasn’t an intentional oversight, I just don’t think in the earlier days of the economic freedom of the World Index, I don’t think there was a lot of data available to make that kind of adjustment.
Rosemarie Fike: So, it’s only been in the past 10, 15 years that a lot of international organizations that collect a lot of this data that we use have started to really think more carefully about how are women… What are they experiencing, how are they able to access markets, what are the laws as they apply to women, are there extra barriers that women face that men don’t face? So there’s… All this new data started coming out, I wanna say around 2009, 2010, and so that just opens up a lot of possibilities for improving the index, just like as people start to kind of expand their scope of diversity and inclusion, we might get more measures about other types of legal discrimination, like laws based on gender identity or sexual preferences, right? If there’s any other kind of discrimination, as people start having these conversations, there’s a greater impetus for these international organizations to start collecting that data and measuring these things, so then economists and other social scientists can kind of get to work and see how this affects economic outcomes.
Chelsea Follett: Absolutely. So, how did you go about correcting for that gender disparity in legal rights and measuring those effects on economic freedom?
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah, so at first I started kind of just taking a look at what data was available and what was out there, and I started gathering data from the World Bank, the World Bank has this great report that they’re doing every year called Women Business and the Law, which looks at exactly this idea of, do women face additional barriers that men don’t have to face, and so they started collecting this data and publishing it in 2009. There’s a few other organizations, like the OECD had some gender related data. And so I started gathering all the data together and thinking about what variables are consistent with how the Economic Freedom of the World Index is measured. So, the Economic Freedom of the World Index measures what we call negative rights, and so the extent to which you have ownership over yourself, and does the law protect you from somebody harming you or harming… Or is taking your property. So, it’s a freedom from, you’re being protected from other people’s infringement on your right.
Rosemarie Fike: The other type of rights that we often hear people talk about are positive rights, and these are more what we call entitlement. So, if we have say… If somebody says we have a right to an education or a right to healthcare, that’s more of a positive right, because in order for me to exercise my right to education or my right to healthcare, it requires somebody else maybe to give up property or to… It obligates them to do something in order to provide me with that positive right. So, I wanted to be consistent with the Economic Freedom of the World Index and only look at those aspects of the law that infringe upon women’s negative economic freedom, which when you’re talking about gender issues, most of the data out there is actually measuring entitlements. So, it’s measuring are there laws that entitle a woman to have the same job when she gets back from maternity leave, are there laws that mandate that, in the constitution, that there needs to be gender equality.
Rosemarie Fike: So it’s… All of these… A lot of the gender data focuses more on positive rights, so it was easy to weed out a lot of things, because to me, I think about positive rights as maybe these outcomes that we care about, and I wanna see how economic institutions influence our ability to obtain these outcomes that we care about. And so, I focused on women’s ability to move freely, so outside of their home, within their country, or travel outside of the country, or to choose where to live. I focused on their ability to own property, both movable property and immovable property, and to inherit property, and I focused on their ability to choose their career path of their choice and to engage in commercial transactions. And so, all of those are related to the exact things that are being measured by the Economic Freedom of the World Index.
Chelsea Follett: And what changes did you see to the country rankings after you made those adjustments, because I know some countries changed their scores rather dramatically actually. Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are at least two of them. But what changes did you see after those adjustments?
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah. So, a pattern started to emerge where there were a lot of countries in the Middle East and in Sub-Saharan Africa that saw significant downward adjustments to their score. So, the gender adjustment that I do to the Economic Freedom of the World Index, I only adjust one of the five areas that you mentioned. I adjust area two, which is the property rights and kind of rule of law area. So, we view women’s restrictions on their economic rights as a rule of law issue, because when we have these additional barriers, then we have a set of rules that apply to men and a set of rules that apply to women, and they’re not playing by the same set of rules, so we consider that a rule law issue, so we adjust just the area two.
