Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Friday, March 30, 2012

Twittering Into Your Descendants' Lives

Some people set up Twitter to re-tweet their old tweets (for instance, you might set up a second Twitter account to re-tweet your tweets from a year ago).

This raises the possibility that you could set up a Twitter account to re-tweet your old tweets when your children are exactly the same age (so your 30th birthday tweets would be re-tweeted on their 30th birthdays, and so forth). Your children could see what you were like at the same age. Then their children could see their parents' tweets as well as their grandparents' tweets. The tweets would presumably always be age-appropriate, so even risqué tweets wouldn't cause problems (or at least, not age-appropriateness problems).

After 4-5 generations, it might get a bit unwieldy, but I have to think that it would be fascinating to see your great-great-grandparents' tweets, which would have a sense of immediacy but which would presumably describe a very different world. (In theory, this needn't be restricted to blood relatives, but those seem like the most obvious choices.)

I guess the big downside is self-censorship. No one wants their kids to know about their humiliating sexual experiences, but we do want to tweet about them. Maybe the solution is to skip a few generations. I don't care if my great-grandkids know about my infrequent (but frequently humiliating) sexual escapades.

Another possibility, of course, is that your descendants will speak a different language. But honestly, those fuckers should learn English.

Missed Connection

You, a Jewish girl on the subway reading something—what?—on a Kindle.

Me, a 19th-century Russian writer and physician best known for my short stories.

It is too late for us to have sex, or even go on a date. Please read my books.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Living Constitution

Today Gail Collins notes that the NRA doesn't have much left to do. She writes:

Arizona, which has already passed absolutely every other law the anti-gun-violence crowd opposes, is currently considering a bill making it legal to carry guns on the campuses of public colleges and universities. The State Board of Regents estimates that administering it would cost the equivalent of 25 full-time faculty positions a year.
I'm not sure why it would cost money to "administer" a law allowing people to carry guns onto campus, but in any case I've blogged about this before. Arizona is actually fertile ground for the NRA, because as far as I can tell, Shannon's Law is still on the books. This law makes it a felony to fire a gun indiscriminately into the air.

To stay relevant, the NRA can argue that merely owning a gun can't be all that is protected by the 2nd Amendment - what good is it to own a gun if you can never fire it? The NRA could start lobbying for legalization of gun-use (in a sense, it already has - the NRA opposed Shannon's Law). For instance, I assume that in most states armed robbery is punished more severely than simple robbery. When the weapon used by the criminal is a gun, this seems like a backdoor attack on the 2nd Amendment.

Then, the NRA could extend its lobbying efforts to total de-criminalization of gun use. If you are robbing a liquor store, and you shoot the owner, isn't that more or less what guns were designed for? Aren't you just exercising your Constitutional rights? It seems as though, again, criminalization of this activity is an attack on the 2nd Amendment. The same goes for using a gun during a car-jacking, or a home invasion, or murder-for-hire.

If the NRA won't embrace these exercises of liberty, then maybe we'll see a splinter group emerge called the Real NRA, that will be unafraid of standing up for a substantive reading of the 2nd Amendment.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Missed Connection

You, standing in the door of the subway. Your wavy hair falling over your face, an army-green blouse revealing unbelievable curves. Not all Asian girls can pull off this look.

Me, explaining basic subway etiquette to you, loudly enough for everyone in the area to get the benefit of my advice.

Let's get drinks sometime.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Little Silliness in the New Yorker

One small point about the Goldman piece: he is a little sloppy with fact-checking, although I blame his editors. Anyway, they let this passage slip through, see if you can spot the discrepancy:

By eight o'clock on the frigid morning of June 24th, members of the press, in winter coats, were gathered in front of a hospital ambulance entrance, in the ramshackle Buenos Aires neighborhood of Caballito.
The frigid morning of June 24th. Winter coats. Ha! This is such a howler that I can only laugh and shake my head.

Children of the Dirty War

A stunning piece by Francisco Goldman in the New Yorker this week, describing a bizarre facet of the "dirty war" in Argentina. It turns out that when pregnant women were disappeared, or when disappeared women got pregnant after being raped in captivity, the captors would allow the women to bear the babies, even though the women were usually ultimately killed. The children were "adopted" (today the Argentines are more comfortable with terms like "appropriated" or "stolen") and raised by members of the regime, by friends of the regime, and sometimes by innocent couples who didn't realize what was going on.

After laws were passed to prevent the prosecution of those responsible, the babies presented something of a loophole: because the regime had never acknowledged the baby-theft, these cases were not covered by the law. The result was that legal charges could be brought against the "adoptive" parents when the children were identified, though charges could not be brought against, say, the men who killed the mother. As DNA testing came online, a great deal of drama ensued. Children had been raised, in some cases, by the killers of their mothers, and in other cases by couples who knew the killers and were given the children as a favor. The children thought of the couples as their (adoptive) parents. And to cooperate with the DNA testing meant potentially sending the only parents these children had ever known to prison. Bear in mind that (until the laws were repealed and investigations resumed) those couples were the only people who could go to prison for the atrocities of the Dirty War. Goldman notes: "Women ran into their torturers and rapists in supermarkets." The torture was pretty brutal:

One former detainee told Feitlowitz, "Our bodies were a source of special fascination. They said my swollen nipples invited the 'prod'"—the electric cattle prod, which was used in torture. "They presented a truly sickening combination—the curiosity of little boys, the intense arousal of twisted men."

Sometimes the mothers were able to nurse their newborns, at least sporadically, for a few days, or even weeks, before the babies were taken from them and the mothers were "transferred"—sent to their deaths, in the Dirty War's notorious nomenclature.
For decades, those children constituted the only avenue for justice in Argentina. Read the whole story, it is fascinating. As a side note, the Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations took roughly the positions you would expect in the Dirty War. No wonder the U.S. is so well-loved around the world.

[Update: changed a few passages in the post for clarity. You can hear Goldman discuss the piece here.]

An App for That

Erik Hanson wrote a tweet (not sure that link will work) about an app for a tablet in which the camera is used to take pictures (video?) of passersby, who are then inserted into some kind of first-person shooter game. Or at least, I think that's what was going on.

It poses an interesting problem for the law, I suppose. Here's another possibility along the same lines: an app called "Take a Picture, It'll Last Longer" that records video of people and later adds whatever erotic elements the user wants, if any (it would presumably take a lot of processing power to do something sophisticated, but a simple version would be to insert the person's face into a pre-existing porn video).

Of course, people are already free to do this within their heads - you can't go out in public without running the risk that someone will use a mental image of you as masturbation fodder (well, actually, I can go out in public without running that risk, but most people can't). And I suppose the same goes for pictures taken in public. But since the hypothetical app is explicitly designed to facilitate this behavior, I wonder if it crosses a legal or moral line. Particularly, I suppose, if the video is of a child - though remember, we're talking about innocuous video that is later remixed. Although, if you end up with something that resembles child porn, I think that is clearly illegal under existing law.

None of this will matter once the pangasm has arrived.

Evading Justice

John Demjanjuk is dead. Late in life, Demjanjuk was convicted by a German court of working as a concentration camp guard during the Holocaust and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. However, he died in freedom, having been released pending appeal.

Five years in prison for serving as a concentration camp guard. A shorter sentence than would be given to a common murderer (or perhaps even a car thief or drug dealer). A longer sentence than was served by practically any Nazi anywhere.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Competition for Thee but not for Me

I am sometimes critical of capitalism and the values it propagates, but there is no denying that markets are the best way to organize most economic activity. But note this dynamic: the ideal outcome for most people is to be sheltered from market forces while everyone else is subject to them. When everyone has to compete for your business, you will probably enjoy a wide selection of reasonably-priced goods and services. But it is very unpleasant to compete for your livelihood.

