Sandi Toksvig has revealed that she’s paid only 40% or so of what Stephen Fry was to present the same show, QI. Which does leave us with this interesting question, should she be allowed to do that?

Yes, of course, this is an inversion of the normal logic here but then such inversions are useful. Do we end up with an inversio ad absurdam, telling us that the initial logic might have some sense to it? Or is that inverse also an interesting manner of looking at the world? Thereby showing that the original supposition isn’t as clear cut as all that?

Consider – we all generally agree that on average women are paid less than men. Yes, huge and fun arguments can be had about how and why but the basic observation stands. So, should we allow women to work if this thereby reduces male wages? For if women can indeed outbid by underbidding then this must indeed be a limitation upon those male wages. This is, after all, the basic union logic, isn’t it? That a union is able to secure higher wages for its members by excluding those who will agree to work for less than the agreed scale. If that’s true, which it is, then why isn’t it true that women being willing to work for less reduces male wages?

Sandi Toksvig says she is paid less than half of what Stephen Fry earned for hosting QI.

She made her revelation at the annual conference of the Women’s Equality Party, which she co-founded three years ago.

A reasonable enough place to mention it one might think:

The comedian reveals she is paid less than half what her predecessor received for fronting the BBC quiz show. Toksvig was answering a question about her pay during an economics session at the Women’s Equality party conference on Saturday.

Payment for something as individual as a presenting style, well, it’s going to be difficult to make direct comparisons really. QI was, to a decent enough extent, Fry himself in its earlier incarnation at least. The BBC is quick to point out that it’s not their fault:

The BBC press office said: “QI is made by an independent production company who manage their own talent fees.”

A reasonable enough “Not Me Guv'” there.

But we do still have this underlying interestingly difficult inversion to deal with. We do generally insist that people coming in to undercut others’ wages is a bad idea. At least we do in politics even if economics thinks it’s just great. Think of the general shouting about either immigration or imports. People coming into the country and willing to work for peanuts undermines the living standards of the indigenes (not really true, but that’s an oft expressed view). People working for half a peanut in some Third World fly-hole means that stout British workers have their living standards undermined when the imports come off the boat.

So, does this mean that women shouldn’t be allowed to undercut male pay in this manner?

The liberal answer is yes of course. Anyone’s allowed to – encouraged to in fact – offer their labour at any price they think fit. If they find a willing partner in an employer at that price then good luck to them. The progressive answer seems to be a bit different. Unions should protect worker pay from being undercut. Minimum wages should prevent people from offering their labour too cheaply. We should limit imports only to those places which pay about the same we do – yes, that’s a perennial demand of certain unions and progressives. So, if this no-undercutting rule works for people not citizens, not union members, why isn’t the progressive answer the same for women?

Answers on a postcard to Sandi of course. She is a founder of the Women’s Equality Party after all.