Rosemarie Fike: So, when we do that, as you mentioned, there were a number country… A number of countries where their score is reduced and it kind of plummeted them in the rankings like Bahrain and Jordan, so these countries have a lot of restrictions on a basic right that most economists view is essential to economic prosperity, which is property ownership. So, these countries are ones in which women face significant barriers that men don’t have to face when it comes to participating in the economy. And so, that matters from kind of a development perspective, because just thinking about Adam Smith’s work and how he talked about trade and expanding the scope of the market being the key to economic growth and development, the more people we’re trading with the more we can divide labor, the more wealth we can create. And so when you have all of these barriers on women’s economic participation, you’re really restricting the scope of the market in your society very artificially, and you miss out on all of the potential contributions that 50% of your citizens could contribute to the world.
Rosemarie Fike: So, when it comes to… People do pay attention to these Economic Freedom of the World rankings. I know that there are people who make financial investments based on how countries are changing in the rankings on the Economic Freedom Index. And people think about, “Am I gonna open up a business?” think about, “What country do I wanna locate my business?” They pay attention to a lot of the components of the Economic Freedom of the World Index. And so countries don’t like it when they start to see their scores plummet, and so it makes those places look less attractive, in terms of where you’d like to do business.
Chelsea Follett: Absolutely, especially compared to the over-estimate of their economic freedom, before you adjusted it to actually get the fuller picture of whether everyone in the country had access to economic freedom. So as you said, formal legal restrictions in the economic rights of women in many countries were preventing a significant portion of the population from engaging in mutually beneficial exchange. What were some of the negative effects of gender inequality in access to economic freedom that we expect to see in those countries, not just for women, but for the broader society?
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah, so it’s a big opportunity cost to all of society, as you said, it’s not just the women that are losing out, it’s anybody who can benefit from trading or learning from these women or benefit from the contributions that they make to the market.
Chelsea Follett: Oh and if there are any empirical examples you can give on any of this, that would be great to know too.
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah, so there was a study published by David Cuberes and Marc Teignier in 2016 that actually examined what are the opportunity costs of having barriers to women’s economic participation, and they found that these gender gaps in the law can cause an average income loss of about 15% of GDP. And this is for countries that have modest restrictions on women’s rights, if you look at the countries that have more pervasive restrictions on women’s rights, that loss is actually a lot higher. But 15% of per capita GDP is a very significant number for most of us.
Chelsea Follett: Absolutely. Okay, so those are some of the negative effects. What about some of the positive effects of women having access to economic freedom? And this ties really well to the Women and Progress Report that you author. I think women are an excellent case study for how powerful economic freedom’s effects can be on human well-being in terms of uplifting a group that historically wasn’t able to access as much social equality or power in society. So, what are the positive effects of giving women economic freedom equal to men?
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah, so I talk about economic freedom as a basic human right. So I think about things this way. So, if you’re a woman and you’re in a tough situation, maybe you’re married to somebody who’s not so nice to you, and you live in a country where you have no economic freedom. You have no ability to travel on your own without being accompanied by a male family member, you have no ability to get a job without your husband’s permission, you can’t open up a bank account without your husband’s permission or knowledge. And so, you don’t have very many options to change your circumstance. But if you’re a woman in that situation and you do have economic freedom, you can start to get a job, you can open up a bank account that your husband doesn’t know about, you can start saving money and planning an escape route, and you can leave when you’re ready without anybody restricting your ability to leave the country or travel on your own. So, especially women who are in really terrible circumstances, economic freedom can be a life raft for you.
Rosemarie Fike: So that’s a very extreme example, but more basically, women who are living in countries that have a lot of economic freedom, they live longer, they have higher educational attainment rates, they have greater labor force participation rate, and so you see a lot more contribution. Their health outcomes are better, infant mortality rates are lower, and maternal mortality rates are lower, and so if you think about a wide variety of, what we would consider development outcomes that most people care about, all of these things are better in places that have economic freedom.
Chelsea Follett: Right, and people can check out the work you’ve done on this by visiting womenandprogress.org, it’s all laid out in some beautiful infographics. And, you touched on this, especially talking about economic freedom, just as a basic right, the right to travel, the right to engage in exchange… but some people think of economic freedom as dealing with a very limited sphere of life. And they think of other kinds of freedoms as inherently more important than economic freedom, they see that as secondary. But economic freedom, as you pointed out, is actually much more all-encompassing than some people think. How would you describe the extent to which economic freedom, and whether you have it or not, defines your ability to choose the course of your life?
