I take no pleasure at all in reading about M. Strauss-Kahn, and of course remain agnostic about the truth of the lurid allegations against him. However I have a couple of observations which are relevant to the IEA’s concerns.
First, whatever the truth of these allegations, the affair has shown very clearly that attitudes towards women amongst the French elite remain sexist and discriminatory. Yet the most widely-quoted indicator of sexual discrimination, the gender pay gap, is far smaller in France than in the UK.
The same apparent anomaly is also found in Italy, where revelations about the bunga-bunga culture around Silvio Berlusconi seem to have had limited impact on his political position. Other evidence such as Eurobarometer surveys puts Italy at the top of any international league of sexism – but, like France, it too has a much lower gender pay gap than the UK.
This reinforces a position I have argued here several times: the gender pay gap is a statistical construct which is influenced by such factors as male and female education, career and work-life balance choices on the one hand, and labour market regulation (which protects ‘insiders’ in Italy and France, keeping lower-skilled women out of the workforce) on the other. It is not a marker for sexual discrimination at work and the government should make this clear. The last government was obsessed with the pay gap and its Equality Act has led to a considerable burden of pointless reporting being placed on government offices and quasi-public bodies such as universities.
The second observation I have is that the position of Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund should not be filled on the basis of political deals amongst governments. If M. Strauss-Kahn had had to face a proper recruitment process perhaps any proclivities would have emerged into public light sooner. And our government should not be party to a new fudge to replace him with some other political appointment such as Christine Lagarde or, heaven help us, Gordon Brown.