Worth Valley in the Snow by John Sargent

Worth, Gender Inequality, and the Baseball Hall of Fame

Two scorecard-related announcements this week led me to think about the question of worth and how we measure it.

The Worth of Your Work

First, How Much have Global Problems Cost the World?: A Scorecard from 1900 to 2050, was published, edited by Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct with the Copenhagen Business School. Lomborg wrote an article for The Atlantic summarizing the results of the report card. Overall, this books sounds like it offers a great perspective on the material progress that humanity has made and continues to make.

One of the measures, however, struck me as a bit odd: gender equality. Not the issue itself, but the way in which it was measured:

In 2012, women’s lower salaries and exclusion from the workplace cost the global economy 7 percent of GDP, the difference between boom and bust. How did we get that figure? We looked at how much more women could have contributed to GDP if they had worked as much as men and with the same pay. Today, women earn only 60 percent as much as men and make up just 40 percent of the workforce—a significant improvement from 15 percent in 1900, but still a ways off from gender parity. Even by 2050 the gender ratio will not yet be even, and women will still earn 30 percent less than men. [Emphasis added.]

Lomborg has clarified that the measure used in this case takes into account both paid and unpaid work, expressed in terms of GDP. Reducing questions of equality, however, to an economic measure creates the false impression that how much you are paid is an accurate measure of how much you are worth.

I can’t believe that the clause “if [women] had worked as much as men” made it past Lomborg’s editors. Are they honestly suggesting that women don’t work as much as men? This is probably a misstatement, but it reflects an assumption that the only work that actually matters is work done in a formal, paid setting. (I’ll write more on this in a future post.) By this measure, most work done since the beginning of time – child-rearing, sustenance farming, homesteading – doesn’t really count. For that matter, it suggests that the novels of Dan Brown are worth more than the poems of Homer, because Brown contributed so much more to GDP than Homer ever did.

Economic measures of abstract values like equality and worth are always poor approximations. We must constantly remind ourselves of that, because sets of numbers are so easy to compare.

Integrity and the Baseball Hall of Fame

Speaking of numbers, this week also marked the announcement that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In recent years, baseball writers have been wrestling with how to handle players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens who put up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers in their career, but allegedly reached those numbers through the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

No one denies that these players have numbers good enough to qualify for the Hall of Fame. The question is whether they qualify according to the less concrete qualifications for the Hall, specifically Rule 5 of the Hall of Fame election rules:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played. [Emphasis added]

This isn’t a baseball blog, so I’m not going to go into the details of the baseball issues involved here.[1] There are a few major camps, though:

  1. Players who used PEDs were cheating, so they should be banned from the Hall of Fame due to their lack of integrity and sportsmanship.
  2. It’s impossible to know for sure which players were using PEDs and which ones weren’t, so all players from the Steroids Era (whenever that might be) should be banned. (This attitude seems to have ruled the day in 2013, when no players were elected to the Hall of Fame.)
  3. It’s impossible to know for sure where players were using PEDs, so we shouldn’t take their alleged PED use into account – just their numbers.
  4. Membership in the Hall of Fame should be based on concrete, measurable factors, like batting and pitching statistics, not abstract concepts like integrity and sportsmanship.

I’m sympathetic to the final position. As much as I love sports, I want there to be an absolute line between a player’s ability to play a sport and the quality of his character. Some of baseball’s greatest players have been terrible human beings. In some cases, their pursuit of athletic greatness led them to make terrible decisions, as they made athletic achievements into an idol that consumed their entire lives.

Just before Christmas 2012, one of my favorite baseball players, former Cincinnati Red Ryan Freel, committed suicide. He left behind a recently divorced wife and three young daughters. Freel made up for his lack of innate talent with a “win at any cost” attitude that fans loved, but this attitude led him to suffer repeated concussions. A recent autopsy found that Freel was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death, an incurable brain disease caused by repeated concussions that leads to depression, aggression, and, in some cases, suicide. Freel was never going to be a Hall of Famer, yet his pursuit of baseball success still destroyed his life.

Maybe this is illogical, but I want admitted and suspected cheaters (like Cincinnati’s own Pete Rose) in the Hall of Fame so that I can say to my kids, “Look, here was one of baseball’s greatest players of all time. Don’t be anything like him.” By limiting the Hall of Fame to players who meet arbitrary standards of integrity[2], it becomes too easy to align athletic success with moral character, when it ought to be understood as one (small) part of a person’s makeup.

Photo credit: Worth Valley in the Snow by John Sargent, via Flickr (incidentally, home to the Brontë sisters)

  1. Jonah Keri of Grantland.com has done a great job of breaking down the problems with Hall of Fame voting here and here.  ↩
  2. I don’t see baseball trying to police aspects of players’ personal or professional lives other than drug use.  ↩

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