And so people have developed all kinds of mechanisms to shelter themselves from competition - monopolies, unions, tenure, laws that make it difficult to fire people. One measure of a society's commitment to markets is the extent to which it undertakes to force the market on people by prohibiting their attempts to evade it (e.g., anti-trust laws). Of course, it is not clear that it is optimal to maximize competition - if people are risk-averse, then maybe some level of protection from markets is justified, even if it distorts prices and reduces output.

This raises the possibility that social democracy can bring large benefits by giving everyone the same shelter from market forces, while otherwise breaking up all efforts to evade them. Uniform and non-discriminatory generosity, on the one hand, and total exposure to market forces, on the other. You still have price-distortion, since people's incentives are blunted by the social safety net, but a social safety net is probably morally required in any case. Tying the social safety net to a complete lack of anti-competitive distortions may be a very good trade. In fact, one possibility is that if you try to carry out a pro-competitive project in the absence of a strong social safety net, you will fail because people will be too determined to resist. Only by softening the market can we make it acceptable. This is one way to view the argument that the New Deal was about "saving capitalism from itself." Maybe the same logic applies to Bismarck's reforms.

There is a problem of political economy: it is possible that the only way to sustain social democracy is to have powerful labor unions to provide a constituency against fiscal conservatism. Then the unions will prevent you from carrying out the pro-competitive project, at least when it comes to unionized sectors of the economy. I am not sure how this has played out in the social democracies of northern Europe, except that Denmark supposedly has a very flexible labor market in which it is easy to hire and fire people. If that's true, it seems like a very good outcome.

You Are a Product That Must Be Sold

In his classic New Yorker piece on Ron Popeil, Malcolm Gladwell points out that Popeil comes from a family of kitchen-appliance sellers with an interesting philosophy of product design:

They believed that it was a mistake to separate product development from marketing, as most of their contemporaries did, because to them the two were indistinguishable: the object that sold best was the one that sold itself.
Think about that for a moment. You might imagine developing a product as follows: first, identify a need for a new product. Then, design a product that optimally meets that need, taking into account cost of production, etc. Finally, market the product to the public.

What Popeil and his family realized was that capitalism actually calls for a different approach. Marketing is "too important to be left to the generals." The product must be designed with an eye to convincing people that they need it, even at the expense of functionality or cost of production (Gladwell does not make this last point explicit, but it seems inevitable - otherwise there simply wouldn't be any trade-offs). See below for some examples from Gladwell. Of course, I don't think this approach originated with the Popeils. However, it may be increasingly common as society becomes more affluent, because a higher and higher percentage of our income is spent on products that we must be convinced that we need. One does not expect a tremendous amount of marketing to go into the design of shoelaces.

But what is disturbing is that this approach is not confined to products in the marketplace. People organize their lives for maximum "marketability" so as to compete more effectively in status games - they do not separate life decisions from the marketing of themselves. And they embrace marketability even at the expense of other important considerations. Of course, one can be more or less effective at this - nakedly angling for status is itself looked down on. But as in so many other areas, we can't escape the disgusting logic of modern life even in our most private domains. Though I suppose that in this case capitalism is not to blame - our self-promotional tactics long pre-date it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Postscript: Here is one way Popeil incorporated marketing into product design.

Why does [the pitch for the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ - set it & forget it!] work so well? Because the Showtime--like the Veg-O-Matic before it--was designed to be the star. From the very beginning, Ron insisted that the entire door be a clear pane of glass, and that it slant back to let in the maximum amount of light, so that the chicken or the turkey or the baby-back ribs turning inside would be visible at all times.

. . .

Ron understood that the perfect brown [skin of a chicken cooked in the Showtime] is important for the same reason that the slanted glass door is important: because in every respect the design of the product must support the transparency and effectiveness of its performance during a demonstration--the better it looks onstage, the easier it is for the pitchman to go into the turn and ask for the money.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Curves and Sexiness

This is a quick note on the plausibility that a decrease in demand for men on the LTCR market might actually increase the price for men on that market. It is a response to Sarang's comment to the previous post.

Let's start with a traditional supply/demand model. Take apples. Farmers grow apples and supply them to the market. Consumers buy apples for food. For our purposes, it doesn't matter how the apples move from orchard to table.

So we have a supply curve and a demand curve. The supply curve ordinarily slopes upward with price (a higher price induces an increase in the quantity of apples supplied). The demand curve slopes downward with price (a higher price induces a decrease in the quantity of apples demanded). One can work this out with varying degrees of rigor, but the basic logic should be easy to grasp. Note that the slopes of the curves depend on a number of factors, and may be different over different time intervals. On any one day, a farmer may simply sell all of his ripe apples, regardless of the price. So on any given day, the supply curve may be flat. However, over a longer time horizon, farmers will enter or exit the market depending on the expected price of apples, and so the curve will be upward sloping. (This can get very complicated, but for our purposes it doesn't matter.)

Now, as Sarang has noted, in very rare circumstances you could have an upward-sloping demand curve. A good with an upward-sloping demand curve is called a Giffen good. I'll just let Wikipedia do the explaining.

An important concept is that the supply curve and the demand curve shift independently. This is not always strictly true - one can imagine exotic circumstances in which that is not the case - but generally one thinks of a shift in one curve as constituting a shift along the other curve, which itself does not shift. This is almost universally the assumption in introductory economic courses, and I think it is the default assumption generally. So you can see why Sarang calls foul when I violate it, or when I try to invoke a Giffen good (the existence of which has never been confirmed, to my knowledge).

The LTCR market is not like the market for apples described above. That's because the LTCR market interacts dynamically with the sex market. A "price change" in the sex market will induce shifts in curves in the LTCR market, but "prices" are likely to change whenever there is a move into or out of the LTCR market. That means that it is not exotic for a shift in one curve to induce a shift in the other - it is, in fact, highly likely.

So I am not just invoking Giffen goods here. I am not just raising rare hypothetical cases. The curves in the LTCR market do not function the way they do in the apple market.

In Soviet Russia, You Have Model with Sex

Again lifting Sarang's comments from a previous post:

Well, but this is exactly the entire point! As everyone in this argument has been pointing out, a model (I would say the default model) of the SR is one in which WL removes a workplace constraint on women that had been keeping singleness artificially low (and artificially inflating demand for husbands), thus leading to the SR. No jobs, no SR. The further effects are the system equilibrating to the new, lower levels of demand. On this picture, the story you want to tell -- "supply of husbands decreased b'se of SR and therefore SR was bad for women" -- is missing the crucial demand-shock element. What your corn post implies is something like, "women's lib decreased demand for husbands and the SR decreased supply of husbands; these are separate phenomena." However, on the default worldview this is an absurd thing to say, because _the entire story_ is about the system adjusting to a decrease in demand for husbands. And the ultimate effect of a collapse in demand for husbands is unlikely to be an increase in the price of husbands rel. to baseline.

Now you are free to disagree with this admittedly oversimplified model (I offer it mostly for purposes of contrast). But to the extent that it is plausible, separating the SR from women's lib doesn't make sense.
So Sarang had referred to women's liberation leading to the sexual revolution before, but I had not grasped that in his model, the sexual revolution is really nothing but a subset of women's liberation: new job opportunities led to a fall in the demand for men in the LTCR market, possibly followed by a fall in supply of men in the LTCR market. I wish that Sarang had made his model explicit earlier (though I am not sure it would have changed my conclusion - see below).