Rosemarie Fike: I mean economic freedom to me is all about the degree to which you control your own path in life. If a lot of the countries that I focus on in the women and progress report, a lot of the countries that have severe restrictions, they have labor market rules that say, women can’t do jobs that require heavy lifting or women can’t have jobs where you’re working at night. So you’re taking options off the table for people and so I think that this is important for a number of reasons. There might be goals that I have that I’d like to pursue. When there’s a legal barrier standing in my way, that prevents me from becoming the person I want to be. That prevents me from making choices and learning about the person that I want to become, let alone pursuing that direction. But I also think it matters from the perspective of… Sorry, I lost my train of thought. I think it matters also from a perspective of social norms, so women… A lot of the gender inequality outcomes that people who care about women’s rights and feminism focus on, a lot of them stem from social norms. This view, society’s view about what is the appropriate role for a woman versus an appropriate role for a man, which jobs are appropriate for women, which jobs are appropriate for men, so this kind of view that we have of what’s normal or what’s right, it’s unspoken.
Rosemarie Fike: And in order for social norms to change you need to be able to challenge those norms. You need to be able to try to break that barrier, be a trail blazer. If you live in a country that has a labor law that says women can’t work any jobs with pesticides, Belarus has this labor restriction, can’t work any jobs that have pesticides, maybe it is the case that most women are not gonna want to voluntarily enter into maybe the pest control industry but there might be some women for which that’s their best choice. That’s their best option. And so we’re cutting them off from the best option but we’re also cutting off women who might wanna push boundaries and challenge gender norms. We’re basically saying you can’t do that. So in order for us to push back on gender norms, the law can’t stand in our way. That’s just an additional obstacle. So I think it’s both from a direct impact on, you might be cutting me off for my best path, but from a broader perspective, it slows down the degree to which informal rules can change if the formal role says, you can’t make this choice.
Chelsea Follett: I think that’s a really interesting point about how even in the absence of a legal restriction there may be informal social norms that place barriers between women and the careers they want, or between women and the ability to own property, the ability to open a business without male permission, the ability to just engage in voluntary exchange in general. Can you talk a bit more about the relationship between those unwritten barriers and how you account for those, if you can account for those when measuring economic freedom, and the relationship between those barriers that are unwritten and the written regulations, the legal restrictions. How do those influence each other?
Rosemarie Fike: So it’s a complicated and messy relationship, the relationship between formal and informal institutions. I think that the direction doesn’t go one way, I think that it is the case that we have social norms that have influenced the formal rules that we choose to adopt but then once those formal rules are adopted it becomes rigid. And the formal rules can be a very big constraint on our ability to challenge gender norms or any kind of informal rule… Actually in the women in progress report that I’m currently working on, we get into a conversation, it does focus a bit on this idea of social norms, and so I look at the World Value Survey, which is a great survey that is conducted all over the world, every couple of years, at different countries that surveys hundreds of thousands of people in each country and ask them questions that try to capture their beliefs and these informal attitudes that they have, and there are a handful of questions that get asked in the World Value Survey that I think capture something important about gender norms, and so there’s a question that asks “in times of economic hardship, is it more important for men to have a job than for women” And so people who say, Yes, I strongly agree, or I agree with that statement.
Rosemarie Fike: They are expressing a view that the man should be the provider, that men should take priority over women when it comes to jobs, if jobs are limited, that the man should have priority. There’s another question, “do you think that university is more important for boys or girls”. Attending college is that more important for men or women to do and if you say, I strongly agree, it’s more important for boys than it is for girls, then that’s another sign that your beliefs give priority to men over women when it comes to higher education opportunities.
Rosemarie Fike: And then the last question that it asks is, Do you think men make better political leaders and women. And again, if you say, “Yes, I do. I agree with that statement.” Then that saying, you think men should take priority over women in these political leadership positions. So through those three questions, I create a value, I create like a little index of gender norms, and I examine what is the relationship between economic freedom and this measure of gender norms. I look at it both kind of contemporaneously in the same time period, and I look at it in terms of past economic freedom and current gender norms to try to start the conversation about causality. And in both cases, I find that greater economic freedom is associated with gender norms that are less likely to give priority to men over women. Gender norms where you have the belief that it is acceptable for women to enter into these spaces that they might not traditionally have entered into before.
