Norwegian Public administration suddenly a lot more stupid

I learned today that that the Norwegian Equality and Discrimination Ombudsman have decided that public sector workplaces can not pay two groups with the same length of education differently. The specific case where a case where some nurses and some engineers in a small Norwegian community where earning different salaries, even though both groups had four years of higher education.

While the case will be taken to the courts, and hopefully overturned, it is an example of equality thinking having gone horribly wrong. There is so many problems with this decision that I have problems knowing where to start. First of all this decision forgets that the labour market, is in fact a market. Different salary levels come about as a result of supply and demand issues or a range of years. And if this rule is not overturned it means that public sector work places will basically be unable to get qualified employees in high competition parts of the labour market, as it is of course infeasible to increase the salary of every employee in the public sector each time one need to pay more for in demand labour.

The second part is that it makes the already ineffective tuning of the education sector to the needs of the labour market even more ineffective. If you can’t pay people who have been taking math in Uni higher for instance than someone studying other subjects, that means you have very few incentives for driving people towards harder and/or less popular studies which are needed for society to prosper.

If the rule stands it also plays into the already growing problem of education padding, where groups are continuously pushing for longer education periods to increase the standing of their profession. The financial education I took over four years is today actually a five year degree, and even when I did my degree I wondered to myself what knowledge or skill was actually passed to me during those four years which couldn’t been just as effectively transfered over three years.

The Norwegian socialists (communists?) need to wake up and realize that equal pay for equal work is not the same as equal pay for all work. Salary equality need to be aimed for on a macrolevel, not across random professional boundaries and organizations.The government is supposed to be involved in nation building here, not a re-enactment of Animal Farm.

And I am not saying that salary inquality is not something which cant be a problem. I do agree that policies aiming at making sure that women who holds basically the same job as a man should get on average equal pay is correct for instance. (And I repeat that the goal should be to look at that problem in the context of macro level averages as there are of course many cases where paying one person more than another is reasonable, even if they have similar backgrounds. An obvious example here is the world of pro-sports, but that applies just as much to other types of work, ie. Linus Torvalds is of course not comparable with any random person who spent the same amount of years as he doing computer science in Uni.)

And I was also musing while watching the US news and discussion shows on TV here yesterday, that
maybe one of the big issues undermining the US economy and sense of social unity is the enormous gaps in income here. But just like the gender equality issue trying to address that issues through public policy needs to happen gradually on a macro level and not on a micro level. For example are there laws or policies that could be put in place that would strengthen the bargaining position of those earning less and thus over time improve their average income level in relation to the rest of society?

Of course politicians today do not think in such high level terms, instead they prefer buying votes by earmarking money to specific groups.

15 thoughts on “Norwegian Public administration suddenly a lot more stupid”

  1. This is so true…they are comparing apples with oranges. Women get worse salary not because they are women but because they choose jobs with lower salary. Nothing stops them from choosing a career as engineer or similar and thus get the same pay as others. Its amazing we have a government that can not even basic statistics…

  2. You really hit the nail on it’s head here. The current (socialist) government in Norway have pushed through alot of “equaling” rules in their period.
    Most of them just turning out really bad for the vast majority. One example was a precision of the free-school-principle saying that no student should pay for anything in the education. Fair enough, but this turned out stopping all school- and field trips – for everyone. So instead of creating a fund or similiar for students without the ability to participate with 50 or a hundred bucks for joining the trip, no schools can now arrange trips. A principle about equality turning out to just hurt everyone.

    - Thomas P.

  3. Yeah, let’s keep nurses wages low. That’s really wise. It’s not like we at all need them…
    – Norwegian med. student

  4. Thomas P:

    Or what about the law that says that every publically traded company (ASA) needs at least 40% women in the board otherwise the company will have to close its doors. First of all, a lot of companies followed this law and got qualified women to fill their boards…and a lot of others just filled them with random crap like well known women from media scandals and such…and some just moved the entire company to another country with “a branch in norway”…and some just went private. How does the employees, or even the common norwegian person benefit from this? Not at all.

  5. @K: If the government need more people to become nurses because there is a lack of nurses, then the solution is to pay nurses more, not to tie their salary to another random group.

  6. I very much agree with a lot of what is stated in the blog post.

    It is, however, important to realize a few things.

    Women ARE discriminated in the workplace – both when it comes to their salary and their career.
    I’ve seen it many times where I work. It can’t be denied. It is, however, important to note that during the last years things have really improved a lot (at least in Sweden).

    Another thing I’d like to poke at is this notion that the simple fact that you have a degree is worth something per se. It is not. 50%, a number I pulled right out of my ass, of my university class mates somehow – probably through heavy use of voodoo – managed to pass their classes and graduate. I for one would rather hire someone out of highschool as long as they had a bit of amibition than any one of those 50%.

    A lot of thinking made med conclude that a degree is hardly worth the paper it is written on. What is worth something is what you make out of your degree – not very different from an financial investment.
    After that conclusion I’ve come to think of education as something you invest in. Education gives you tools to improve as an individual – potential to grow.
    Salaries should be based on performance – not potential. It is up to the individual – provided that they have the basic skills – to increase their performance and thus their salary.