I was confused because I had originally made the explicit assumption that "the sexual revolution consisted of (A) reducing society's promotion of LTCRs, and (B) reducing society's stigmatization of women's participation in the sex market." Sarang's story only deals with norms and stigma incidentally, if at all, whereas in my model they are the whole story. (I was responding, originally, to the idea that "sexual mores were loosening" during the 60's - something that, I pointed out, is not strictly good for women. I got some pushback on this point, and so I "formalized" it into a model. I never realized that Sarang was using a different model. Not to put words in his mouth, but Sarang may argue that norms and stigma respond to the underlying economic reality - that they are mere epiphenomena, and that jobs drove everything. A discussion for another time. Suffice it to say that I have been thinking in terms of my stated assumptions all along.)

So now it becomes clear why from my viewpoint the sexual revolution doesn't get credit for the improvement in women's job opportunities, while for Sarang this seems silly because in his view the sexual revolution consisted of the improvement in women's job opportunities (as they played out in the LTCR and sex marketplaces). In other words, I was thinking of the sexual revolution as a move from the LTCR market into the sex market, with no significant effect on jobs. Sarang was thinking of the sexual revolution as a move from the LTCR market into the labor force, with casual sex as a side-effect. Note that these models could each be somewhat "accurate" - it could be that some women entered the sex market because of relaxed norms, while others entered the sex market because they no longer relied on an LTCR for economic self-sufficiency. In practice, for many women it was probably a bit of both, with no easy way to disentangle the contributing factors.

But anyway I'm not sure it boils down to anything more than a modeling/terminological issue. Whether you give the sexual revolution "credit" for women's improved career opportunities depends on whether you confine the term "sexual revolution" to the increase in casual sex. In my model, this comes naturally; in Sarang's model one could draw the line either before or after the increase in job opportunities. Sarang finds it intuitive to "bundle" the two together. I am not so sure - after all, a woman with economic opportunities need not leave the LTCR market or change her sexual behavior at all. In fact, imagine a woman who has no desire for sex outsides of an LTCR. If, as a result of women's liberation, she has career opportunities such that she has no economic need for an LTCR, would we say that her increased bargaining power in the LTCR market is attributable to the sexual revolution? This seems like a stretch to me, but I admit this is a fairly subjective question. I'll just say that I view it as more intuitive to define the sexual revolution in sexual terms - changes in sexual behavior and norms.

But assume that Sarang's model is 100% right and mine is 100% wrong (that is, norms played no causal role - the entire shift was driven by a shift from the LTCR market to the labor market). I don't think Sarang is correct in his implicit assumption that the supply response of men in the LTCR market must be overwhelmed by the initial negative shock to the demand for men. That would be true in a traditional supply/demand model (in which we would expect no shift in the supply curve at all, merely a shift along the supply curve). However, in this case changes in the sex market feed back into the supply of men in the LTCR market - the supply curve shifts as men depart for the sex market. Depending on parameters, it would be possible for women to undergo an "immiserating" decrease in demand for men in the LTCR market (that is, the "price" may shift in favor of men, a counter-intuitive result).

So I stand by my ceteris paribus arguments, but I acknowledge they become less compelling if you adopt Sarang's model in lieu of mine. But even if you use Sarang's model, and even if you include intra-LTCR-market effects within the "sexual revolution," this does not mean women have gained bargaining power in the LTCR market as a result of the sexual revolution, and it does not mean that the incentive for men to be "suitable" has increased.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Strawberry Games and Sex

I am going to lift the following comments from Sarang into a post:

Corn subsidies and sugar quotas are logically independent, even if they happen to occur together. In my worldview (and Steph's, and maybe Alan's), the sexual revolution was a direct and essentially inevitable consequence of jobs for women. Thus the parallel fails.

. . . a better parallel from my perspective is the following. You argue that one should leave strawberries lying about on one's coffee table indefinitely because they smell good. Alan and I object that they do not, because they begin to rot. You say that this is irrelevant because you're investigating the smell of strawberries while ignoring the effect of putrefaction. You add that this is not an intellectually disreputable practice.
So a quick note - Sarang has indicated that he is tired of repeating himself endlessly and will shut up - so silence on his part should not be construed as agreement with my points.

Now, my points.

1. Sarang does not clarify the distinction between logical independence and causal independence. I take it that eating 20 pieces of candy cannot be regarded as logically independent from eating an even number of candies. One simply can't, as a logical matter, do the former without doing the latter. Whereas eating 20 pieces of candy is very likely to cause you to feel ill, but this is not entailed as a logical matter.

If this is the distinction, then I think one can treat the sexual revolution as logically distinct from the women's liberation movement, even if the boundary is not clear, and even if the sexual revolution is regarded as a subset of the women's liberation movement. One might still regard the two as causally linked, but I think this has been assumed rather than established. (This is a reasonable assumption, of course - see below - but the extent and nature of this causal relationship is not obvious to me.)

2. No one would deny that the women's liberation movement and the sexual revolution share common causes. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that the one could not take place without the other. However, these are not Boolean variables - women's labor force participation is not either "yes" or "no," but rather is expressed as a percentage. Moreover, beyond crude numbers like labor force participation, women can be more or less fully integrated into the workforce, and given more or less opportunity for advancement.

Likewise, one can imagine different types and degrees of sexual liberalization. One can imagine a society in which premarital sex is "deregulated," but adultery is still highly stigmatized. One can imagine a society in which serial monogamy is respected in all its forms but non-monogamy is not. One can imagine a society in which most traditional norms are retained and even enforced, but only in increasingly mild ways (instead of being ostracized for adultery, a woman simply loses some amount of status).

Therefore, even if you regard women's liberation and the sexual revolution as corollaries, one might still fruitfully ask questions like, "What is the effect of sexual liberalization, holding workforce opportunities constant?" or: "What is the effect of improved career opportunities, holding sexual liberalization constant?" In real life, these things may never be held constant, but they still might vary in ways that yield different outcomes. For instance, I suspect that if adultery were completely non-stigmatized, it would weaken long-term commitments, with a variety of consequences. If one of those consequences were that women had a harder time getting advanced degrees (perhaps because advanced degrees are often subsidized by spouses), then one might like to know this, even if the women's liberation movement as a whole makes it vastly easier for women to get advanced degrees. (So in other words, one might say, "The women's liberation movement is unambiguously helpful to women obtaining advanced degrees, but the elimination of anti-adultery norms is mildly harmful to women obtaining advanced degrees." One might say this even if, in fact, the women's liberation movement inevitably leads to the abandonment of all norms against adultery. And of course, it may be the case that women's liberation is consistent with any number of different norms about adultery - it may even be the case that adultery is more strongly and consistently stigmatized in a post-women's-liberation world. To take the position that one simply cannot ask questions about adultery norms without analyzing the entirety of the women's liberation movement strikes me as silly.)

3. So I don't think I'm playing strawberry games when I insist on doing ceteris paribus analysis of the sexual revolution.

A Terrible Beauty is Corn

Imagine an argument between me, on the one hand, and Alan and Sarang, on the other. I argue that corn subsidies, whatever their merits, have contributed to obesity by making empty calories cheaper than they would otherwise have been. I argue that this has increased people's incentives to consume empty calories. (For the sake of this discussion, let's ignore those instances in which the government pays farmers not to grow corn.)

Alan responds that in fact people's incentives to consume empty calories have not increased, because empty calories have actually become more expensive as the result of government policy. Alan notes that sugar quotas increase the price of sucrose, which is a sweetener that competes with high fructose corn syrup. Assuming fructose and sucrose are substitutes, an increase in the price of sucrose should lead to an increase in demand for fructose, which could actually overwhelm any increase in supply brought about by the corn subsidies (that is, corn syrup could end up more expensive than it would be in a free market).

I might reply that I was just talking about corn subsidies. Holding other things constant, corn subsidies have led to cheaper empty calories. Maybe sugar quotas have caused empty calories to become more expensive, and maybe this has overwhelmed the effect of the corn subsidies, but I am holding sugar prices constant in my analysis.