Rosemarie Fike: And so I am finding that greater economic freedom helps us get that gender tolerance outcome that a lot of people who care about women’s rights and feminists issues would desire. And so I think that that’s the really interesting conversation to have as well, because if it’s gender norms that drive a lot of the inequality in terms of labor market outcomes, the traditional way that feminist suggests we tackle those labor market differences is to legislate it away. To mandate… Well, we want this outcome to be equal, so let’s just pass a law to make it equal without recognizing that you can’t legislate people’s gender norms away. You can’t legislate how people feel. So there’s been some interesting work looking at how paternity leave mandates actually benefit men more than women, especially in academia.
Rosemarie Fike: So why is that? Well, because we spend our time differently, you can grant men and women, you can say everybody has to give men and women paternity leave or parental leave, but you can’t control how they spend their time. So women spend… Are more likely to spend the time taking care of the kid and the men are more likely to spend the time working on their research and using it as a sabbatical. And so these are things that are reflected in gender norms or attitudes about how that household division of labor should be split, but they’re not something that the law can say, we’re gonna change these attitudes. So economic freedom and markets, that is one potential avenue that we can use to try to chip away at some of these gender norms that seem to be holding women back. And that’s an idea that… It has a long tradition and classical liberal thought. It’s just like another form of the doux commerce theory that Montesquieu offered with the idea that markets have civilizing effect on our behavior and they make us nicer and more tolerant to one another.
Chelsea Follett: So given those wide-reaching effects that result from giving women economic freedom, it does seem very important to have an accurate assessment of the state of women’s economic freedom around the world. And what you’ve found is that there are a lot of countries today that have at least one labor regulation that restricts the ability of women to work in the same occupations or in the same exact way as men. Some countries have laws restricting women from working at night or the same night hours as men. Some countries forbid women from working in jobs deemed hazardous like with Belarus as you mentioned. Some countries have laws that restrict women from working in jobs that are not deemed socially appropriate for women, definitely getting into norms there with the justification behind those laws. And many laws restricting women’s economic freedom do seem intended to shield women from work situations that might be regarded as more dangerous or to enforce those norms you were talking about of traditional gender roles.
Chelsea Follett: So what would you say to an opponent of women’s economic freedom who argues that women shouldn’t be allowed to work in hazardous jobs for their own protection and that the traditional roles are good?
Rosemarie Fike: That’s a tough question. I probably would have some choice words to say to that person. But more seriously, I would say that if it’s really the case that this is not a space for women to enter into, then why do you need the law to prevent them from entering into it. Alright, if it’s really dangerous, and I care about myself, and I care about my own well-being, and I certainly don’t wanna put myself in a situation that is too dangerous for me to handle, I don’t need a law to tell me that I shouldn’t try to lift more than I’m able… Capable of carrying. And as you said, a lot of these rules, these restrictions on what labor women can provide, a lot of it has to do with protecting us.
Rosemarie Fike: Specifically protecting our ability to have kids, and the jobs that require heavy lifting, the ‘don’t work with hazardous chemicals and pesticides’. A lot of this is about saying… It’s justified by saying, this might limit your ability to have children, it might result in birth defects. So it’s really treating women as a vehicle for… A vessel, treating them as a means to a particular end, which is really not treating them as people.
Chelsea Follett: I think what you said was very important, that women don’t have to go into any kind of dangerous profession if you give them the freedom to do so, they can always choose not to. Nothing about economic freedom even forces women to go into paid labor.
Rosemarie Fike: Exactly.
Chelsea Follett: Women have the freedom to be homemakers if they want to. And they have that option. So, what areas of the world would you say currently are doing the best and the worst in terms of women’s economic freedom, and what kinds of trends are we seeing? What positive trends or negative trends?
Rosemarie Fike: So, the good news is there… At least according to my latest data, there are 62 countries that we rank in the Economic Freedom of the World Index that have gender equality under the formal law. So, that means they have no additional barriers that women face toward their economic rights that men don’t have to face. And it doesn’t mean that those countries are all bastions of freedom. Venezuela happens to be a place where women don’t face additional legal barriers that men don’t have to face, but we would just say men and women are equally unfree in Venezuela. Right.
