Friends have been asking what I think of some of the Massachusetts election choices this year, so I thought I would write up a blog post.
We have four ballot questions (official page):
- require the Legislature to vote to raise the gasoline tax instead of having it go up automatically with inflation
- add a container deposit to bottled water, iced tea, etc.
- repeal the recently enacted casino authorization
- require companies with eleven or more employees to be able to take 40 hours per year of paid sick time (or 80 hours if sick time had been accrued in previous years and not used)
It is tough to know what the right answer is on 1. In theory it would probably be better for our wise legislators to meet every year or two and decide on the right amount to spend on roads and the correct gasoline tax for funding it. In practice it is hard to imagine this being done with precision. So maybe it would be better to assume that the old tax was correct and just crank it up automatically as the dollar loses its purchasing power.
I’m not convinced by 2. There isn’t too much trash in Massachusetts and I don’t see more water bottles as trash compared to soda and beer cans. As for recycling I think people are motivated more by the availability of recycling bins than by getting 5 cents.
The best argument in favor of 3 is that casinos are tacky. On the other hand, we authorized a casino and people spent a lot of money developing bids. So it seems as though repealing this now would have the effect of further discouraging anyone from wanting to do business in Massachusetts.
I don’t understand how 4 would work for the business where I work. If I am sick for 48 hours, for example, Sunday morning at 0900 through Tuesday morning at 0900, how many hours does the flight school have to pay me for? Does it depend on what the weather was like on those days and whether I would actually have flown? What customers had booked? I don’t understand the rationale for making it apply to businesses of only 11 or more people. If this is a question of basic fairness then why is it okay for a 10-person company to be unfair. The ballot question says “The Attorney General would have to prepare a multilingual notice regarding the right to earned sick time, and employers would be required to post the notice in a conspicuous location and to provide a copy to employees.” How does that work in a distributed/virtual company? Why does our flight school have to have a multilingual notice given that the FAA requires English-language proficiency as a condition of any of us having pilot or instructor certificates? Do we know that the cost to taxpayers to enforce this new law won’t be higher than any benefit to workers? Why would there be any benefit to workers overall? Wouldn’t companies just give smaller raises for a year or two as an adjustment to this new law?
The governor’s race is between a career politician, Martha Coakley, and a business executive, Charlie Baker. Coakley seems to be the one Democrat that people in Massachusetts don’t like. She was defeated for Senator in 2010 by Scott Brown, a Republican (!). The Boston Globe has endorsed Baker (editorial), citing the generally incompetent nature of the Deval Patrick administration (“Effective activist government isn’t built on good intentions.”), of which Coakley has been a part.
Given that the Legislature makes the laws and is permanently controlled by one party you might ask what difference it might make to citizens of the Commonwealth who is governor.
I think the answer is judicial appointments, especially in the Probate Court, which handles divorces, custody, and child support matters. These are almost entirely within the judge’s discretion and therefore the governor’s choice of judge, who will generally serve for life, becomes critical to children. For a book project, we looked at the record of Judge Maureen Monks, appointed by Democrat Deval Patrick (see this article regarding the controversy surrounding her appointment):
we pulled all of the cases for one judge, Maureen Monks in Middlesex County, for 2009, 2010, and 2011 (approximately 350 cases per year, though not all of them involved disputed custody). Judge Monks awarded custody via temporary order to the mother in nearly all of the cases examined except for one case where the mother was a drug addict and another where the mother was in a mental hospital (and as soon as the mother was released from the mental hospital, Judge Monks awarded custody of the children back to her). During the three-year study period no father was successful in going to trial and obtaining a 50/50 shared physical custody situation from Judge Monks in the cases that we examined.
The idea that children should nearly always be awarded to, and generate cash for, the mother has become a feminist position. If you agree with that then it would make sense to vote for Martha Coakley, identified as a feminist, because she will probably appoint more judges like Maureen Monks. If, on the other hand, you think that children should have two parents following a divorce, it would probably make more sense to vote for Charlie Baker since judges that he appoints would have the discretion and perhaps the inclination to award 50/50 shared parenting.