Sarang and Alan note that corn subsidies and sugar quotas are closely linked: both involve the use of government policy to promote the interests of farmers. The two policies may have even been enacted in the same legislation. It might be very difficult to imagine a world in which corn farmers benefit from subsidies but sugar-cane and sugar-beet farmers don't benefit from quotas.

So then, what is our answer to the question, "Ceteris paribus, do corn subsidies make empty calories cheaper?" If, with Alan and Sarang, we answer, "No," then we are taking the view that there basically is no such thing as a "corn subsidy," as traditionally understood (that is, money that is paid to farmers based on how much corn they grow). Rather, there is something called "agricultural policy," and it is the only relevant unit of analysis. Indeed, it is what we mean when we use the term "corn subsidy."

So anyway, James has written a series of blog posts about how corn subsidies have led to increased incentives to consume empty calories. Sarang responds that James's response about holding sugar prices constant is point-missing because the point is just that James's model of corn subsidies is at odds with reality because it's missing the dynamics of the price of sugar.

I want to make two observations:

1. It may be valuable to consider the effect of corn subsidies (defined narrowly) separately from the effect of other policies, even policies that are almost certain to accompany corn subsidies (such as sugar quotas). This is standard in economics, and frankly I am not accustomed to thinking of it as a disreputable practice.

2. Even if it is not "valuable" in some deep sense to model corn subsidies separately from sugar quotas, it is still perfectly possible to do it for the sake of discussion, or for the sake of sorting out one's ideas. I might concede that any such discussion is entirely academic, since farm policy is in the hands of our mal-apportioned Senate, which will under no circumstances adjust corn subsidies while leaving everything else constant. And even if the Senate did such a thing, surely something would happen in the world that would shift sugar prices one way or another, or shift gasoline prices, or any number of things, ensuring that it will never be the case that only corn subsidies change and that everything else is truly equal. Nevertheless, it may be fun or engaging to ask the question, even if the circumstances underlying the answer (everything else being equal) will never obtain in the real world.

A Stone to Trouble the Living Stream

Michel Houellebecq, Whatever:

I've just turned thirty. After a chaotic start I did very well in my studies; today I'm in middle management. Analyst-programmer in a computer software company, my salary is two and a half times the minimum wage; a tidy purchasing power, by any standards. I can expect significant advancement within my firm; unless I decide, as many do, to sign on with a client. All in all I may consider myself satisfied with my social status. On the sexual plane, on the other hand, the success is less resounding. I have had many women, but for limited periods. Lacking in looks as well as personal charm, subject to frequent bouts of depression, I don't in the least correspond to what women are usually looking for in a man. And then I've always felt a kind of slight reticence with those women who were opening their organs to me. Basically all I represented for them was a last resort. Which is not, you will agree, the ideal point of departure for a lasting relationship.
There is an interesting parallel to Sarang's second reason to avoid having to deal with friendly attractive women at work: "(2) They might be of the kind that are _into nerds_ -- which, for any sufficiently self-loathing nerd, is a turn-off (qua confirmation of one's own nerdiness)."

It is only a parallel, since being a nerd is not the same thing as being abjectly pathetic. But it suggests that there may be a sort of psychological barrier to mutually-beneficial transactions, much as there is when Westerners shy away from paying poor people in developing countries miserable wages to do dangerous, degrading work. Maybe another way of thinking about it is that the transaction is not mutually beneficial when you take into account the revulsion that the transaction arouses.

[Update: note that the minimum wage in France appears to be €9.22, so at current exchange rates, 2.5 times the minimum wage works out to just above $30/hour.]

The Sexual Revolution: Very Bad for Polar Bears

I have identified a cost of the sexual revolution that had not occurred to me: a massive increase in greenhouse gases and the accompanying global climate change, including both changes in weather patterns and in oceanic chemistry. When you add that to the huge increase in obesity, it actually starts to look as though the costs of the sexual revolution may exceed its benefits.

Now, one might say that you should isolate the effects of the sexual revolution from other changes that happened to coincide with it. For instance, if anything we might expect the sexual revolution to lead to a decrease in obesity, since people spend more of their lives actively looking for sex. So ceteris paribus the sexual revolution may have made us slimmer. And yet I count obesity as a cost - why?

Because obesity trends, as well as global climate change, are driven by shifting patterns of economic activity, without which the sexual revolution almost certainly wouldn't have occurred. Industrialization made us much richer and shifted people from the countryside, with its rural values and high search costs, to cities and suburbs. In cities, there are "thick" markets for sex, and non-traditional social institutions support sporadic, anonymous interactions (for instance, the rule of law replaces basic reputational control mechanisms in preventing cheating - necessary because in the urban environment, a lot of interactions are not "repeat games," whereas in small towns everything is a repeat game).

So industrialization facilitated the sexual revolution, but alas, it also caused a massive increase in our output of greenhouse gases. Likewise, the shift from manual labor to sedentary lifestyles contributed to the explosion of obesity, but it also promoted the sexual revolution (again, by putting people into urban areas where the sexual revolution could take off).

I will continue to think of negative trends that coincided with the sexual revolution and were in some sense connected to it, and hopefully what will end up happening is that our evaluation of the sexual revolution will boil down to, "Are humans better off now than they were 50 years ago?"

Not That Many Women are Sex Workers

Alan addresses the question of men's incentives to be "suitable" for an LTCR post-sexual revolution and concludes that in fact men's incentives to be "suitable" were not weakened by the sexual revolution. Why? Because while the sexual revolution may have decreased the supply of men in the LTCR market, it also decreased the demand for men, by creating career opportunities and economic independence for women.

The problem is that the sexual revolution did not obviously create any real career opportunities for women. True, some women found employment in prostitution or pornography, but it is very difficult to believe that these jobs account for more than a small fraction of women's economic empowerment. Rather, it seems likely that expanded career opportunities in manufacturing, services, medicine, law, business, and technology account for the vast bulk of women's increased economic self-reliance.

So while the sexual revolution seems to have reduced the supply of men in the LTCR market, it does not seem to have brought about any non-negligible reduction in the demand for men (at least, not through the channel Alan identifies). Of course, women's economic opportunities have expanded greatly over the last 50 years, but to give all the credit to the sexual revolution and none to the women's liberation movement seems, well, crazy. The question is not whether the last 50 years have been good for women - of course they have - but whether the sexual revolution has been on balance good for women. That is a closer question.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

False Consciousness in the Federal Republic

From "Anti-Climax," by Jonathan Franzen, in the April 21, 1997 issue of the New Yorker:

If Americans today are especially anxious, the consensus seems to be that it's because of "changing sex roles" and "media images of sex" and so forth. In fact, we're simply experiencing the anxiety of a free market. Contraception and the ease of divorce have removed the fetters from the economy of sex, and, like the citizens of present-day Dresden and Leipzig, we all want to believe we're better off under a regime in which even the poorest man can dream of wealth. But as the old walls of repression tumble down, many Americans—discarded first wives, who are like the workers displaced from a Trabant factory; or sexually inept men, who are the equivalent of command-economy bureaucrats—have grown nostalgic for the old state monopolies. What are The Rules if not an attempt to re-regulate an economy run scarily amok?
The success of Die Linke suggests either that some Germans have experienced negative effects from the fall of Communism or that there is substantial false consciousness among German voters.

[Update: Check out the geographical distribution of Die Linke's electoral support. Do you see any patterns?]

Friday, March 09, 2012

Collecting Cases

I am going to keep a running list of links on the general subject of sex, narcissism, losers, writing, and the Great Male Novelists (with an emphasis on Houellebecq, who I assume without deciding is a GMN), so that I have them all in one place. I will keep adding (and possibly re-arranging) links as I find them. I should note, I don't endorse all of these, though I do think they all have something to contribute. I guess I could put them in rough order of my view of how much they contribute, but I kind of like them the way they are arranged.

