The New York Times asks “Will Harvey Weinstein’s Fall Finally Reform Men?” and comes up with a weak “maybe”:
This reckoning is all to the good, even if it is far too late. It feels as though a real and lasting transformation may be afoot — until you remember that this isn’t the first time women have sounded the alarm.
Remember former President Bill Clinton, whose popularity endures despite a long string of allegations of sexual misconduct and, in one case, rape — all of which he has denied. Mr. Clinton did eventually admit to the affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, that nearly toppled his presidency, but he pointed out that it was not illegal.
Then, of course, there’s the current occupant of the Oval Office, who won the election only weeks after the public heard him brag about grabbing women’s genitalia [I interpreted Trump’s statement, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” as a hypothetical regarding what some American women were willing to do in order to be close to Hollywood stardom, not as a story about something he’d actually done]
The key is to foster work environments where women feel safe and men feel obliged to report sexual harassment. “People need to be afraid not just of doing these things, but also of not doing anything when someone around them does it,” Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook
This may turn out to be the year when the tide finally turned on sexual harassment. The elements for a permanent cultural shift are certainly in place. More women have entered the work force, and the pay gap with men is closing, though not fast enough. More women than men are graduating from college;
In the end, though, the most lasting change will have to come from men, who are doing virtually all the sexual harassing. Boys must be raised to understand why that behavior is wrong, teenagers need to be reminded of it and grown men need to pay for it until they get the message.
Although in theory women could be denounced by men and, in a transgender age it is tough to know what “women” or “men” in the workplace might refer to, the New York Times seems to think it is men who be denounced and then “pay for it.” So let’s look at what young American men might do. Some will be social justice warriors, of course, and seek to improve their fellow humans. Let’s be grateful that we have those altruistic souls among us. In a society of 325 million (and growing!), however, it is more realistic for most people to adapt to changes rather than to try to make changes.
Let’s consider the young American man. Depending on the state in which the encounter took place, if he has sex with a woman he risks losing, at her exclusive option, roughly one third of his after-tax income going forward (see “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage”). Depending on the state of residence, if he marries a woman and has kids he is exposed to losing, at any time of the woman’s choosing, his house, the kids, and roughly half of his income going forward (see Real World Divorce, but note that this is not true in states such as Nevada). These risks cannot be insured against, though they can be largely prevented by staying out of the workforce.
Onto this we add the new risks of career termination from sexual harassment allegations. In the old (not necessarily good) days, a woman could not start a complaint with “I went to this married guy’s hotel room and then…” or with “Twenty years ago, this guy tried to…” Either statement would have reflected negatively on the woman (why did she go to the hotel room? why did she wait 20 years?) and therefore wouldn’t have been uttered. Perhaps more importantly, the statement couldn’t have gotten media attention or an infinite life on the Internet. A woman might be able to spread rumors about a man in a small town, but he would be free to relocate and get a job in a distant city. A potential employer in California wouldn’t have any way to learn that the man had been denounced in Upstate New York. Consider the man who reads Medical School 2020, invests four years and $300,000 in medical school, invests another five years in training, and then works 70-hour weeks to build a practice. All of this investment can become worthless overnight in terms of employability.
Let’s consider more direct risks. A financially successful American can be sued at any time for sexual harassment or sex-related misdeeds. Unlike with criminal cases (which also can be consequential and costly to defend), there is no “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. The defendant will lose if the plaintiff is slightly more believable. In the best case, the result of defending such a lawsuit will be a $1 million bill for legal fees and no payments to the plaintiff. The worst case, however, cannot be known in our Common law system. The only limit is a jury’s imagination. Consider Erin Andrews, for example. A jury found that that she had suffered $55 million in damages from being filmed naked by a guest in an adjacent hotel room. As that is typically more than a hotel would have to pay for negligently killing a guest, it would have been impossible to predict an award of this size and, again, likely impossible to insure against.
Older Americans tend to be stuck in a rut. We have to keep doing whatever we’re doing. But maybe a young person could avoid the above risks by making smart choices?
