Women, Free Markets and Liberty: Hadley Manning

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As the director of health policy at the Independent Women’s Forum, Hadley Heath Manning is someone who is constantly in motion. I had the pleasure of meeting her, shortly after watching a panel she moderated early this year on emerging health care issues. As luck would have it, we recently reconnected at Denver Liberty On The Rocks discussion forum on Feminism and Liberty.

To say that Hadley is a busy professional is an understatement. She is a frequent guest on radio and TV outlets across the country, exploring the intersection between women, free markets, personal liberty and health care. She has appeared on Fox Business’ Cavuto on Business, The John Stossel Show and Fox News’ Hannity Show. In addition, her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Politico, National Review Online and many others media.

Hadley was kind enough to slow down for 29 minutes for a few questions from me about the intersection between women, free markets and personal liberty. Here are some brief excerpts from our discussion:

On her interest in Free Enterprise

What a lot of people don’t know is that my grandfather was a big champion of the free enterprise system. He actually wrote five books about free enterprise and political philosophy. So no doubt I inherited some of his passion for these principles, even though he lived during a very different time.

These books talk a lot about how free enterprise allows all of us the dignity of working for ourselves; a key element to achieving an enhanced quality of life. Ronald Reagan once said something to the effect that “Freedom isn’t passed along in the blood stream. It has to be defended, generation by generation.” Yet I do think that some of my love for freedom was passed through to me via DNA.

On her Philosophy

While I was in college, I literally questioned everything. It led me to wonder whether my family somehow brainwashed me into believing certain things. So I really went through a hard time in terms of what I believed. A major turning point for me during college was a trip to India’s West Bengal where I witnessed poverty first-hand like I’d never seen before. It’s a region that had been burdened by socialist programs for quite some time. This trip made me really appreciate how free enterprise has benefitted the U.S. and allowed us to create so much wealth as a nation. 

On Working at Independent Women’s Forum

It all ensued from a book I read in one of my college classes, entitled “What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us” by Danielle Crittenden. She wrote about some of the ideas I just mentioned as well as various cultural themes involving men and women. She was also a contributing writer back then for the Independent Women’s Forum. I read the author section of this book and found out about IWF and it’s work advocating for liberty. That led me to apply for an unpaid intership here. Eventually, I got hired and have been working in this capacity ever since.

On Identity Politics

This essentially captures the work of the Independent Women’s Forum. Here in the U.S., we live in a society where the political landscape has become so much about identity politics; where people are appealed to as members of demographic groups – whether it be race, religion, gender or socio-economic status. We’ve seen this over the past several years, as politicians have tried to divide the American public in an attempt to convince us that someone else’s interests run counter to our own. This has created a feeling of class warfare which has served as a basis for a war on women and one between the sexes.

Here at IWF, we believe that men’s and women’s interests are aligned and that the economy is not a zero-sum game. We adhere to the notion that wealth-creation and expanded opportunities are available to all people. Most importantly, we seek to push back on the identity politics game that seeks to convince women that there are all of these threats and dangers, like economic insecurity and lack of self-sufficiency, that try to convince us that we’re not capable of taking care of ourselves.

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On Focusing on Women’s Issues

Sometimes, we see people scratch their heads, particularly people who love liberty, because they are confused as to why we are targeting our message specifically to women. They ask, “Isn’t this just playing the identity politics game right back at politicians?” I disagree because I believe it’s important for all of us to recognize that women really do see the world in a slightly different way, compared to men. So talking about principles, in a way that targets this very big and very diverse audience of women, is important in convincing them that liberty is best for all people.

On How Men and Women Think Differently

Whenever I am asked to respond to this, I always offer a disclaimer, namely that when we talk about men and women, we have to avoid making very broad generalizations and understand that there are exceptions to every stereotype and every rule. That being said, we do see – from polling, messaging, social media data science and research – that women tend to be more risk-averse then men. This is something that is often talked about in the world of business and the world of financial investments.

For example, I experience this when I go climbing with my husband and the hike is difficult or more technical. So you’ll generally see fewer women out there, in part due to the fact that it is a risky activity. This is not implying that women are one way and men another as a rule; it’s just saying that we women often exhibit different tendencies than men. Unfortunately, I think big government activists try to capitalize off of this recognition that women are risk-averse by saying, “Well, we will take care of you” by expanding the role of government. So you need not worry about all of these risks in your life.”

On Women and Free Markets

Our mission at IWF is to increase the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. There are already so many women who understand these principles and support them, so our role is to reach out to women who haven’t heard the message of liberty or have yet to be persuaded by it. There is still a strong undercurrent of belief in our nation that statism and government solutions are the best. We are about persuading people. And because there are so many arguments for free markets, we have to chose the ones that are most effective and avoid the arguments that turn people off or that confuse them.

A key component of our mission at IWF is to explain how robust competition in a free marketplace offers us more control as consumers and as workers. This allows women to have more options. The fact of the matter is that when the government takes over something, we end up depending on that one option that the government offers; whether it be a local school that your child is assigned to or restrictions on your healthcare decisions. While it might appear that the government is taking care of us, they are really taking away our options as well as the incentive for organizations to compete for our business and deliver good service.

On Pay Inequity Issues

There is lots of good and bad information out there on this. Unfortunately, the reality is that even when you account for all of these variables and account for the different career choices that men and women make, sometimes you can still find disparities where women are being discriminated against and being paid less than their male counterparts. Since the 1960’s, the U.S. government has had laws on the books like the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act, outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex and requiring equal pay for equal work from employers. However, it doesn’t mean that these laws are perfectly enforced. And since these laws are already on the books, I caution against the notion of adding more laws and regulations on top of those that already exist.

On the Economic Costs of Anti-Discrimination Laws

I do think there’s an economic cost to discriminating against people which is naturally built into how free markets work. So it’s important to keep these laws simple and uncomplicated. The emphasis should be on cultivating business environments where men and women are respected equally and where women can negotiate their own compensation. I often hear conversations about women’s wages that seem to suggest women aren’t capable of negotiating for themselves, or looking out for themselves in the workplace. I don’t believe that’s a fair way to view women either.

On Women of Color

I think it’s very important to recognize that sexism and racism still exist. Sometimes though, in focusing on the individual, we end up sending the message that this part of one’s identity really isn’t all that important. For example, there may be the temptation to say that you’re an individual, so it really doesn’t matter if you’re black. It’s unfortunate when part of someone’s identity is not acknowledged because, in truth, it might actually matter to that person.

I don’t believe there should be any shame in talking about how people are different. Part of the challenge is in getting people to talk about the value of not just being an individual but valuing characteristics and traits that are important to a person’s identity, such as belonging to a certain group. That to me is something that should be encouraged.

On her Professional Quest to Promote Free Markets and Liberty

One thing I find increasingly true these days is that people want to agree with people whom they like. In other words, they want to feel that they’re in agreement with their social group. Part of the challenge of this for me is that I often find myself in social circles where people disagree with my political ideas. I hope that part of what this is all about is not just winning the argument but winning people over to liberty ideas, without sacrificing my principles for the sake of being liked. My hope is that people will like what I have to say because I offer it in a tone and in a way that’s attractive for mutual understanding. And even if I don’t win the debate or change someone’s mind, just increasing the understanding about how different people come to different conclusions makes it all worth it.

Michael Scott is a journalist and blogger specializing on the intersection between free markets and economic freedom. He can be reached on Twitter @biz_michael

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