Richard Epstein

Is Women’s Empowerment a Bureaucratic Imperative?

Times are tough. Both the European Union and the United States are facing stagnant economic growth, high levels of unemployment, excessive debt, and an aging population. I am not alone in urging the European Union and the United States to make major reforms of their labor markets as an essential step toward economic growth. Sadly, serious progress on reform has lagged behind on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet, in at least one respect, the United States is in far better shape than the European Union. I refer to the advancement of women in business, particularly their representation on corporate boards. For the EU, compulsion is the preferred path, while in the United States, to date, voluntary action is the name of the game.

To see how the EU is marching off in the wrong regulatory direction, it is necessary to examine the recently released study of the European Commission, “Women in economic decision-making in the EU: Progress report.” Its major proposal is to require quotas for women on corporate boards—unless of course these boards reform themselves first by, ahem, “voluntary” action.

This report is the brainchild of Luxembourg’s Viviane Reding, the Vice President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. Her politics are said to be “center-right,” which only shows how bad the intellectual climate in the EU has become. The report’s slick cover features a head-shot of a self-assured black-haired woman, behind whom, off to the side, is the blurry image of a smirking gray-haired man. With a message like that, who could oppose the proposal?

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