Post Election 2020 Thoughts – Part 1

“You’ve come a long way, baby! ”

— Virginia Slims cigarette slogan, late 1960s [1]

An abbreviated list of firsts: Jackie Robinson, Yuri Gagarin, Orville Wright, Louis Brandeis, Hattie Caraway, Barak Obama, Jeannette Rankin, Kim Ng.

All are significant modern era historic firsts: All of these people are remembered as much for what their personal achievements represented as much as the individuals themselves.

And now we can add Kamala Harris to that list, come January 20, 2021.

That such “breakthroughs” would happen was never in doubt. And, maybe these aren’t the specific persons many would have hoped would be first.

Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris

Many would have perhaps preferred: Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige to Jackie Robinson; perhaps John Glenn or Alan Shepard to comrade Yuri; brother Wilbur, Samuel Pierpont Langley, or even the German Karl Jatho to Orville. And on and on.

In the end, it does not matter who was first, just that these breakthroughs did happen – although we tend to remember these “firsts” much more than other nearly equal very worthy contenders. For sure, we recognize all these breakthroughs as individual achievements that history will keep indelibly recorded, and – to various amounts – as team achievements as well. More important, each marks a breakthrough for humanity. An expansion of possibility for America, or more importantly, for humans. Each marks a broadening of our hopes, imaginations and expectations.

Congratulations to Kamala Harris. I join the nation and the world in wishing her well.

Last week the Virginia Slims slogan of the ‘60s flashed into mind (top quote). Now, finally, Kamala Harris, a woman – and a person of color, no less – has been elected to be vice-president of the United States. Ladies: you’ve come a long way! And thereby so have all of us; so has our nation.

I feel a similar sense of pride to what I felt watching Barack Obama take the oath of office, standing in our friends’ house just outside Amsterdam, Netherlands, on January 20th, 2009, to become the 44th President of the United States. [Here is an essay from my old website to honor the 2008 election]

To all the above I say: Great, great and … great! Accomplishments and events like this show us what is possible for humanity. They show that talent, meaningful participation and leadership can be found, and are being found, everywhere and anywhere in all humans.

My soapbox here. It is simply impractical and inefficient by any measure – morally, intellectually, economically, politically, culturally – to restrain any fraction of the nation’s intellect and potential, whether it be leadership positions, education, service or any sort of employment. In the case of female participation: Why would any society aspiring to reach its maximum potential also limit fully one-half of its talent from contributing in any way they can?? I submit that this is a reason that some cultures, for example mostly Islamic countries, have lagged in all these areas, including intellectually and economically.

A fair system, with a “wide net”, will capture all sorts of interesting and diverse individuals.

Kamala Harris is just the latest obvious observable example of breaking through and reaching potential. Not hers. Not women’s. But society’s. America’s. The world’s. The whole race’s potential.

In fact, it was bound to happen. It was inevitable. Just the latest indication: an aged dam cannot hold back an immeasurable and growing ocean of water forever. First a crack, then a trickle, then a deluge.

What am I talking about?

Consider first women’s representation in Congress. It is absolutely zooming. The first plot here shows the fraction of Congressional seats occupied by females since 1920; that’s 100 years ago (coincidently when women got the nationwide right to vote, via the 19th Amendment). The numbers are Representatives plus Senators. (In this 1st plot, which is linear-linear, slight fluctuations in number of total seats over time. [1] Lower house grew from 435 to 436, then 437 in 1959 as Hawaii and Alaska added, then reduced to 435 after 1960 census; [2] Upper house Senate seats expanded from 96 in same period for these new states, and 100 ever since).

Plot 1: Women in US Congress since 1920 elections, % of seats available

In 2021-22 women will make up over 26% of the 117th Congress, an all-time high. Although this is barely over half the 51% of American adults who are female, the growth in participation is exponential.

Plot 2: Logarithmic plot of women in Congress as % of seats available. X-axis is log of year since 1920

This 2nd figure shows women’s congressional participation in a log-log (logarithmic) plot, dating back to the 1968 elections. Straight lines in log-log plots indicate pure exponential growth. With a straight-line coefficient of determination (R2) of at 0.97 this is clearly exponential growth in these 5+ decades.

Of course, this exponential trend cannot continue indefinitely, since the total number of seats in Congress stays (for the foreseeable future) quite limited.

One assumes that at some future time — within a decade perhaps –the curve will turn to be more or less level with 50%.

Or perhaps more than 50%.

Reason #2 for the inevitable breakthrough, and a good reason to expect a higher “plateau” than 50%, comes from looking at graduation numbers beyond secondary education. Women exceed men at every level — from Bachelors, to Masters to PhD degrees and law degrees — and most areas and levels have done so for quite some time.