    Ask around. I’ve come to be astounded by the amount of brilliant people around that have little or no formal education. Some of them have a tendancy to “go back to school” later on in life motivated by wanting a bigger salary. This is amazing to me – they waste years of productivity to try to improve generally when they, when needed, can absorb the required knowledge in very little time on their own. Crazy.

    Oh, and yes – I do have a degree; despite my moronic ranting – blame the swedish education ;-)

  7. I agree that sucks, but the system that they are replacing sucks more.

    You cant say that the market should determine the wages when the almost they entire health care industry is public. I do think that education does reflect the experience in some sectors like nursing, doctors, psychologists, historians, engineering, philosophy, teacher; while others like programming, math are vastly underrated in education. That just means that we have to find a peer review system that works for those disciplines. And I believe that we can improve all of the rating systems that we have today, we don’t have to follow tradition; but we can learn from it.

    It does not mean that we should discount the education of others. Even though they are not as easy to assess worth. I do think most people would pay a lot to be physically well and nurses play an integral part of that. We have a very mixed system, even if we exclude the public sector; so don’t jump up and down and cry wolf if somebody tries to change something and call them a communist.

    Especially since that is what most people do when they talk about opensource software ( Are you saying that everybody can change it and it’s free, heresy ).

  8. Well I’m not a communist by any means, but I think that paying nurses and engineers equal salary makes perfect sense, especially if their studies had the same length.

    I’d like to ask, why do you believe in the first place that nurses should have lower salaries than engineers?

    Are nurses less useful to the society? surely not!
    Is it easier to become a nurse? Apparently not, since studies have the same length.
    Is being a nurse an easy task? Hell no!

  9. Oooh, I see. So all along those that spend years and years of extra time in uni were not doing so because of the (apparent) lack of interest to actually graduate or move to “real work”, but are cunningly preparing to get awesome salaries when they do graduate.

    After all, if you require equal pay for equal education, it implicitly means non-equal pay for non-equal education. And since it makes no sense to pay less for more educated people…

    @Benoit: I suppose Christian isn’t asking for keeping nurse salaries down, but instead not requiring it to be equal to some other (seemingly random) professional group for a seemingly random reason (the length of two very different educations).

    It’s a known fact that nurses are paid crappily (finnish nurses had a strike (threat) on the issue recently), but it’s not sensible to fix the issue by equalizing two very different professions. In fact if you consider the software engineering field (where I work), I bet nurses are more deserving for the money than we are judging by the benefits produced to society…

  10. The market consistently undervalues labour done by women. The problem is not that women choose touchy-feely professions that pay less. The problem is that any sector in the job market that gets dominated by women (or is percived to be feminine) will fall behind on medium wages.

    That is what this proposal (and very similiar ones in Sweden) try to adress. I’m generally sceptical to social constructivist ideas, but the analysis seems reasonable…

    A profession should have high wages if: 1) It’s in demand, 2) it requires a difficult education and 3) practitioners can loose the right to work in the profession for reasons of incompetence.

  11. “The Norwegian socialists (communists?) need to wake up and realize that equal pay for equal work is not the same as equal pay for all work.”

    That may be true but I think it would be a hard push to claim that Nurses don’t work as hard as engineers or don’t have a similar level of knowledge.

    I suppose it comes down to the fact that things like nursing aren’t direct economic producers in the same sense that engineering is despite being just as necessary.

    An engineer can point at what he helps build and the money it is worth or creates and make a good claim for their fair share.

    What can a nurse do, point at the “value” of peoples lives or gesture vaguely at the knock on economic production his/her care helps people to achieve?

    Perhaps realising that nursing doesn’t fit well with conventional economics and basing their pay on a profession which requires a similar level of skill and work demands isn’t so insane after all. Perhaps it’s an idea that’s been arrived at after some actual thought, rather than a knee-jerk “everyone deserves money” response.

  12. While I agree with your argument, you left out a crucial part of the ombudsman’s argument.

    The men were middle managers and the women were middle managers. In the same company (here: local government). Which, for the ombudsman, means equal responsibility.

    And since the law says you can’t discriminate between two persons when everything else is equal (equal job, equal pay), the only reason the nurses should earn less is because they are nurses, not engineers.

    One thing few has mentioned are: why do each profession have labour unions if everyone should earn the same?

  13. I have a modicum of sympathy for your position, but the comparison to Animal Farm is a serious gaffe. Orwell was a socialist with strong sympathies for collectivist government, and the target of Animal Farm wasn’t communism – it was Stalinism. You don’t want to be invoking it to deride non-authoritarian socialism.

    .. actually, no – reading your post again, you seem to be attacking a straw man rather than the actual issue. It’s not a case of “your pay as a government worker is independent of any variable expect the number of years you physically sat in a classroom”. The jobs, while differing almost completely in terms of skills and tasks required, are of broadly similar levels of seniority. I don’t believe the suggestion is that Linus Torvalds would be paid the same as some random SA because they have the same schooling.

    – Chris

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