DFW on Updike

Updike on Houellebecq

Houellebecq at home

Elaine Blair on Houellebecq (specifically The Map and the Territory, but wide-ranging)

Ben Jeffery on Houellebecq (specifically The Map and the Territory)

Scott Esposito on Ben Jeffery's book on Houellebecq and "depressive realism"

Katie Roiphe on depictions of sex by different generations of "great male novelists" (and Ross Douthat's response)

Elaine Blair on depictions of sex and of losers by the young generation of "great male novelists" and by Houellebecq

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Potentially Fruitful Combination: Libertarianism and Economics

It turns out lots of people are thinking and blogging about single motherhood and the sexual revolution. Apparently Santorum said that if elected, he would be the first President to talk about the "dangers of contraception." He elaborated:

"What I was talking about is we have a society -- Charles Murray just wrote a book about this and it's on the front page of 'The New York Times' two days ago, which is the increasing number of children being born out of wedlock in America, teens who are sexually active."

Julian Sanchez, who works for Cato and is a contributing editor to Reason magazine, had this response:

"On its face, this is nonsensical: How can contraception, of all things, be responsible for an increase in out of wedlock births?"

Sanchez goes on to spin an elaborate story about how social conservatives are playing a Straussian game of hide-the-ball when they talk about how people play hide-the-banana, deliberately avoiding discussion of differences between elites and non-elites. Ross Douthat argues that Sanchez is simply mistaken and that conservatives aren't hiding anything - they openly discuss differences between elites and non-elites when it comes to sex (as well as other issues such as gambling).

I suspect Douthat is right, but what baffles me here is Sanchez's conceit that it is nonsensical for contraception to be responsible for an increase in out-of-wedlock births (he goes so far as to state that his Straussian explanation is "the only remotely coherent way I can see to make sense of Santorum’s purported link between the prevalence of contraception and rising non-marital births"). The thing is, Santorum's claim is actually perfectly plausible without resort to tortured explanations. A fairly simple model should suffice:

1. The casual sex market is greatly facilitated by contraception, which is generally effective not only to prevent pregnancy but also to reduce transmission of disease (I am thinking of condoms - obviously the pill is not effective against disease). Contraception "lowers the cost" of casual sex (not the monetary cost, but the overall consequences).

2. Pregnancy is less likely to result from each sexual encounter. Total pregnancies among single women are probably reduced by contraception (though pregnancies could theoretically increase if the number of sexual encounters were to grow substantially - but I think we can ignore this possibility).

3. At the same time, because casual sex is easier to obtain, men will have less incentive to commit to long-term committed relationships. The "supply" of marriageable men is reduced.

4. So the net effect on single motherhood will depend (roughly) on whether #2 or #3 predominates - whether out-of-wedlock pregnancies will fall more or less than the "supply" of husbands.

Far from being incoherent, Santorum's account is actually quite logical. He is advancing the claim that #3 predominates - that casual sex, facilitated by contraception, is drawing men away from marriage and leaving unwed mothers with few good options.

[Update: Note that as with the sexual revolution, I support access to contraception despite its potentially negative consequences for some people. I am an enthusiastic user of birth control, although my method happens to consist of my personality and appearance.]

As a general matter, I would encourage people who are interested in libertarianism (as I assume Sanchez is) to study basic economics and to consider incentives when thinking about human behavior. Although it's true that an understanding of economics often undermines libertarianism, a general facility with basic economics would help libertarians think through their arguments. And sometimes economics actually provides support for libertarian arguments - a win-win.

Will Women's Day be Saved by Craft Beer?

Today is International Women's Day. I tweeted: "It's so sad to see people politicize a day that should be about celebrating women, not promoting their interests."

But insanely, this turns out this is a real thing. From the Wikipedia article: "In many regions, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother's Day and St Valentine's Day."

And the thing is, I really shouldn't be surprised. A huge problem in the United States is the perception that because the two-party system is imperfect, politics is somehow the problem. This attitude takes a few different forms - "moderation" that consists of splitting the difference between the parties, or a kind of unwillingness to engage because neither side is truly principled. (So in other words, some people demand total compromise, while others demand total intellectual consistency. You can write a pretty good op-ed based on either premise, and no one will notice that no political party could possibly do both at once.) This is exacerbated by the tendency of elites to embrace technocracy (which naturally will be run by elites, in accordance with elite tastes, interests, and prejudices) and to shun democracy.

Of course, I think there is an ideological valence to this: modern liberalism is basically the view that justice is a political project that should be carried out through democratic politics and the courts. Much of modern conservatism consists of denigrating and degrading (A) the government, (B) the courts, and (C) politics generally. Disengagement is a conservative act.

If there's one thing our culture excels at, it is turning everything into bland, inoffensive mush. In some areas, we have decisively reversed this trend. The U.S. beer scene has gone from being one of the worst in the world to one of the best, because brewers have decided to make beers that aren't to everyone's taste. You can get a double-IPA, or a Russian imperial stout, or a sour beer tinged with brettanomyces, or even a 100% brett.-fermented beer. Some people are going to hate each of those, some people just want a Budweiser, but the point is flavor is available. Pungency has returned. The hot and the cold I will swallow, the lukewarm I will vomit out.

So anyway, International Women's Day should be like that. We've seen with the SOPA fight that it is possible to bring overwhelming political pressure with some organization and creativity. We celebrate women by taking the politics of women's issues seriously. And what better day to do it?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Reader, I Married Him for His Money

It occurs to me that my previous post might help explain why traditional patterns of marriage have persisted in the upper class. A certain percentage of men are going to invest in professional development as an avenue to sexual success. (After all, I bet that people in LTCRs are actually having more sex on average than people who stick to the casual hookup market - it's just that LTCRs are harder work. Also, possibly casual sex is higher-quality, though I am not so sure about that. Anyway there are always going to be ugly, humorless men who have little chance of getting laid other than via the LTCR market, so they we [oops] will have the traditional incentives with respect to self-improvement.)

So these men invest in human capital and become excellent LTCR prospects from an economic perspective. Crucially, though, they we can only reap the rewards of their our investment in the LTCR market. In the casual sex market, their our suitability gets them us nothing.

And of course, men who have invested in human capital tend to be high-income. This may explain what we observe: marriage persists in the high-income brackets but has declined significantly everywhere else.

Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say No (to Growing Up)

So in a post written long ago, I speculated that men's behavior is highly responsive to what I guess you could call the sexual ecosystem. Basically, incentives matter, and sexual incentives matter most of all. (For young men, I would go so far as to say that practically all incentives are ultimately sexual incentives. Maybe that's true for all adults.)

For the purposes of the sexual revolution, the logic is something like:

1. Women became increasingly willing to have sex with men regardless of their suitability as long-term partners (1960s).

2. Investing in suitability became less important to male sexual success (1960s through today). This may have been exacerbated by high rates of incarceration of men, which shifted supply/demand. The fewer available men there are, the less choosy women can be.

3. Men responded by investing less in suitability (1960s through today).

4. Now, there are relatively few men who are suitable long-term partners.

This concept is by no means original to me. In his post, Douthat wrote of "the understandable male desire not to take a steady but low-paying job when they can work part-time, goof off on the XBox, and still find willing sexual partners."

And in fact, in the 1960s the left-wing movement explicitly embraced the logic of sexual incentives with the famous/infamous slogan "girls say yes to boys who say no" [to fighting in Vietnam] (I don't know how earnest this slogan was - maybe it was always more of a comment on the commodification of female sexuality). And of course, before that there was Lysistrata.

