Why Is Obama Championing Sexist Progressive Era Laws?


Theodore Roosevelt held a number of illiberal views.

George Mason University law professor David Bernstein flags a notable moment from President Barack Obama's big speech yesterday celebrating Theodore Roosevelt and his "New Nationalism." As Bernstein observes, Obama pointed to Roosevelt's support for a minimum wage law for women as evidence of his do-gooder bona fides, despite the fact that modern scholars have unearthed all sorts of ugly facts about the true origins of gender-specific wage controls in the Progressive era. As Bernstein writes:

The history of such laws is not pretty. The laws' primary supporters included male-only labor unions that wanted to keep women out of the workplace…; eugenicists who wanted women to stay home and take care of their children; bigots who thought that only the lower order of men (including Eastern European immigrants) would allow their women to work for wages; moralists who believed that low-wage women were susceptible to vice and should therefore stay out of the workforce; and economists who believed that, as Felix Frankfurter summarized in his brief in Adkins v. Children's Hospital, women who wanted to work but could not command a government-imposed minimum wage were "semi-employable" or "unemployable" workers who should "accept the status of a defective to be segregated for special treatment as a dependent."

The point about using wage controls to keep women out of the work force is worth repeating because, unlike today's liberals, the original Progressives accepted the fact that minimum wage laws (and other labor regulations) often threw people out of work. In fact, Progressive era reformers actually welcome that result, so long as the regulations served to toss the right sort of people out of the workforce. As the socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb argued in their book Industrial Democracy (1897), "With regard to certain sections of the population…unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health."

Progressive era maximum working hour laws for women served the same ignoble purpose. Consider perhaps the most famous legal document of the time: the so-called Brandeis Brief submitted by future justice Louis Brandeis in the 1908 Supreme Court case of Muller v. Oregon. At issue in Muller was the constitutionality of a state law limiting female laundry employees from working more than 10 hours per day. In the brief he submitted on Oregon's behalf, Brandeis patched together a wide assortment of arguments and statistics allegedly "proving" that women required special protection from the state. Among other things, the Brandeis Brief argued that since women were responsible for giving birth to future generations, their bodies represented a form of collective property. "The overwork of future mothers," Brandeis wrote, "directly attacks the welfare of the nation." That argument is of course the antithesis of modern feminism, which rightly puts individual self-ownership before any duty to the state or collective.

This isn't the first time Obama has peddled junk history, of course, and I fear it won't be the last. Still, it would be nice if he—or at least a few of his speechwriters—spent a little more time studying.

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92 responses to “Why Is Obama Championing Sexist Progressive Era Laws?

  1. “Why Is Obama Championing Sexist Progressive Era Laws?”

    Because he’s on a mission to compare himself to every admired president. Eventually one of these comparisons will stick, right?

    1. So when does he compare himself to Lincoln and call for the “voluntary deportation” of black people?

      1. If brown is the new black, then he already has.

    2. How long till he claims to be Buchanan?

    3. Kind of like throwing as much cow dung on the wall as possible to see how much sticks.

  2. The point about using wage controls to keep women out of the work force is worth repeating…

    No it’s not.


    2. why not, Tony? Because when faced between choosing between liberals and other groups, proggies go AGAINST women every time? To wit:
      –’08 featured a woman vs. a black man. The woman was thrown under the bus despite being far more qualified, even in the eyes of conservatives, than the back bench junior Senator from IL.
      –the administration is connecting foreign aid to certain countries to how they treat gays, the same countries that treat women at a level below that of animals.

      Why do proggies hate women?

      1. “The woman was thrown under the bus despite being far more qualified”

        I contest that either one was more or less qualified.

        1. all things considered, Hillary outpaced Barry. I’m not a huge fan, but she was in on the sausage-making of legislation, mostly because Bill liked that sort of thing. Obama just likes the title of POTUS, not the associated with the job. The left had a choice between gender and race; it chose race, as it always does. You wonder when women will get that.

          1. You wonder when women will get that.

            maybe if they weren’t so intellectually inferior *ducks*

        2. I think we can all agree that each was less qualified than the other.

      2. It says something about government edumacation that progressives 100 years ago had a better grasp on economics and incentives than their modern PHD’d successors.

      3. Far more qualified? How so? What had she done other than be the wife of a governor and president? By that token, Chelsea is qualified.

        They both had no business even running, and the fact that they were taken seriously shows how effed up our system really has become. Same can be said for Bush, but at least he’d been a governor.

