Saturday, February 18, 2012

More marriages are a good thing, period.

Some time ago, I offered a kind of plea to other conservative and libertarian type thinkers. Basically, I suggested that--given the critical issues we are facing, with regard to government spending and the economy--it would be a good idea to drop the single issue politics stuff, especially with regard to abortion and same-sex marriage.

My own feelings on these two issues were offered there, but I'll repeat them here. First: abortions are legitimate medical procedures and must be allowed, though they should not be encouraged and no one has a right to such a thing, given that it requires the services of another. Second: people in this country are supposed to be free to chart their own course in life, to find happiness, and there is no reason to prevent a same-sex couple from getting married.

On the abortion issue, I do want to be crystal clear on my position, especially with regard to the recent attempt by the Administration to mandate that all organizations with employees must provide contraceptives and the like, as a part of a health insurance package. Even though I feel abortions must be allowed and even though I think women (and men) should be free to use contraceptives, it is beyond the authority of the government to mandate that either or both of these things must be provided by private concerns to employees. If people want contraceptives, they should buy them. If they can't afford them, well...

Now, as to the issue of same-sex marriage, there has been a great deal of hoopla on this over the past several years. And just yesterday, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey vetoed a bill that would have permitted same-sex marriage in that State. This is--in my opinion--wrong-headed in the extreme. Forgetting all of the moral arguments for and against same-sex marriage, let's consider something else: incentives (a concept I often mention, because I think it's very, very important to understand).

What are some of the incentives for individuals to get married? Well, there's love, of course, and the desire establish a bond with another person. Then there are children: people get married because they want to have and raise children, because they wish to be parents. Also significant are the economic incentives, and there are quite a few of these. Marriage allows a pooling of resources or may--in some cases--provide resources to one participant that they previously lacked. Such a pooling provides significantly greater opportunities when it comes to purchasing power, credit, and investing. Then there is the issue of status: married couples have a higher status level--in general--than unmarried couples, and this can be a significant advantage in many arenas.

But there are also incentives for society to allow--even promote--marriage as an institution. Marriage creates easy-to-identify familial ties that extend for generations and generations. Such relationships are important elements for the individual in understanding social structures as a whole. And the above mentioned economic incentives also benefit society as a whole, for they increase economic activity and lead to greater wealth production. In fact, the very idea that one is responsible for a spouse and children spurs on productivity, even promotes an entrepreneurial spirit. Max Weber built an entire theory of the history of capitalism around this idea in his seminal work, The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

One may ask, is their any evidence for all of this, any evidence that marriage is somehow linked to economic success, both for the individual and society as a whole? In fact, there is quite a bit. Recently, I have been commenting extensively on Charles Murray's new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Let's look back at The real class divide:
Consider this: In 1994, Murray and Herrnstein found higher marriage rates among the lower and middle classes than in the upper classes. Now, a mere eighteen years later, the reverse is true. Marriage rates for the lower and middle classes have dropped off a cliff, while they have not changed all that much for the upper classes. The divergence in inequality follows the change in rates, suggesting that the rates are not a consequential, but rather a causal factor. 
This is a significant point, for those in the middle and lower classes that follow the traditional paradigm of American success--work hard, raise a family, etc.--still can and do achieve wealth, significant wealth even.
Upper and upper-middle class families are more likely to be married. And for middle and lower class families, marriage and success--in terms of economic mobility--go pretty much hand in hand. Thus, higher marriage rates are better for society as a whole, from both social and economic perspectives.

And there's a weird dichotomy on this issue, when it comes to typical left/right talking points. For decades, many on the left have been trumpeting the right people have to eschew the traditional paradigm of the family unit, arguing that living together and even having children outside of marriage was as valid a choice as any other and that this did not imperil society in the least. Indeed, single motherhood--ala Murphy Brown--was also presented as an equally valid choice. Now, these same people are arguing for the need to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. And the reverse is true for many on the right: they argued that the undermining of marriage, that validating these alternate choices, did have negative consequences for society (and in this they were and are absolutely correct), but now are arguing against extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, even though this could not help but increase marriage rates.

That's the penultimate point here: increasing marriage rates are a good thing. They promote a healthier, more vibrant, and more cohesive society. Look at the incentives listed above. All of them are equally applicable to a same-sex couple. And same-sex couples have the same desires and needs of heterosexual couples. They seek to be married for the same reasons, as well. And there simply are no costs for others or for society as a whole, with regard to same-sex marriages. Sure, one could argue that a different designation like "civil union" could serve the same purpose, but what's the point? Same-sex couples would still be free to identify themselves as a married couple. Why not accept such self-identification, when denial provides no benefits?

And again--even if one simply cannot fathom why the concept should be extended to same-sex couples--there are other issues that are so much more critical for the future of our republic, why take a stand on this one? Let it go, give people the tools they need to be happy and society the structures it needs to grow stronger.

Cheers, all.


  1. Shouldn't we get the government out of marriage altogether?

    As soon as government gets involved, marriage becomes war.

    Typically a means of transferring wealth from the lower earning partner to the higher earning partner in a divorce.

  2. I don't think there's much hop in that happening--getting the government out of it altogether--even if it might be the best thing all the way around.