So in broad strokes, our society has de-linked the sexual success of men from their contribution to society. This is part of the general shift toward individuality and liberty, and in some sense it is to be applauded. (As for my part, I'm just waiting for women to realize how socially unproductive Wall Street lawyers are.) But not all of the consequences have been positive.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Consign it to the Flames

So, back when giants strode the earth, one of them had a debate with Friedrich Hayek. Hayek had just published Road to Serfdom, an argument that central planning will lead to, well, serfdom. Here is how Keynes responded [UPDATE: forgot to mention that this is from John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, by Robert Skidelsky]:

You admit . . . that it is a question of knowing where to draw the line. You agree that the line has to be drawn somewhere, and that the logical extreme is not possible. But you give us no guidance whatever as to where to draw it. It is true that you and I would probably draw it in different places. I should guess that according to my ideas you greatly under-estimate the practicability of the middle course. But as soon as you admit that the extreme is not possible . . . you are, on your own argument, done for, since you are trying to persuade us that as soon as one moves an inch in the planned direction you are necessarily launched on the slippery path which will lead you in due course over the precipice.

. . .

I should therefore conclude your theme rather differently. I should say that what we want is not no planning, or even less planning. I should say that we almost certainly want more. But the planning should take place in a community in which, as many people as possible, both leaders and followers, share your own moral position. Moderate planning will be safe if those carrying it out are rightly oriented in their own minds and hearts to your own moral position . . .

What we need therefore . . . is not a change in our economic programmes, which would only lead in practice to disillusion with the results of your philosophy; but perhaps even . . . an enlargement of them. . . . I accuse you of perhaps confusing a little bit the moral and the material issues. Dangerous acts can be done safely in a community which thinks and feels rightly which would be the way to hell if they were executed by those who think and feel wrongly.
I want to emphasize the very last line. Keynes is making the point that planning does not exist in a vacuum. What matters is a shared commitment to . . . well, I'm not sure exactly what, but I guess respect for property, prices as signals, whatever.

Two things strike me. The firsst first [oops] is that the reverse is probably also true. Capitalism is probably a great system in a society with strong norms of generosity, egalitarianism, good governance, etc. This is maybe unsurprising: Scandinavia prospers under a variety of center-left public policies (all right, so they're probably not that different from each other, but I think there are meaningful differences). Greece is probably doomed no matter what system it embraces. (I am exaggerating a bit, but I really do think a government that is roughly at Greece's position on the right-left spectrum would do just fine in Scandinavia. The problem is its position on just about every other spectrum.)

So the second thing that strikes me is that capitalistic values are almost certainly corrosive in any society. It depends on exactly how you specify the values, of course, but basically it comes down to greed and self-promotion. There are other values that are associated with capitalism or that are helpful for particular people within a capitalist system, but I am not sure that any of those (empiricism? pluralism?) are nearly as selected-for as greed and self-promotion. Certainly I think commitment to rule-of-law is only sometimes advantageous for an individual in a capitalist society.

Anyway, the point is not at all original to me. See this paper (PDF) via Marginal Revolution. But there is something a little pleasing and a little disturbing about the idea that capitalism (and perhaps all advanced civilization) is at its best when it is young and vigorous - that is, before it has devoured all of society's accumulated norms of human decency.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Great Minds in Communion

Coming to his senses, Levin got down off the haystack, looked at the stars and realized that night was over.

'Well, what am I to do then? How am I to do it?' he said to himself, trying to put into words all that he had thought and felt during that short night. All those thoughts and feelings were divided into three separate lines of argument. One was to renounce his old life, his useless knowledge, his utterly needless education. This renunciation gave him pleasure and was easy and simple for him. Other thoughts and notions concerned the life he wished to live now. The simplicity, the purity, the legitimacy of this life he felt clearly, and he was convinced that he would find in it that satisfaction, repose and dignity, the absence of which he felt so painfully. But the third line of argument turned around the question of how to make this transition from the old life to the new. And here nothing clear presented itself to him. 'To have a wife? To have work and the necessity to work? To leave Pokrovskoe? To buy land? To join a community? To marry a peasant woman? How am I to do it?' he asked himself again, and found no answer.

-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

As though it was a game, she started to jerk me off more quickly, pressing my cock to her mouth. When her tongue touched the tip of the glans, I ejaculated violently into her half-open mouth. She swallowed with a little moan, then wrapped her lips around the head of my penis to get the last drops. I was flooded with unbelievable serenity, like a wave coursing through each of my veins. She took her mouth away and lay down beside me, coiling herself around me.

-Michel Houellebecq, Platform

Sunday, March 04, 2012

False Consciousness in Action

I can't help laughing when I read something like this, from the NY Times:
Reviewing the academic literature, Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State University recently found that children born to married couples, on average, “experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioral outcomes.”

Lisa Mercado, an unmarried mother in Lorain, would not be surprised by that. Between nursing classes and an all-night job at a gas station, she rarely sees her 6-year-old daughter, who is left with a rotating cast of relatives. The girl’s father has other children and rarely lends a hand.

“I want to do things with her, but I end up falling asleep,” Ms. Mercado said.
What Brown and Mercado don't understand is that the "missing marriages" would have been miserable - Ms. Mercado's alternative (for instance, in a hypothetical society in which LTCRs are a bigger part of the social fabric) would have been to marry an abusive man, or an asshole. What Brown isn't controlling for in her research is the selection effect - married couples do better because that is where good fathers and husbands go. If she were married, Ms. Mercado might get to spend time with her child, but only in between beatings from her husband. I will see if the NY Times reporters who wrote the story will give me Ms. Mercado's contact information so I can explain this to her.

Commitment - Let's Commit it to the Dustbin

So it occurs to me that if in fact there is no reason to punish people for leaving LTCRs, then in fact the concept of an LTCR is basically defunct. If our expectation is that a person should stay in an LTCR if and only if he/she is happier in the LTCR than outside of it, then there is no meaningful commitment. The commitment is just to stick around until it's no longer advantageous to do so, and that is no commitment at all.

This clarifies a lot of things for me. I formerly believed that LTCRs were an important social institution, but this is a difficult position to maintain if in fact they are indistinguishable from uncommitted sexual relationships. It now occurs to me that the real difference between an LTCR and an uncommitted sexual relationship is that the former is the label we give to the behavior of privileged people, while the latter is the label that we give to the behavior of people against whom there is still residual stigma. What is really going on is a sort of class struggle in which the upper class perpetuates the myth of its own superiority (by pointing to its stable marriages, low rates of teen pregnancy, etc.). The concept of fidelity is a cudgel in the culture/class wars. False consciousness and class solidarity have led some affluent liberals to embrace the language of commitment and loyalty, but hopefully soon the illusion will be exploded.

The Folketing and Human Flourishing

On March 23, 1943, Danes went to the polls to elect a new parliament. Denmark had been occupied by the Nazis since April 9, 1940, and its government had been functioning as a "protectorate" of the Third Reich. That is, the Germans allowed the Danes to engage in limited self-government, though German soldiers were deployed throughout the country.

The turnout was 89.5%, the highest turnout ever achieved in Denmark. The National Socialist Workers' Party (the Nazis) got 2.1% of the vote. The Social Democrats, who despised the Nazis and were in turn despised by them, got 44.5% of the vote, more than double the votes of any other party.

This repudiation of the Nazi project was characteristic of the Danes, who generally refused to collaborate beyond directing their economic production to Germany and signing a watered-down version of the Anti-Comintern Pact. The Telegram Crisis had taken place the previous autumn - Danes were defying the Nazis at all levels of Danish society.

What's amusing is that, of course, it was irrational for the Danes to vote at all. The time and effort that it takes to cast a ballot is not cost-justified when you consider how unlikely it is that the election will be decided by a single vote. So what at first appears to be a striking example of defiance against tyranny turns out to be a pretty hilarious demonstration that Danish people were just not that bright, and that unfortunately the height of their irrationality (that is, the highest voter turnout) came at a time when it would have been preferable for the Danes to have their wits about them. As such, on March 23 I will remember with bitterness the disastrous Folketing Election of 1943 and mourn the rational self-interested behavior that could have been.