      4. In their defense Proggies hate blacks too. They just hate women more.

    3. You really shot him down.

    4. No it’s not.

      Compelling argument.

    5. Pretty sure this is a spoof Tony.

      If so, A+

    6. You can’t deny the dirt your progressive ideology has accumulated from questionable associations.

      Like your dick.

      1. Yeah you always have to go back a century to find those associations. Whereas you’re still in the company of idiots and racists.

        1. idiots and racists.

          But I thought Robert Byrd was a Democrat.

        2. “Progressive” support for minimum-wage laws was indeed racist:

          Progressive economists, like their neoclassical critics, believed that binding minimum wages would cause job losses. However, the progressive economists also believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the “unemployable.” Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1897 [1920], p. 785) put it plainly: “With regard to certain sections of the population [the “unemployable”], this unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health.” “[O]f all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Sidney Webb (1912, p. 992) opined in the Journal of Political Economy, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them to unrestrainedly compete as wage earners.” A minimum wage was seen to operate eugenically through two channels: by deterring prospective immigrants (Henderson, 1900) and also by removing from employment the “unemployable,” who, thus identified, could be, for example, segregated in rural communities or sterilized.

          The notion that minimum-wage induced disemployment is a social benefit distinguishes its progressive proponents from their neoclassical critics, such as Alfred Marshall (1897), Philip Wicksteed (1913), A. C. Pigou (1913) and John Bates Clark (1913), who regarded job loss as a social cost of minimum wages, not as a putative social benefit (Leonard, 2000).

          1. But there’s more! Where did we get the “minimum wage?” It is more than just interesting to note that the original intent of the “minimum wage,” or “living wage,” originated in the United States during the “Progressive Era” which began in the late 1800s and lasted until the early 1900s. Implementation of minimum wage laws was designed to remove unskilled people from the labor market so they could be put into concentration camps.

            Say What????? Read on.

            “Reform-minded economists of the Progressive Era defended exclusionary labor and immigration legislation on grounds that the labor force should be rid of unfit workers, whom they labeled ‘parasites,’ ‘the unemployable,’ ‘low-wage races’ and ‘industrial residuum.'”

            “Progressive economists…believed that binding minimum wages would cause job losses. However, the progressive economists also believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it performed the eugenic service of ridding the labor force of the “unemployable.”

            “A minimum wage was seen to operate eugenically through two channels: by deterring prospective immigrants [intending to enter the U.S. legally] and also by removing from employment the ‘unemployable,’ who, thus identified, could be, for example, segregated in rural communities or sterilized.” To make the deterrence factor operative, effective immigration controls were assumed to be in place.

            “The minimum wage protects deserving workers from the competition of the unfit by making it illegal to work for less.” “‘We have not reached the stage…where we can proceed to chloroform them once and for all; but at least they can be segregated, shut up in refuges and asylums, and prevented from propagating their kind.'” (See: Thomas C. Leonard, “Retrospectives: Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 19, No. 4, Fall 2005, pp. 207-214.)

            These days, nobody thinks about chloroforming the “unemployable.” Nobody even tries to define the term “unemployable.” What we do know is, government policies based on a “minimum wage” actually create unemployables. But, that’s only the beginning.

            Government can’t let the unemployables starve. The fix for that is welfare. Of course, welfare payments comprise capital expropriated from the private sector in the form of taxes or borrowing. And, of course, higher taxes mean more capital removed from the private sector. Obviously, the more capital that is removed from the private sector, the higher unemployment goes. If you don’t believe the last sentence, then explain how government stimulus packages designed to “pump capital into the economy to create jobs” work. (These packages don’t result in a net creation of jobs, by the way. They merely redistribute jobs. Jobs follow capital. In the area where capital is removed, jobs are destroyed. If any further proof is needed, it is easily observable that businesses and the jobs they represent will move from areas of high-tax to areas of lower-tax.)

            So, what does all of ths mean? The answer: Government knows that the minimum wage causes unemployment. The penalties paid by taxpayers for societal unemployables are higher taxes and more unemployables. The minimum wage leads to illegal immigration. Illegals have an incentive to come over the border and fill the “unskilled” jobs that are left unfilled. Why? Because they can. It’s a vicious circle. And, government policies are the progenitors of the problem.

