May Day means many things is many people. For pagans, it's a day to dress a maypole. For unions, it's a day to reminisce. For Russians, it's complicated. For us, it's an excuse to answer an impossible and important question on International Worker's Day: What policy would do the most to help international workers?
Reasonable people can disagree on an answer to this big question, but I don't think it's even close. The most important pro-worker policy in the world is clearly giving women access to better education.
Women drive economic growth -- more than China, more than the Internet, and more than banks. In the U.S., the growth of female employment added 2 percentage points per year to GDP growth. In Europe, working women accounted for 25% of the continent's new wealth in the last 20 years, as I've reported.
But internationally, there are still 1.5 billion women of
prime-age who are not in the "formal global economy," according to the Women's Economic Opportunity Index. In the poorest African countries, women's participation rate is high, but many work in the informal economy (selling cheap wares to tourists on the street, for example) with scarce pay. In lower-middle income countries -- those undergoing the early stages of industrialization -- women are half as likely to be working as men, and in many Middle Eastern countries fewer than one in five women are working at all. If there is an opportunity to intervene on the part of international worker, it is hard to find more opportunity than in improving the lot of women in these developing countries.