Women are getting basic university degrees at a rate about 50% above men (roughly 59% of college bachelor degrees are going to females; only 41% to men). Although college degrees are certainly not necessary for service in high office – examples such as Harry Truman and Scott Walker have demonstrated this – it is certainly a very, very good indicator. Especially, for some sad reason, Law degrees. (Sorry, you lawyers). Women have outnumbered men in Law School and law degrees for several years, although the margin is slimmer here, roughly matching the US adult population at 51-49%). Not just bachelor’s degrees; Women are earning more advanced degrees of almost all sorts than men, including medical degrees. [3]

This education disparity indicates that female participation at all levels of society will continue to accelerate in all areas. That’s good news.

As a short side note: if participation in many advanced areas shoots much past 51%, and stays there, then a deep study of educational data and experiences might well suggest that we are currently giving young men short-shrift in opportunity development. However, these things can take decades to reveal themselves.

A healthy, growing society welcomes and encourages input, participation, leadership, and ideas from every single one of its citizens. And it develops potential. To do otherwise is to limit itself. Regardless of your politics, Barak Obama, Kamala Harris and Kim Ng, et al, are indications we are doing just that.

Good luck America.

Joe Girard © 2020

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[1] Virginia slims cashes in on the women’s lib movement with a cigarette and ad campaign directed at women
[2] Women get far more degrees than men; even at PhD Levels
[3] Women earning more advanced degrees than men
And: More women in medical school than men

10 thoughts on “Post Election 2020 Thoughts – Part 1”

  1. Steve Rolfe

    Very thoughtful and uplifting analysis.

    I will take a stab at answering the one question you included in your essay.

    “Why would any society aspiring to reach its maximum potential also limit fully one-half of its talent from contributing in any way they can??”

    The answer is simple. What is best for society as a whole is often suboptimal for individuals.

    This cuts across almost every issue. It is the reason we need regulations. Removing pollution from a manufacturing process costs money for the manufacturer, but returns nothing. In fact it creates a disadvantage. The competitors don’t have that cost and therefor increase their market share at the expense of the responsible manufacturer. Very likely it will put the responsible manufacturer out of business. Of course by not removing the pollution put the costs on everyone downstream.

    The analogy works for limiting women and minorities. White men get the advantage, but society as a whole is disadvantaged because many of the best people are unable to work to their potential at a cost to society.

    Everyone with power has a huge incentive to maintain that power for themselves even if it costs others. So, to be the enlightened society many of us think we should be, we need to remove undeserved advantages to some, many, so that the best outcomes can occur. Of course this is not popular with those who have lived with their undeserved advantage and now need to compete on a level playing field.

  2. Lee

    It’s strange. Out of the thousands, perhaps millions, of black women, we picked Kamala to be the first. Similar with Barack Obama. So many brilliant qualified folks with both a sense of humor and history, passed over for these lucky individuals that just happened to be at the right place and at the right time. I wonder how THEY feel, having been omitted from history by a lesser individual. I guess that’s the way history works, totally random and usually in the wrong direction. Oh, well…

    1. Joe Post Author

      Well, I wouldn’t exactly say Kamala is “black.” She’s half Indian (dot Indian). And from her Puerto Rican ancestry she is probably mixed black, white and even perhaps some native Amerindian. Kind of a true American: a blend of many. Why was she first? Oh well, that’s history. Why was JFK and not Al Smith the first catholic president?

    1. Joe Post Author

      Last I heard it is almost 8%. Women are still under represented in Engineering and most sciences. Which sort of makes the imbalance elsewhere even more severe.

  3. Chris Cronk

    Despite the internal criticism and self flagellation by many of the American populace, I think the evidence is overwhelming that we are in fact one of the most progressive nations in the world and in history. As you say, we have miles to go before we sleep, but it would be nice if we could occasionally celebrate our successes. now that I’ve said that, let me bring up a possible concern that your data reveals. Wow we should all be pleased that women are becoming more prolific in the academic and political and business communities, I think we should also be asking ourselves what is happening with our young men. Are we truly seeing simply a growth in the number of women in these fields, or is it also possible that the number of men rising in the ranks is diminishing. I have heard that young adult males are attending college with less frequency and are generally less motivated and less successful than their fathers. Being the avid researcher that you are, would you be able to validate or refute this? I truly like to gain some insight in this area.

    1. Joe Post Author

      Oh Chris. This is a trend that began long ago. The general consensus is that contemporary educational edvironments are growing more male-unfriendly. We can see this already in high schools. Girls far exceed boys in grades (like honor roll), honor societies, participation (like theater and student government), less likely to be reprimanded, suspended, etc. Read the book “The War Against Boys”, which is already pretty old.

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