Rosemarie Fike: But there are many countries where this is… There are no differences under the written law. Now, in terms of the places in the world where there are pervasive restrictions, it is very, very prominent in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, some Southeast Asian countries as well. But I wanna give a lot of credit where credit is due, Saudi Arabia has made significant reforms in the past couple of years. So, in the 2018 data, so this would be the data that was released in our 2020 Women and Progress report, Saudi Arabia was one of the lowest performing countries. They ranked very close, if not at the bottom, they were next to last on the list. They had a gender equality score of 0.35 on a scale of zero to one. So this is very, very, very low. Lots of barriers. And between 2018 and 2019, they almost… You know, they increased their score dramatically from a 0.35 to a 0.7 because they relaxed all of these restrictions that they had on women’s ability to travel. So, restrictions on their ability to obtain a passport, choose where to live, all of those were removed in 2019.
Rosemarie Fike: And then between 2019 and 2020, they removed some additional barriers on the labor market restrictions, so there’s no longer a restriction saying that women can’t work at night or can’t work in dangerous jobs. So they got rid of a lot of those restrictions and now they won’t… In our next report, next edition of the Women and Progress report, you will not see Saudi Arabia listed in the list of worst performing countries, because their current score is 0.88. So they… In just a matter of two years between 2018 and 2020, they have removed restrictions on economic freedom of women in significant areas. Now, what has happened as a result, the labor force participation rate of women went from under 20%, so it was 19.7% of the female population was either employed or actively looking for a job, and by 2020, that’s now a third, it’s 33% of women. So just in two years, and just removing some of those barriers to women’s economic rights, they saw a 64% increase in labor force participation rate. It’s like, that’s massive.
Rosemarie Fike: And does that mean that men and women are gonna have the same pleasant experiences in the labor market in Saudi Arabia immediately? No, that’s where social norms come in, but to see the labor force participation rate of women increase that dramatically immediately following the removal of those economic restrictions, just is amazing to me. So I’m very… It’s a place to watch right now. I’m very interested to see how things change for women there, over the next several years. More good news is that gender equality under the law globally, it’s generally on a pretty upward trajectory. So, in the 1970s globally, the score… Average score was about 0.69, so under 0.7, and now globally, it’s about 0.87. So we’ve seen a pretty steady increase in gender equality under the law. A lot of removal of restrictions. And so, I don’t wanna call out just the Middle East and parts of Africa, the labor market restrictions are pretty pervasive. There’s lots of countries in Eastern Europe, like Ukraine and Slovenia that have labor market restrictions. There’s a lot of places in Latin America that have them as well. So those can kinda be the more subtle ways to restrict women’s economic participation, but they are still costly.
Chelsea Follett: Some people think that the best way to improve freedom for women is to just put women in charge of the policymaking process and if that can’t happen organically, democratically, then they advocate for gender quotas. And if you look at measurements of gender equality, there are some measures which will look at female representation in parliament or whatever the political body is, and will put that into the gender equality measurement to such an extent that a country like Rwanda that has a mandate that 50% of its parliament be female, they automatically become ranked as one of the most gender equal countries in the world just based on those quotas. But what do you think about quotas? And do they actually… What impact do they actually have on gender equality in a country or women’s freedom in a country?
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah. So I think that you can’t predict in advance how the quotas are gonna play out. Right. So there’s there’s probably several instances in which the gender quotas results in improved political outcomes. However, you’re measuring that, but you can’t… As I said before, you can’t mandate gender norms to change. You can’t… You can put a gender quota, but you can’t ensure that there’s enough women who have the experience to fill those gender quotas.
Rosemarie Fike: And so I don’t… Those are to me at odds with the spirit of economic freedom, because you’re taking away people’s ability to choose who is the best person to fill that position. And it’s important to let people make those kinds of decisions and hire who they think is best for the job. That’s not, that’s not a rule that’s fair to men. Actually, that’s a rule that kind of infringes upon their freedom in a way. So I also think it’s important not to put those in our measure of gender equality, because I would like to actually know how does economic freedom contribute to women’s representation in legislative branches.
