David Leonhardt Talks Sexist "Pay Gaps" With Obama

David Leonhardt talks to Barack Obama about the (mythical) "pay gap" and wonders if America is ready to raise taxes and to cut back on health care.

Times economic columnist and magazine staff writer David Leonhardt bagged a magazine interview with President Obama, teased on the cover of this week's Sunday Times Magazine with a flattering picture of a pensive Obama in deep-think mode. Leonhardt has called Obama a "fiscal conservative" (adeclaration that sounds even more ludicrous now than it did back in August 2008), and several of his questions to Obama betray a liberal sensibility:

First a question from Leonhardt on "The New Gender Gap," which falsely implies that sexism is responsible for the so-called pay gap between men and women.

Those factories are obviously filled disproportionately with men. There's a way in which that reminds me of your grandparents, even though I know your grandfather wasn't a factory worker. You talk about the fact that your grandmother outearned your grandfather. And in a way your family was a forerunner of a much larger trend: There's still sexism, there's still a pay gap, clearly, but the pay of men has stagnated, and the pay of women has gone up.

I think there are a lot of men out there today, working at G.M. and Chrysler and other places, who feel the same kind of dejection that your grandfather did. What do you think the future of work looks like for men?

Leonhardt also harped on excessive spending on health care, complaining that "right now we're footing the bill for a lot of things that don't make people healthier" and pointing to examples like spending "$20,000 for an extra week of life."

Of course, there's no way of knowing for certain in advance how effective a medical treatment will be in prolonging life ("$20,000 for an extra week of life" is not a tradeoff that can be predicted, but a result analyzed in hindsight). Yet Leonhardt seems quite willing to make those sorts of medical judgments on behalf of his fellow Americans (as are his colleagues at the Times).

Do you think this recession is a big-enough event to make us as a country willing to make some of the sorts of hard choices that we need to make on health care, on taxes in the long term - which will not cover the cost of government - on energy? Traditionally those choices get made in times of depression or war, and I'm not sure whether this rises to that level.