  3. And also the gun control laws whose purpose was to keep blacks unarmed and at the mercy of the Klan.

    1. And the wonderfully progressive and empowering Davis-Bacon Act.

      1. Hmmm, Bacon….(Homer drool)

        1. “but it’s Davis bacon”

          *blank stare*

          “that’s bad”


          “but it comes with a free frogurt”


  4. Dude, that is the dullest alt-text, ever. I suggest you ask Lucy very nicely to help you out with that.

    1. Eat your oatmeal. It’s the right thing to do.

      1. Diabeetus.

  5. Make me a sammich woman!

  6. I can’t even believe how stupid TEAM BLUE has gotten. This is their new meme. Teddy Roosevelt.

    Partisanship truly makes you retarded. Full retard.

    1. Well, it’s become their tactic of the last year. “Reagan raised taxes! So support tax hikes! Roosevelt increased regulations! So shut up and support regulations! Eisenhower built the interstates! Support big infrastructure money sinks!”

      And on it goes.

  7. That argument is of course the antithesis of modern feminism, which rightly puts individual self-ownership before any duty to the state or collective.

    Modern feminism isn’t a monolith, and, sadly, some strains of modern feminism regard individual self-ownership as beginning and ending with abortion.

    1. Movement feminism is only occasionally and accidentally about self-ownership.

      Its mostly about grievances, to be redressed by denying the self-ownership of men. Iindirectly, by denying them moral agency, it also denies the self-ownership of women.

      Any movement that is fundamentally collectivist is opposed to self-ownership.

    2. Modern feminism isn’t a monolith,
      of course, it is. It centers on abortion and, from there, spokes out to faux issues like pay disparity, glass ceilings, and having it all. Feminism refuses to accept the malicious truth that men and women are different – women frequently have the choice between hard-charging corporateer and stay-at-home; very few men do. No one ever talks about a “soccer dad” because there is no such animal. And, neither gender can “have it all”, at least not at the same time.

      Feminism is among the big three anachronisms, the other two being civil rights and organized labor. Civil rights have largely been achieved; just ask any company found to purposely discriminate. And, workers are voting with their feet regarding unions. Feminists, meanwhile, continue fighting the battles that have already been won.

      1. No one ever talks about a “soccer dad” because there is no such animal.

        So I don’t exist?

      2. faux issues like pay disparity

        That’s one of my faves.

        Mommyist: “Waaanh, there’s a pay disparity! I’m getting paid less than my male colleagues!”

        Me: “Really? I’m getting paid exactly the same as my male colleagues. But then I work full-time. Do you work full-time?”

        Mommyist: “No, I work three days a week, the other two I take care of mah keeyidz, and I’ll be going on paid maternity leave for the third time in five years come March. And they’re not paying me the same salary, or advancing my career, as much as male colleagues who’ve been working full-time the whole time that I’ve been popping out teh bebbehs!”

        Me: “Wow, it’s almost as if your personal lifestyle choice to breed is of no interest to your employer and has no connection to your assigned work duties whatsoever.”

        Mommyist: “Yeah! It’s like, SOOOO unfair! I spend those two other days a week hanging out at the local Starbucks with the rest of the stroller brigade, and my employer doesn’t see that as a valuable contribution to their bottom line at all! I mean, it takes a village and all that bullshit!!11!!!eleventy!!”

        Me: “Well, unless your employer is Starbucks, I’m thinkin’ not.”

        1. GREAT summation, eleventy.

  8. “New Nationalists”!? I know it’s just rhetoric, but his choice of words shows an extreme ignorance of history and past failures. Obama is already socialist. Now he wants to be a National Socialist!? Oye Vey.

    1. Sounds good to me!

  9. I trust the Obama team to do the right thing. The Obama team is two steps ahead of the rest of us, and will work tirelessly to enshrine human freedom through well-reasoned, tried-and-true policies that know the human heart and mind, and know how markets will behave.

    The Obama team is building the middle-class, healing the oceans, giving the children of illegal Mexican immigrants educational opportunities, allowing Bernhard Henri-Levy to lead the way in Libya, and bending all of us toward the arc of Justice.

    Hail Obama!

    All Hail Obama!

    1. Obama has me eating healthier, exercising more, I have free healthcare now, I’m triple employed, all my limited electricity use is powered by green sources, and he PERSONALLY came to my house and vacuumed the floor and unloaded the dishwasher last week.

  10. I think this is designed to prepare Obama’s campaign against Ron Paul/John Huntmsan should they get the nomination.

    My take it that the Democrats realize that only a guy who makes a good case that eh will govern along small government lines can win the general election.

  11. Why doesn’t he just get it over with?


  12. “Hail Obama”

    Didn’t you mean Heil? It’s much better in German.