Models of the Sexual Revolution: Implications for Leaving

You can take either a somewhat pessimistic or an optimistic view of the consequences of the sexual revolution. Similarly, you can either believe that it is legitimate to curtail women's autonomy for social purposes or you can believe that this is illegitimate. (You are not forced to make any real trade-offs in the optimistic model, since it assumes that the consequences are benign for everyone save a few lonely men.)

But so, how should we react to "leaving"? By "leaving" I mean exiting an LTCR despite the commitment to stay. (It wouldn't count as "leaving" if both partners had agreed that the commitment would only last, say, 5 years, and one of the partners left at the end of the 5-year term.)

On a philosophical level, one might say that leaving should never be stigmatized, because any stigma would interfere with women's autonomy. This is most obvious in the case in which the woman leaves the man, but it is also true when the man leaves the woman. (I am, again, focusing on heterosexuals - the logic is not too different for homosexuals, though.) If a man leaves a woman, then he becomes available as a partner for other women, allowing them to exercise their autonomy. In fact, he may have already started sleeping with a new woman by the time he leaves his LTCR partner. This new woman's autonomy may be frustrated by any stigma that attaches to the man when he leaves his LTCR partner.

On a practical level, one might say that it is nevertheless okay to violate women's autonomy if it brings about good results, particularly if it brings about good results for women. (This would be controversial, of course - arguably women's autonomy should be respected in every case, even when it has devastating results.) But so, what results from a stigma against leaving?

Well, if LTCRs are not valuable, or if they are only valuable when both partners want to be in them, then it is unclear what we could achieve by stigmatizing leaving. Leaving is actually a good thing, from a sorting perspective: it removes an unsuitable partner from an LTCR, leaving everyone better off.

Things are more complicated if the partner has "relied" on the LTCR in making his/her decisions. So for instance, if a woman had children in the expectation that she would have a partner to help raise them, then she might be disadvantaged when her partner leaves (even though the children are, of course, better off when their father leaves). However, if we generally think that LTCRs do not generate a lot of social welfare (their insurance function is overrated, not many people do inter-temporal bargains through LTCRs), then we should expect reliance to be minimal. And, as noted, the children will be better off no matter what.

One might stigmatize leaving, not to prevent people from leaving, but to prevent them from entering LTCRs in the first place. However, this seems like a perverse mechanism - it would basically punish people who want to leave LTCRs by forcing some of them to stay, to the detriment of everyone.

So the surprising result is that we probably shouldn't look down on a man who, for instance, leaves his wife while she battles cancer. He is doing everyone a favor. So while Newt Gingrich has taken some criticism for his habit of leaving wives for younger women, this criticism should be seem as misogynistic and outdated. If anything, Newt Gingrich's behavior evinces great respect for women's sexual autonomy.

Marriage is Doomed, We are Doomed

By the way, all of this is indirectly motivated by this Yglesias post (which I find silly) and this Douthat post (which I find much more compelling).

The reason I find the Yglesias post so silly is that his model of marriage seems utterly foolish. Are we to expect marriage rates to climb as men, desperate for wedding rings, offer to increase their share of the housework?

In this regard, I would analogize marriage to a regulated monopoly. You allow a monopoly to exist notwithstanding the antitrust laws. However, you regulate it heavily and impose a bunch of cross-subsidies on it. The result is that the monopoly becomes an important part of your public policy. But then it goes into decline. And all of the cross-subsidies that you have heaped on top of it actually hasten its decline. What can you do?

This is roughly the story of the USPS, and I'm sure there are a lot more examples. I think it may also be the story of marriage. In our society, we have put an enormous burden on the family as an institution. In most Western countries, the state provides much more support for things like maternity leave, education, childcare. As a result, marriage is collapsing under the weight of its cross-subsidies. It persists where those cross-subsidies are the most affordable (among the rich), but it is simply melting away everywhere else, like an ice company in Oklahoma at the dawn of widespread refrigeration.

Social democracy is the answer, but it is an impossible answer in the United States.

A Sorting Model of the Sexual Revolution

So let's spell out a model in which the sexual revolution had no significant negative impacts on women or children. I'll use largely the same assumptions as in my previous post, but add a few extra.

1. Assume that only a fraction of men and women are suitable for LTCRs (the rest are either not good at them or don't want them). Assume that among the women who aren't suitable for LTCRs, many want to raise children. Assume that children are better off with a single mother than with parents in an unsuitable LTCR. Assume that identifying someone who is unsuitable for an LTCR cannot be done with 100% certainty, but that accuracy increases as you get to know someone.

2. So what the sexual revolution achieved was a much more efficient sorting mechanism. Prior to the sexual revolution, unsuitable men entered LTCRs with women (who were possibly themselves unsuitable), often producing children who were greatly disadvantaged by this type of household. After the sexual revolution, you get many fewer unsuitable people in LTCRs, because their partners identify them and then break up. Children are increasingly raised in single-parent households (perhaps by mothers who are unsuitable for LTCRs, perhaps not), but they are better off than they would have been pre-sexual revolution. Women who want LTCRs can generally get them, though they may have to settle for ugly men. So what you get is maybe a re-alignment in which the beautiful people have a lot of sex and raise children outside of LTCRs, while the ugly people form LTCRs.

3. Of course, the sexual revolution also had its effects on men's patterns of sexual behavior, incentive to build a career, etc. So some men are worse off, some men are better off, women are mostly better off, and children are unambiguously better off.

So yeah, it's easy to come up with models in which the decline of marriage is a wonderful thing (in which case it is the rich people who are fucking up - what's the matter with Massachusetts?). I think you will find this more or less compelling depending on your predisposition to like or dislike the sexual revolution. The use of my original model may be to demonstrate that it is logically possible for an increase in women's freedom to make women worse off as a group. "Immiserating freedom" is a very real phenomenon, though perhaps not in this case.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

What Good is an LTCR?

So, one might ask whether there is any real value to long-term committed relationships beyond people's idiosyncratic preference for them. I think there is, and in fact I think LTCRs are a crucial social institution. In fact, while marriage has at times been seen as an oppressive institution, I think in all likelihood its overall effect is strongly egalitarian and welfare-promoting.

LTCRs have a few important characteristics that are relatively easy to model.

1. Picture an LTCR as a stream of benefits and costs for each partner. Benefits include sex, companionship, and financial support. Costs include opportunity costs (giving up other sexual opportunities - usually) and financial costs.

2. The "commitment" aspect of an LTCR allows people to make mutually beneficial trades across time. For instance, imagine an attractive young woman who can provide significant sexual benefits to her partners. She might enter an LTCR with a less-attractive man with a promising career. Early on, she provides him with sex while he provides relatively little. Later, he provides her with financial stability while she provides relatively little (at that point she is no longer especially attractive). This doesn't work absent an LTCR - there is no way to strike inter-temporal bargains if there is no commitment mechanism. Eliminating LTCRs means eliminating the "gains from trade" - it is analogous to eliminating contract enforceability in courts of law.

3. LTCRs also provide a sort of risk-pooling or insurance benefit. With two independent sources of income, it is far less likely for job-loss or illness to be catastrophic. Again, this doesn't work absent an LTCR - insurance would not be worth much if the insurance company could walk away from its obligations at will. It is the "in sickness and in health" aspect of LTCRs that helps them reduce risk.

LTCRs are thus egalitarian in that they protect people who would otherwise be in desperate situations. A lot of the worst-off people are people who were hit with major setbacks without any kind of safety net to cushion the fall. If these people were in LTCRs, they would be a lot better off. (LTCRs are also egalitarian to the extent they are monogamous, since monogamy is itself egalitarian.)