Rosemarie Fike: If I’m putting that in my gender equality measure, then I can’t ask that question empirically because now it’s in the index and it’s in the outcome variable. And I can’t ask… I can’t sort those things out. So there’s many reasons why I kind of steer clear of using those questions in the data that I use. But also because social norms are so complicated and you can’t really predict how those informal rules are gonna interact with something like a mandate. If the mandate is very at odds with the culture of a society, I don’t think the outcome is gonna be very pleasant.
Chelsea Follett: I would agree with that. I’m completely skeptical of social engineering, as are you. And I also think that what you’re measuring is more important to understanding the freedom of an average woman in a country. It doesn’t necessarily matter to someone if they’re in a dictatorship, whether that dictator is the same gender as them or not. It doesn’t necessarily matter: if the politicians in charge of your country are very authoritarian, whether that’s right wing authoritarian or left wing authoritarian, it doesn’t necessarily matter to you what their gender is or whether they look exactly like you. What matters is their policy positions, right? And whether they grant you more freedom over your life or whether they take things in an authoritarian direction. So…
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah. I mean…
Chelsea Follett: I like your measurements a lot better.
Rosemarie Fike: Thank you. I mean, I can see and understand the logic behind having some gender quotas, because there is evidence in the experimental economics literature that women are less likely to take risks. They have different risk preferences systematically different than men. They’re likely to spend money in different ways than men. So you are probably very likely to get some systematic differences in the policies that men and women prefer. So there is that justification behind doing it. I just don’t know because our world is so complex, it’s not clear that they’re gonna achieve the outcome that you’d like them to achieve. But I think that that’s where the justification for a lot of this comes from, is a lot of the experimental economic literature, behavioral economics literature about men and women making different systematic choices.
Chelsea Follett: That’s interesting. And you described quotas as actually a law that discriminates against men. Which brings me to another question, which is – by focusing on women’s economic freedom, how do you deal with the criticism that focusing on women’s economic freedom, is actually not the way to go because we should be focusing on how economic freedom benefits everyone. And by just focusing on women that could downplay the suffering of men who lack economic freedom, or that could be sort of a myopic way to look at things?
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah. So I would say that in making the gender adjustment to the economic freedom index, that is a step towards looking at economic freedom for everybody, because the default position before was that we’re just gonna measure these laws and assume that everybody has access to… They experience these laws in the exact same way. That’s, by default, focusing only on economic freedom that you know is guaranteed to men. And so in making the adjustment, when we do the adjustment, we’re only adjusting 50% of the population, we’re not downgrading the rules that apply to men, we are downgrading the rules as they apply to 50% of the population. So I think that this is a more inclusive view of what economic freedom means, it’s challenging that default position that the way we measure things focuses on the male experience, and I don’t think that that’s a maliciously intended thing, I think that there were not a lot of female voices in economics for a long time, and it takes having more female voices enter into a field to start to be more aware of the issues and the problems that are important to women.
Chelsea Follett: Right and as you were saying, if you are only looking at economic freedom for men you’re not really looking at economic freedom, you’re just looking at economic freedom for that one half of the population. So there are literally hundreds of peer-reviewed academic studies that have found that citizens in economically free countries are wealthier, healthier and happier than in countries with less economic freedom. Those are very convincing, and the same is true when comparing countries that grant men and women equal access to economic freedoms, and that don’t restrict the economic freedom of women. So what are some of the ways that economic freedom for women can make life better in a society and promote progress?
Rosemarie Fike: Well, I think…
Chelsea Follett: Just to sum up, you’ve obviously talked about… [chuckle]
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah, I think economic freedom, allowing more people to participate in the market helps us make better use of the scarce resources that we have, and so having women engage engaged in buying, selling, contesting of prices, contesting of different uses of resources, that’s just gonna help us have more people to divide labor with, it’s gonna help us figure out, better… Better figure out and identify what we have a comparative advantage in, and it’s gonna help us make more out of the limited resources that we have, it is a wealth-enhancing policy, and it’s actually one, like if you start to remove the restrictions that women face that men don’t face, it’s low-hanging fruit from a policy perspective, ’cause it’s not requiring governments to do something, it’s not requiring them to allocate resources towards enforcing a particular thing, it’s actually saying, let’s refrain from doing something and maybe take some of those resources that you were using, making… Having a bureau that makes sure there’s no women working at night, maybe you could use those resources towards something more socially productive, and so I really do think it’s a fundamental issue of economic efficiency. It is inefficient to have these rules that artificially cut people out of the market, whether it’s based on gender issues or some other margin of discrimination, it’s inefficient.