  13. Wait, it’s not Obama’s fault. The job is too complex. We are racist. The economy belongs to Bush. The Republicans are obstructionist. He needs another term. Maybe Hilary can run. Religion poisons everything. I like Huntsman’s good sense. Tea-baggers are crazy. Occupy will save us.

    Gargh, gaaaack….pfffft….gurgle….gurgle…bloop.

    1. exactly. The truth within your post is self-evident: Obama’s supporters are unable to point to a single reason why anyone should be FOR him. All they can do is misdirect, obfuscate, and outright lie, the latter being relative easy given the collective political ignorance of the American voter.

      The heart of the real story remains untold: even his staunchest backers cannot make a substantive argument for why anyone should support Obama based on Obama’s own merits.

    2. “Religion poisons everything.” Obama has never said that. He is a public christian just like every other US president.

      Remember that atheism is hugely more prevalent among libertarians than the population at large.

  14. All women still only make 78 cents to the dollar of what men make for the same jobs. It is right that Obama would bring up women’s wages. We need laws to correct this and we need to pay reparitions to women for being so mistreated.

    1. Shutup and get me a sammich!

    2. +2. You get an extra point for misspelling “reparitions”, but missed out on more points by not bringing up how women aren’t paid adequately for the work they do raising their own children.

    3. susan,
      bullshit. Any corporation that believes it could hire an equally qualified work force and save 22% in labor costs would never hire a man again. Stop using antiquated figures that do not include reality: that women have children, which either slows down their professional movement or removes them from the workforce altogether; that not every woman necessarily wants the 70-hours a week that come with C-level jobs..hell, not every man wants that. And by “we need to correct”, you mean “govt needs to mandate”.

      No, it does not; it just needs to get the hell out of the way and stop treating women like porcelain figurines. I have had female bosses, who became bosses by earning it. None expected their genitals to entitle them to anything.

      1. Please don’t fall into the same trap that “Susan” and others fall into by projecting needs and agency onto government, ie “government needs.” This is intellecutally dishonest.

      2. Whoosh!!!!!!! You need new batteries, or a recharge.

    4. Try RTFA Susan.

    5. This statistic is crap, because it assumes that the distribution of men and women are equal for a given field of work.

      In reality women are the majority in the schools of art, education, literature, psychology, social work, etc. Meanwhile men are the majority in schools like engineering, math, sciences.

      You’re not making a fair comparison when you compare the wages of men and women, because men and women are different.

      Now let’s say we compare two people, a man and a woman, who went to the same college and post graduate education, graduated right next to each other in class rank, and who both chose to work full time. Well now we see that wages are in fact equal, and that this whole “78 cents” canard is due entirely to the fact that women choose less remunerative fields, on average, and are much more likely to take time off from their careers to raise a family.

      This is how the real world is. It’s not a conspiracy of the patriarchy.

      1. You could look at statistics for men and women working the exact same job with the exact same backgrounds. You will find women are paid less. They are sitting at 80:100.

        1. How is this determined? How is “exact same job” defined here? Does it mean working for the same company, for the same amount of time, with the same job title and description, having performed at the same level throughout their careers? If that is not what “exactly the same job means”, then you are really comparing apples and oranges.
          When people try to debunk the wage gap claims, there is always lots of supporting data and argumentation. But I have never heard any explanation of how the “different pay for same jobs” claims are justified. I’m not saying that it is not the case (though I am doubtful), but I am not convinced that there is even an accurate way to determine if that is true.

          1. the answer is, as Pips puts it, “you could look at statistics”. Numbers can be manipulated to support any hypothesis. It’s like soundbites; the narrative before and after the bite can convey whatever meaning the writer wants.

        2. No Pips, that is not true. Saying it is doesn’t make it so. When you analyze men and women with

          a) the same credentials
          b) the same amount of years working, i.e. no time off off from raising kids

          You see that women are in fact paid slightly more for the same work. The problem is that you assume that the breakdown in female career choices is the same as the males. But that isn’t true. Someone with a degree in education will make literally half what an engineering degree will get you. Doesn’t matter if they’re male or female: engineers make more money then teachers.

          Now here’s the kicker, and you can test this for yourself. Go down a local college and peek in on an education class. It’ll probably be 65 or 70% female. Engineering will be the same percentages, but vice versa (actually more like 80% but whatever.)


    6. How about showing us a link to this supposed “fact”?

      It certainly was true once, but I very much doubt it is true today.

      But, of course, you liberals are never ones to let facts get in the way of a good piece of propaganda.