I posted a comment on the NYT article suggesting that perhaps American men were already adapting…
American men are already in the process of being reformed! Every year a smaller percentage of them expose themselves to accusations of sexual harassment because their labor force participation rate falls. If Joe Millennial is at home (means-tested public housing, please!) playing Xbox 24/7, who is going to bother to accuse him of saying or doing something inappropriate? I haven’t heard of anyone whose SSDI check was cut off because of misbehavior.
The best way to avoid litigation in the U.S. is to be asset-free and income-free (welfare payments don’t typically count as income that can be attacked by a plaintiff, though SSDI can be harvested by a child support or alimony plaintiff). The right to live in a $1 million city-owned or city-obtained-from-a-developer apartment is more secure than technical ownership of a $1 million apartment (can be attacked suddenly by a civil plaintiff or gradually by a city via higher property taxes to pay for retired government workers’ pensions and health care).
If the welfare system in an American’s preferred state of residence is not especially generous, he can look at being on the receiving end of child support, alimony, and property division profits. If he marries a high-income woman and quits his job after the first child is born he can set himself up to be the “dependent spouse” and “primary parent” (or at least a 50/50 parent) and thus be entitled to a free house, alimony, child support, etc. (see the example of a man married to a fund manager in Massachusetts Prenuptial Agreements)
If the man is unwilling to let go of 1950s ideas of masculinity and insists on working, how about a union job? An employer cannot simply fire a union worker, e.g., because of an anonymous denunciation about behavior 20 years earlier. Among union jobs, I vote for unionized airline pilot because most interactions with co-workers are recorded electronically (pilots with children should be careful about where they live, however, because in winner-take-all states that look to the “historical pattern of care” in deciding which parent will be the winner, the airline pilot is almost guaranteed to become the loser parent; this can be avoided by establishing residence in a state that defaults to 50/50 shared parenting).
What about the Big Hammer: emigration. The American man who emigrates at age 18 will save a fortune in college costs (universities anywhere else in the world are vastly cheaper, and sometimes entirely free). If he settles in a Civil law jurisdiction, his exposure to lawsuits of all types is greatly reduced and the outcome of any lawsuit is much more predictable because it is codified (e.g., Erin Andrews would have received a pre-specified amount, not an amount that could only be known by looking into the hearts and minds of the jury). A Dutch friend: “You’re a lot less likely to be sued because the plaintiff has to pay all of the court’s costs and, if she loses, the defendant’s legal costs. The legal fees are a percentage of the amount at stake and the amount at stake is written down in a law.” The American man who emigrates to a civil law jurisdiction also greatly reduces his exposure to divorce, alimony, child support, and custody lawsuits (see the International chapter of Real World Divorce). The profitability of children is capped in most civil law jurisdictions, thus reducing the financial incentives to plaintiffs. Alimony may be entirely unavailable, e.g., in Germany. Custody may be determined by statute, e.g., “woman always wins” or “always 50/50,” thus eliminating the possibility of a custody fight. The chance of children living without their two parents in many European civil law jurisdictions is only about half of what it is in the U.S.
Of course, I’m sure that many people in Common law jurisdictions will get through this era of denunciations and manage to (a) dodge lawsuits from a spouse, (b) dodge lawsuits from sexual harassment accusers, and (c) continue to be able to work in the careers that they’ve chosen and trained for. After all, most Russians were able to get through the Stalin era without being denounced by angry or jealous neighbors. That said, why take these risks at all when it is possible to move to a Civil law jurisdiction and live without fear?
Where can a young man seek to go? For long-term economic growth prospects it might be wise to look at the World Bank ease of doing business rankings and also the Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index. Countries that do well on both scales and that operate under Civil law: Estonia, Latvia, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Korea (mostly civil law?).
Readers: What do you think? We can all agree, I hope, that it would be wonderful if Americans never mistreated each other and therefore there was no need for a system of career-ending public denunciations, wealth-draining civil lawsuits, etc. However, humans mistreating other humans is an old story. So how should a young American adapt to the new environment in which decades of work and savings are more likely to be wiped out by an accusation?