LTCRs can be partially replaced by government-funded social programs, but I think few social programs could provide the huge benefits of LTCRs at such low cost. LTCRs are a cornerstone of a good society, and their decline is a major reason to worry about the fabric of our society.

Metaphors for the Sexual Revolution

In my previous post, I modeled the sexual revolution. A concise way to summarize it is that freedom came at the expense of egalitarianism and children. That is, the sexual revolution undermined a social institution (the long-term committed relationship) that has a positive distributional effect and that provides a stable environment for child-raising. Of course, the sexual revolution did so by freeing women to exercise their agency, so on net the trade-off was more liberty, better outcomes for some people, worse outcomes for others.

I have analogized this to right-to-work laws and the shift to private schooling. I will add a third social change: the abandonment of conscription.

1. Right-to-work laws are laws that ban "closed shop" unionization. In a "closed shop," workers cannot be hired by an employer without joining the union. The laws are called "right-to-work" laws because the thought is that workers should be able to work without being compelled to join a union. In that sense, the laws can be seen as liberty-enhancing.

However, the logic of closed-shop unionization is that if workers can enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without paying dues (and making other commitments, like the commitment to go on strike), then they will free-ride on the union members, undermining the union and making things worse for all workers.

The analogy to the sexual revolution is pretty direct: it was an infringement on women's liberty to stigmatize them for having casual sex, but in the absence of that stigma there is no way to solve the collective-action problem and keep women's "wages" up. As a result, women's bargaining power has collapsed, and along with it the institution of marriage.

2. When everyone is expected to send their kids to public schools, everyone has a stake in the quality of those schools. Rich people will vote for higher taxes and demand accountability for results (not just test scores, but school safety, arts programs, etc.). When rich people can "exit" rather than raise their voices, public schools will suffer. Of course, to force people to send their kids to public school would be a fairly serious intrusion on liberty (one that I wouldn't support).

The sexual revolution empowered "rich" (that is, sexually attractive) people to exit the long-term committed relationship "market," eliminating the subsidy that previously supported people who were pregnant, ill, or unemployed.

3. Conscription forces everyone (well, all young males) to share alike when bloodshed is called for. Absent conscription, the poor and oppressed will disproportionately be the ones getting killed, getting their legs blown off, getting traumatized. I am not sure this is true, but I read that more Vietnam veterans committed suicide than were killed outright in Vietnam.

Anyway, conscription forces everyone into the pool and makes elites less likely to support wars. But of course, conscription is a violation of personal liberty. The elimination of conscription, like the sexual revolution, ushered in an era when the privileged flourished and the less-well-off suffered.

A Simple Model of the Sexual Revolution

I want to spell out my thoughts on the sexual revolution in more depth than is possible on Twitter. I should preface what I say a bit. First, I am by no means an opponent of the sexual revolution. I have no desire to return to the sexual mores that preceded it, and I have no admiration for "honor" societies that take it upon themselves to police the sexual activities of women. If there is a society that embodies my beliefs about human thriving, it is somewhere between the Netherlands and Denmark. [Germany? - ed.] Those are two of the most permissive societies in the world.

Second, my model is intentionally simplistic. My goal is to spell out a dynamic by which I think the sexual revolution has had some negative effects. I'm not trying to be precise or exhaustive. For instance, I will ignore gays completely - the rest of this post addresses only straight people. I will stipulate that the sexual revolution was fantastic for gays qua gays. I will separately try to address particular aspects of the sexual revolution in more detail and using other approaches. Note also that this is rather loosely modeled - I am fairly sure I have the logic right, but I haven't worked it out rigorously.

Third, I will write about "markets," but this is shorthand - I do not mean cash markets, just conceptual spaces where people interact. Likewise with "prices" - I don't mean cash prices, I mean the cost imposed or the benefit demanded. So for instance, if a woman insists that I buy her dinner before she will have sex with me, then the dinner is the price of the sex. (Note to the NYPD: This is just an example, I've never bought dinner for a sexual partner.)

So, I think I can spell out my model in a few easy steps, and then describe the consequences.

1. Let's consider two markets. One is a long-term committed relationship (LTCR) market. People make commitments to be in a relationship together for an extended period of time. For our purposes, let's stick to sexual LTCRs, though in real life things can be more complicated. Let's also assume that an LTCR would include a financial commitment - the couple views its income and expenses as a unit, so one partner may end up "subsidizing" the other. Of course, many people in LTCRs get married, but we'll ignore the legal status of the relationship. Also, the commitment is assumed to be significant but not infinite - people sometimes walk away from their LTCRs.

The other market is the sex market - people who are attracted to each other and have sex. This is not necessarily anonymous or even short-term, but by definition it lacks any meaningful long-term commitment.

2. Assume also that pre-sexual revolution, LTCRs were promoted and the sex market was stigmatized. In particular, women were expected either to stick to the LTCR market or to "charge a high price" in the sex market (for instance, refuse to have sex on the first n dates, and avoid anonymous sex entirely).

3. Assume that men want sex with women and that this desire drives men to participate in either the sex market or the LTCR market.

4. Assume that the sexual revolution consisted of (A) reducing society's promotion of LTCRs, and (B) reducing society's stigmatization of women's participation in the sex market.

5. So, what happened? Well, the cost to women of participating in the sex market went down. Moreover, when participating in the sex market, women were no longer expected to charge as high a "price."

6. This increased the availability of women in the sex market, lowering the "price" for men. Men responded by shifting from the LTCR market to the sex market. Women's bargaining power in the LTCR market decreased, so women who wanted LTCRs were forced to settle for less-desirable men or a lower level of commitment. In particular, as the sex market became more attractive relative to the LTCR market, it became more feasible for men to leave LTCRs when they became burdensome (for instance, if the woman got cancer, or became unexpectedly pregnant, or lost her job, or aged). Of course, same goes for women - it became more feasible for them to leave LTCRs when men got cancer, or lost their jobs, or aged. (Though the sex market is probably better for middle-aged men than for middle-aged women.)

7. The characteristics that lead to success in the sex market do not overlap perfectly with the characteristics that lead to success in the sex LTCR [oops] market. In general, the shift benefited physically attractive and socially skilled people. The shift hurt physically unattractive and socially awkward people (hence my bitterness). In relative terms, a stable career became less important to male sexual success, as did a desire to help raise children. These shifts within the male population were exacerbated by the fact that while the LTCR market is relatively egalitarian, in the sex market nothing is to stop some men from being wildly successful while other men are unable to attract a sex partner at all.

8. So the net effect is: fewer LTCRs and less bargaining power for women in the LTCR market. Fewer men with stable careers capable of supporting LTCRs. More children being raised in single-mother households. More inequality for men (the "top 1%" get a lot more sex, the bottom x% don't get any sex at all).

The winners:

A. Young, healthy, attractive women who don't want children. They can participate freely in the sex market, which is now less stigmatized and features more physically attractive, charismatic men. In particular, young, healthy, attractive women who want anonymous or no-strings-attached sex are now much better off.

B. Attractive and charismatic men.

C. Men and women who are newly able to leave their burdensome LTCR partners.

The losers:

A. Women who would be better off in LTCRs. This includes women who want to have children, women who become seriously ill, women who lose their jobs, women who want to be sexually fulfilled later in life. Unattractive or sexually socially [oops!] awkward women may not be able to find sexual partners at all.

B. Children.

C. Men who are not charismatic or who are physically unattractive.

So while the sexual revolution was undoubtedly a good thing overall, I am puzzled by the idea that it had no downsides or that it was unambiguously good for women. Clearly the sex market is fun for a lot of people, and women have enjoyed their access to it, but that access has not come without a price.