      1. She lied. She lied to us!

        1. I told you she would never consciously betray the Rebellion.

          1. Terminate her… immediately!

            1. and get sued, no thanks. 2weeks notice.

              1. IT’S A TRAP!!!

    7. “All” women? Every single one of them?


      1. I think that betrays Susan as a spoof. But you never know.

    8. I say it is a spoof…

    9. All women still only make 78 cents to the dollar of what men make for the same jobs.

      When childless women’s wages are compared to men’s wages that disparity disappears.

      Women have a choice. Spend more time at the work place or more at home. As a man i think that that is a pretty nice choice.

      I am sure there are women who can do both…but it is unrealistic to think every person has that ability….and therefor we have the disparity.

      On a side note if you are looking to have a stay at home dad who does not work and has everything provided for him while you go off to work please click on the above email address.

  15. It’s great to know the Supreme Court has always been awful, from Dred Scott to the Slaughter-House Cases to present times.

  16. Well, I just renewed my subscription to Slate’s Double X, so it’s all good.

    NY Times-check
    The Big Ed Schulz newsletter-All systems go
    The Nation by Katrina Vandenpooper-affirmative
    The Sierra Club-check
    Uncle Josef’s Commie Times-the only times, baby!

    1. Katrina Vandenpooper should change the name of her rag to The Vapors.

      1. And she should definitely change her name to Vandenpooper. That way people will know how to pronounce her name.

  17. That argument is of course the antithesis of modern feminism, which rightly puts individual self-ownership before any duty to the state or collective.

    Not sure which “modern feminism” you are talking about. Certainly this is true of the feminists of the early 20th century.

    But today’s?

    I remember many attacking Natalie Portman for saying that motherhood was to be her most important role. They attacked her because her individual thoughts and desires conflicted with their collective ideals.

    1. Isn’t self-ownership the basis of the right to late abortions (after the fetus has grown into what appears to be a small child)?
      Isn’t self-ownership what men want to take away from women which makes them so despicable?
      I have heard both those arguments and others.

  18. Art Carden and I discuss these issues here:


  19. Hey, I’d like a high-paying job. But I can’t be asked in interviews if I plan to have kids and then take 6 months of leave, forcing my co-workers to make up all the work I won’t be doing. Whether and when I come to work is stricly my business. And then when I get back I will want my job back at full pay, of course, even though I’ll be leaving at 4 every day to pick up the kiddos from day care. Oh, did I mention that if a dude who works more hours gets promoted over me, I’ll sue? I will. It’s my right, after all. Same for if a dude says I look nice — that’s harassment. And then after having caused all these headaches at the office I’ll just quit when the kid turns 7. But at least we’ll have the memories and I’ll have all that money you paid me.

    1. how YOU doin? *adjusts collar and slicks eyebrows*

    2. See, this here is actually an above average woman. Because she is such a good worker she apparently isn’t planning to take days off every time her little crumbcruncher gets a sniffle.

  20. modern feminism, which rightly puts individual self-ownership before any duty to the state or collective.

    Somebody doesn’t read Jezebel.

  21. In a 1957 Senate hearing, minimum-wage advocate Senator (and future President) John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts said:

    Having on the market a rather large source of cheap labor [hundreds of thousands of black workers] depresses wages outside of that group, the wages of the white worker who has to compete.

    When an employer can substitute a colored worker at a lower wage, it affects the whole wage structure of an area, doesn’t it? There are, as you pointed out, hundreds of thousands of colored workers looking for decent work.

    It’s sad when the racists have a better grasp of basic economics than the enlightened liberals.

    1. It’s sad when the racists have a better grasp of basic economics than the enlightened liberals.

      Its sad that no one remembers JFK as a racist, or even that the whole Democrat Party was literally the racist party.

      1. Was JFK a racist? I thought he was the exception to the normal stance Democrats had towards race.

        1. The racist Southern Democrats back then became the racist Southern Republicans now.

          1. Name the present-day racist Southern Republicans, please.

        2. Was JFK racist? Don’t know what his private views were. I do know that he opposed the March on Washington and did not propose any meaningful civil rights legislation, and RFK investigated King for ties to the Communist Party.

          1. How could support of the min wage to keep the “coloreds” out of the work force be anything but racist?

  22. unlike today’s liberals, the original Progressives accepted the fact that minimum wage laws (and other labor regulations) often threw people out of work.

    So the Jim Crow racist progressives were slight less dumb then today’s progressives?

    Sounds about right.

  23. No good progressive agitator let a bit of historical fact get in the way of a good polemic.

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