Chelsea Follett: Right. It’s a very low-cost way for governments to get a huge potential boost in their society’s prosperity.
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah, just look at… Look at Saudi Arabia, I am so impressed with the change that has rapidly happened there, and I would be very surprised if it didn’t translate to a boost in their per capita income.
Chelsea Follett: That is really heartening to hear. For a final question, given all of the benefits of economic freedom for women, why do you think that relative to their share of the population, there are relatively few women who are supportive of free market economics, or there are relatively few libertarian-leaning women compared to what you’d expect from random chance?
Rosemarie Fike: I mean, that’s a good question. I think that part of it comes from… Economics in general, is an area where there’s not that many women still. It’s one of the more… It’s one of the STEM fields that has a persistent and large gender gap, so perhaps it’s a lack of women to explore these questions, maybe the average person who hasn’t had any economics training might not understand the way the market works or the spontaneous order of the market.
Rosemarie Fike: But that… I don’t wanna blame… Blame the women. I think part of it is also, I don’t hear a lot of classical liberals tackling these issue and maybe we need to do a little bit better about… Be a little bit better about the messaging that we’re putting out there. There’s not too many people that focus on here’s the ways in which the market benefits you. There are lots of feminists that criticize the markets. There’s lots of prominent voices like Martha Nussbaum or Nancy Folbre that talk about how women don’t benefit equally from the market. Men get bigger benefits from the market. I would say men also have better access to the market. They have economic rights that are not restricted in ways that women’s are.
Rosemarie Fike: So how can we have equal benefits from the market when we’re not able to equally participate in the market? So yeah, so I think that we definitely could be a lot better about talking about the ways in which markets really benefit women’s lives. I think Steve Horwitz was really good at, he has a couple of short pieces for the Foundation of Economic Education (FEE)’s website, where he talks about the benefits of markets for women in his book Hayek’s Modern Family also kind of touches on some of these things, and like I said, myself and Jayme Lemke and a number of women are really trying to get that message out there. But it’s always… It’s a hard question for me to answer because to me it seems so obvious that freedom is something that would be beneficial to women and having more control over my choices and having more economic options gives me a lot more options in a wide variety of other areas. So the connection seems really obvious to me. And so I’m always puzzled myself trying to understand how is it that women or people who care about women’s wellbeing, overlook what the market can provide, the things… Even just like technological advancements, like the washing machine and the microwave, even if gender norms are still dictating that household chores are mostly my responsibility, like there’s market innovations that make those things so much less time consuming and so much less exhausting but we don’t often stop and talk about those things.
Chelsea Follett: I would agree with that. I would say markets actually benefit women more than men partially because they were coming from that lower starting point, right? When you are part of the half of the population that does more of the housework, and in every country it’s still the case that women on average do more housework than men, then those sorts of innovations that make housework less time consuming are going to benefit women actually even more, and I think that you’re right that there is maybe a misconception out there that free market economics are about… You often hear the phrase “promoting profits over people,” that it’s this sort of cutthroat efficiency-enhancing thing that puts human wellbeing to the wayside. But actually if you look at the countries where human flourishing is… Where people have the most access to being able to determine the course of their life, where they have the most wealth, the best health outcomes, the most self-reported happiness, these countries are disproportionately the ones that are economically free. And so I think that the work that you are doing and other people are doing to get out that message about the relationship between economic freedom and human wellbeing is extremely important, especially for groups where maybe it’s not talked about as much like women.
Rosemarie Fike: Yeah. I agree. And thank you for that. [chuckle].
Chelsea Follett: Thank you so much for speaking with me. I really enjoyed this conversation, and if you enjoyed listening to this podcast, please check out womenandprogress.org and follow the work of Rosemarie Fike.
Rosemarie Fike: Well, thank you so much for having me.