Exploiting Women's Work
Jude Wanniski
June 17, 1997

 

\Memo To: Richard Cohen, The Washington Post
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Palestinian Poverty

While traveling in Europe last week, I picked up an International Herald Tribune and read your column: "Recipe for Palestinian Poverty -- Following the Arab Example." In it, you made several innocuous suggestions on how the Arabs might increase their growth rates. Where I was brought up short was in the following paragraph: "Nor can a country remain competitive if it fails to use the capabilities of all its people. In Arab nations, women suffer routine and pernicious discrimination. These states have the world's lowest level of female participation in the work force a waste of talent that no country can anymore afford."

With all due respect, Richard, this is a fatuous argument. The reason so few Arab women work is that Arab men put such a premium on family life. They believe it is a good thing for women who have children to work as mothers and housewives, to help the children with their prayers, their homework, their general upbringing. For thousands of years this was also the preference of Christians and Jews, who believed the man of the house should be the hunter, the provider, the breadwinner, while the woman of the house would attend to the care of the family. It has only been in recent years that political liberals, such as yourself, have argued that it is the government's responsibility to attend to the care of the family, and that both husband and wife must work full time, both moonlighting, if possible. Any social pathologies that must result from children not having parents at home for purposes of child-rearing would be taken care of by building prisons, to house the socially warped children that would be the result.

We now have 1.5 million men in prison, or just out, or about to enter. Would you not say that this is "a waste of talent that no country can anymore afford"? How is it that you are so indifferent to the causes of our country's social pathologies that result in so many of our "females" being forced to participate in the work force? When are you going to write a column about the perniciousness of the welfare state ideas that you have championed throughout your career? Or do you believe it was all for the best, that the silver lining in the black cloud is that the decline in the national living standards during the past 30 years has been the release of tens of millions of women from the drudgeries of family life?

Today is my 61st birthday. Two days ago was Father's Day. I've been thinking about my parents on both accounts. My father had a sixth grade education, going to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania when he was 13, in 1915. He never earned more than $5,000 a year, retiring in 1967 at that amount, which, when fully corrected for inflation, would today be worth $60,000 pre-tax. My mother never had to work, but raised my brother, sister and me. We actually walked home every day from grade school to eat a hot lunch. She cooked dinner six days a week. My father cooked the Sunday dinner. We all gave her Saturday off. My father, brother and I cleaned the house every Saturday from stem to stern. My Dad bought a new car every four or five years, beginning in 1949 with a new Plymouth, for $900, then a Nash Rambler in 1954, for $1200. The country was capital rich. The tax system was simple. The money was as good as gold. Once a year or so we would hear about a crime being committed in the neighborhood, which was about 25 square blocks. It never involved a gun.

Over the years, I've read your column, sometimes happily, sometimes annoyed, but always respectful. This column about Arab poverty is not one of your best.