[Separately, in case you're wondering how being automatic custody winners and having the potential to collect $100,000 or more per year in tax-free child support became a "feminist" position, here's an excerpt from our book:
Legislators and attorneys told us that women's groups and people identifying themselves as "feminists" were proponents of laws favoring the award of sole custody of children to mothers and more profitable child support guidelines. Is that a recognizably feminist goal? For a woman to be at home with children living off a man's income? Here's how one attorney summarized 50 years of feminist progress: "In the 1960s a father might tell a daughter 'Get pregnant with a rich guy and then marry him' while in the 2010s a mother might tell a daughter 'Get pregnant with a rich guy and then collect child support.'" Why is that superior from the perspective of feminism? A professor of English at Harvard said "Because the woman collecting child support is not subject to the power and control of the man."
We interviewed Janice Fiamengo, a literature professor at the University of Ottawa and a scholar of modern feminism, about the apparent contradiction of feminists promoting stay-at-home motherhood. "It is a contradiction if you define feminism as being about equality and women's autonomy," she responded. "But feminism today can be instead about women having power and getting state support."
Why isn't there a rift in the sisterhood, with women who work full-time expressing resentment that women who met dermatologists in bars are relaxing at home with 2-4X the income? "[Child support profiteering] is kind of an underground economy. Most people just don’t know what is possible. We hear a lot from the media about deadbeat dads who don’t pay any child support and the poverty of single mothers. The media doesn’t cover women who are profiting from the system. The average person assumes that equal shared parenting is the norm and that, in cases where a man is ordered to pay child support, it will be a reasonable amount.”
How did we get to the divorce, custody, and child support system that prevails in Canada and in most U.S. states? “This is because of the amazing success of feminism,” answered Professor Fiamengo. “The movement has totally changed the sexual mores of society but held onto the basic perceptions that had always advantaged women, e.g., that a woman was purified through motherhood. Feminism did not throw out the foundations of the old order that it pretended to reject.”
What’s the practical implication of these perceptions? How do they influence the legislators writing the statutes and judges hearing cases? “People still think of the mother as the best parent, the essential parent,” said Professor Fiamengo. “And that a woman would never lie to obtain the financial benefits offered by the system. A woman would never try to profit from her child. We think of mothers as moral beings who care only about the welfare of their children. There’s a presumption that mothers don’t operate out of greed or self-interest despite the fact that all humans operate out of self-interest.”
But couldn’t it actually be true that women are purified by motherhood? That they wouldn’t lie to collect a few million dollars tax-free plus enjoy the company of their children? “Even pretty decent people would be tempted by the rewards handed out,” said Professor Fiamengo. “It is easy to justify if you no longer like the guy you had been with.”
The Senate race is absurdly lopsided. The incumbent Democrat, Ed Markey, is running against a Republican selectman from a small town (raises the question of why Republicans bother; wouldn’t it be better just to let Markey run unopposed so that voters are reminded that they don’t have a choice as a practical matter?).
Most of the other positions on the ballot are for jobs that voters don’t understand and, in any case, the only question is whether to vote for an incumbent Democrat running unopposed.
[Update post-election: Voters repealed the indexing of gas tax to inflation by a narrow 53/47 margin. Voters rejected expanding the bottle deposit law to water bottles, etc., by a resounding 73/27 margin. Voters rejected rejecting their own previous approval of three casinos (60:40). 60 percent of voters agreed with the idea that they were entitled to more benefits from their employers. People still hated Martha Coakley enough to elect a republican governor, Charlie Baker, by 48:47 (there were some independent candidates who soaked up 5 percent of the vote, but I can't figure out if those votes would have gone to Baker or Coakley). All of the incumbents on my ballot, all Democrats, won reelection.]