Friday, May 4, 2012

With This Ring

Mungowitz kills it here and here with the plain and obvious truth that marriage equality is a simple matter of equal protection under the law. Full stop.

The thing I find puzzling about this is that the above argument is so airtight, and this is such an obvious case of basic constitutional rights that we still see things like Amendment 1 or DOMA regularly and routinely forwarded and passed.

Okay, so there's this branch of economics called Public Choice. Public Choice is the use of the analytical tools of economics to understand and explain non-market decision making: to understand politics. One of the key observations in the schools of public choice is the median voter theorem: it is the median voter who determines policy. To the extent that we see bad policy out there in the world, the default assumption shouldn't be that we have bad elected policymakers, but that we have voters. Politicians are just hired hands, after all. The boss in a democracy is the public. So why is the public so all-fired riled up against the gays getting married?

After thinking about this all day, I'm kind of drawing a blank. See, my default assumption when I see paternalism is that there's probably some non-EE activities going on here. With two men eloping, I cannot identify the EE violation. Can you? If so, please answer in the comments. The best I can come up with is a blend of status quo bias and, ultimately, aesthetics. I think there are people who are grossed out with two dudes gettin' it on, so they merrily deploy the truncheon of the state to... I don't know, to avoid having to think about it? Like I said, I'm kind of mystified by the presumption of state interference in the absence of harm to external parties. Then again, I have this weird view that the proper role of the state is to enforce property rights and adjudicate contract disputes from time to time. Maybe I'm just not as bright as Tammy Fitzgerald. Maybe I'm missing a key argument here. Maybe it really is meet and proper that the state refrain from offering a minority group the same rights of contracture under the auspices of the law that everyone else enjoys.

Now, that said (and I preface this by admitting I'm probably making a huge mistake by criticizing a very smart and thoughtful economist that I deeply respect), I have a teensy bone to pick with Steven Landsburg. He's right to point out that the big fight is with crushing poverty and that libertarians' top priority should be immigration reform, but I take a little bit of issue with dismissing nickel and dime issues. Incremental state metastasis happens quietly and it happens inch by inch. If we've hope of expanding the scope of voluntary human activity, we can't afford to shrug off the little skirmishes as inconsequential. The Romney campaign should rightfully be shamed for behaving like a pack of asses.

Enough soapboxing for now. To return to the issue, I'll point out that Dr. Munger (wisely, in context) refrained from defending polygamy. I lack his gentility and restraint. For the pleasure of my regular readers, I will whet your appetite for a forthcoming post by asking what is so non-euvoluntary about plural marriages?

1 comment:

  1. The best I can come up with is a blend of status quo bias and, ultimately, aesthetics.

    Chalk up another reason meddling externalities shouldn't be given weight in policy discussions.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?