• stevenjohnson2

    Re the “argument” for polygamy: In a democratic society, the necessary inequality in a polygamous marriage makes it an unenforceable contract. The democratic state cannot discriminate in favor of a husband who receives/gives twice as many sexual (and other) services as two wives for instance. The problem is that so many lawyers and judges and conservatives (which includes libertarians,) are resolutely opposed to all legal recognition of the US government as a democracy, premised on majority rule of equals.

    As to the state being a bad polygamists, the notion is a bad metaphor. The notion it is the state which is keeping women from getting married and screwing just one husband to get out of poverty seems to be nonsense meant to be inflammatory. Then there is an extraordinary leap to condemning welfare itself as abusive to poor people, instead of calling for maintenance of benefits even after marriage. Lastly, of course, there’s the way the OP avoids the question whether the real problem is that wages are too low and/or unemployment too high, which is why women can’t raise their incomes by marrying men with enough wages to support their families. This is far too close to being a criticism of the market as failing to meet human needs. The refusal to contemplate the practicalities of how labor gets reproduced (much less how human needs are met,) I think reflects the libertarian refusal to make a serious economic analysis.

  • Sean II

    Agreed in principle of course, but there are some serious problems with the standard libertarian story here.

    On a first pass our theory predicts an incentive-driven decline in marriage that should be strongly concentrated among welfare recipients, should look pretty sharp on the downslope starting around 1965, and maybe show a reversal around 1996.

    Some of that prediction matches up, but some clearly doesn’t. There does look to have been an initial push from the War on Poverty, along with an interesting reversal in the mid 1990s. But the failed predictions ring a little louder.

    For one thing the decline is curiously steady. The line for marriage just keeps moving down, in a way that doesn’t even pretend to match any changes in the welfare system’s incentives, or in the scope of its reach. Strictly speaking, we should have seen one major movement in the years after the incentives fell into place, followed by a leveling off once those incentives reached the full fraction of people subject to them.

    Also, although the trend is most pronounced among the poorest, it isn’t confined there. Our theory does not do a good job explaining why, for example, the marriage trend lines are moving so similarly – albeit with different absolute numbers – for both whites and blacks.

    An even bigger problem is: if the American women-and-children version of welfare is a main driver of this trend, there is no reason at all why we should see the same thing in countries that have more of a straightforward dole. And yet…if you overlay the decline in marriage charts for the US and the UK, they look shockingly similar.

    Finally, a close look at the chart for out-of-wedlock births shows the trend was already moving up in the 1950s. It’s never great news for an “X caused Y” story when we discover that Y actually got off the blocks before X.

    So you can say the state is a bad polygamist, and that’s fair. But it rather looks like the sexual revolution is an even worse polygamist.