What, more street theater along the lines of “Occupy Wall Street”? Do we have to endure another example of progressives hurling false accusations at free-market capitalism?
That was my first thought upon seeing the pictures of the small bronze statue named “Fearless Girl.” Seemingly out of nowhere, on March 7, 2017, she popped up in Manhattan’s financial district, placed squarely and defiantly in front of another bronze, the massive and world-famous “Charging Bull,” a symbol of the power of American capitalism.
Lacking only the cape and sword, “Fearless Girl” stands her ground like matador, ready to impose her will upon her much larger adversary — forcing it to kneel down, roll over, and play nice. And what is it that she wants the newly tamed bull to do?
From reading news stories, we learn that her creators — State Street Global Advisers (SSGA), a Wall Street firm with almost $2.5 trillion under management, and McCann New York, its ad agency — want to pressure thousands of big corporations across the country to accede to progressive demands for “gender parity” in their board rooms. At the same time, SSGA clearly wants to gain publicity for itself (this being a multimillion-dollar ad campaign) as being a “thought leader” in promoting “diversity” or “inclusion” in corporate board rooms.
As street theater, “Fearless Girl” is an inspired creation. Day and night, she is mobbed by crowds of tourists. We may admire her pluck. Chin up and fists on her hips, she displays coolness and courage in a seemingly dangerous situation.
However, speaking as a female executive and CEO of a free-market think tank concerned with policy issues, I must add a caveat. This is one girl who needs to be turned around and pointed in a whole new direction. I will say how in just a moment.
But first let’s begin with the recognition that changing the bull from a symbol of the power of American capitalism into a symbol of male chauvinism and oppression is, to put it bluntly, a lot of bull of another kind. Free-market capitalism, as practiced in America, has created more opportunity for more people — men and women — than any other economic system in the history of the world. Ours has been the most inclusive as well as the most productive economy in world history. New York already has a famous statue, erected long before “Fearless Girl,” which celebrates the amazing inclusiveness of the story of free enterprise in America. I speak, of course, of the Statue of Liberty.
The biggest danger to the future functioning of this economy comes not from capitalism run amok — but from progressivism gone bananas. Just look at the list of favorite ideas from the progressive litany. These include free-and-easy college loans, doubling the minimum wage, and spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money on trolleys and rail systems to serve lightly populated or largely abandoned neighborhoods.
Want to raise the cost and lower the quality of going to college? Stuff more taxpayer money into students’ pockets and promise early loan forgiveness. Want to make finding a job harder for entry-level workers? Double the minimum wage. Want to increase the public debt with little or no return in useful public services? Build transportation systems that no one will use.
In great detail and clear language, our policy analysts and scholars at the Show-Me Institute have pointed out the folly of those and other progressive policy prescriptions. The call for an all-out drive for “gender parity” in corporate board rooms stands as one more example of wrongheaded and impractical progressive thinking.
Taken seriously — as more than wishful thinking or stirring rhetoric — such a goal would lead to massive tokenism as corporations scrambled to replace male directors with female or to expand their boards to include more women. Do we really need more quotas and tokenism to help women get positions of power whether they have earned them or not?
And if “gender parity” is to be the new norm, why stop there? According to the latest Census Bureau data, women in the 25-34 age group now greatly outnumber men in having a bachelor’s degree or higher (37.5 percent compared to 29.5 percent). Does this require us to launch a similar but diametrically opposed campaign to favor males over females in college admissions?
Now let us move then from college admissions to campus free speech.
As a free-market think tank, the Show-Me Institute does more than scrutinize fiscal and economic policies; we also champion the cause of free speech, which has come under unrelenting attack from the left, especially on college campuses. That brings me to a final word on “Fearless Girl.”
I would hate to see a symbol of fearlessness and courage go to waste. She really does need to be pointed in a new direction — not against market forces but against those who are loudly and violently opposed to free speech and open debate.
It would be great to see her on college campuses — a lone girl standing athwart a gathering mob of students and imported agitators preparing to silence a speaker who dares to contradict their view of the world.
Now that would be real “girl power” — a true act of bravery caught in bronze — one that might inspire a few college professors and administrators who pay lip service to free speech but who lack the intestinal fortitude or moral clarity to confront its enemies face to face.
It’s appropriate for me to make this proposal, because standing for freedom is what the men and women at the Show-Me Institute do. We do it unapologetically, no matter what the odds, no matter whom we might offend.
We speak for many who have a hard time making their voices heard: low-income parents who want to send their kids to a good school, people of modest means who are forced out of their homes and businesses through the use of eminent domain, the single mom who wants to work braiding hair but can’t afford to comply with cumbersome government licensing requirements, and the senior citizens whose taxes are going up because their municipalities have diverted tax revenues to deep-pocketed developers to build fancy shops and luxury apartment buildings.
If “Fearless Girl” could slip the bonds of political correctness, we would welcome her as an ally in the ongoing battle for greater freedom and liberty for all.
Brenda Talent is CEO of the Show-Me Institute, a St. Louis-based free-market think tank. Andrew Wilson is the Institute’s senior writer.