Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Megan McArdle's Marriage Is Now Much Less Valuable Than It Was Before

Remember how upset Megan McArdle was at the thought of gay marriage lessening the monetary value of her own (hypothetical) marriage? Let's get into Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine and watch McArdle tell us how she really doesn't care one way or another--she's opposing gay marriage for the little people:


Unlike most libertarians, I don't have an opinion on gay marriage, and I'm not going to have an opinion no matter how much you bait me. However, I had an interesting discussion last night with another libertarian about it, which devolved into an argument about a certain kind of liberal/libertarian argument about gay marriage that I find really unconvincing.

Social conservatives of a more moderate stripe are essentially saying that marriage is an ancient institution, which has been carefully selected for throughout human history. It is a bedrock of our society; if it is destroyed, we will all be much worse off. (See what happened to the inner cities between 1960 and 1990 if you do not believe this.) For some reason, marriage always and everywhere, in every culture we know about, is between a man and a woman; this seems to be an important feature of the institution. We should not go mucking around and changing this extremely important institution, because if we make a bad change, the institution will fall apart.

A very common response to this is essentially to mock this as ridiculous. "Why on earth would it make any difference to me whether gay people are getting married? Why would that change my behavior as a heterosexual"

To which social conservatives reply that institutions have a number of complex ways in which they fulfill their roles, and one of the very important ways in which the institution of marriage perpetuates itself is by creating a romantic vision of oneself in marriage that is intrinsically tied into expressing one's masculinity or femininity in relation to a person of the opposite sex; stepping into an explicitly gendered role. This may not be true of every single marriage, and indeed undoubtedly it is untrue in some cases. But it is true of the culture-wide institution. By changing the explicitly gendered nature of marriage we might be accidentally cutting away something that turns out to be a crucial underpinning.

To which, again, the other side replies "That's ridiculous! I would never change my willingness to get married based on whether or not gay people were getting married!"

Now, economists hear this sort of argument all the time. "That's ridiculous! I would never start working fewer hours because my taxes went up!" This ignores the fact that you may not be the marginal case. The marginal case may be some consultant who just can't justify sacrificing valuable leisure for a new project when he's only making 60 cents on the dollar. The result will nonetheless be the same: less economic activity. Similarly, you--highly educated, firmly socialised, upper middle class you--may not be the marginal marriage candidate; it may be some high school dropout in Tuscaloosa. That doesn't mean that the institution of marriage won't be weakened in America just the same.

This should not be taken as an endorsement of the idea that gay marriage will weaken the current institution. I can tell a plausible story where it does; I can tell a plausible story where it doesn't. I have no idea which one is true. That is why I have no opinion on gay marriage, and am not planning to develop one. Marriage is a big institution; too big for me to feel I have a successful handle on it.

However, I am bothered by this specific argument, which I have heard over and over from the people I know who favor gay marriage laws. I mean, literally over and over; when they get into arguments, they just repeat it, again and again. "I will get married even if marriage is expanded to include gay people; I cannot imagine anyone up and deciding not to get married because gay people are getting married; therefore, the whole idea is ridiculous and bigoted."

They may well be right. Nonetheless, libertarians should know better. The limits of your imagination are not the limits of reality. Every government programme that libertarians have argued against has been defended at its inception with exactly this argument.


Exactly! While most libertarians think that being a libertarian means letting others do what they want as long as they don't harm anyone else and therefore don't want the government to declare gay marriages illegal, Megan McArdle is here to remind them that they are terribly wrong, and that she can think of lots of reasons why a gay woman or man getting married would harm her and her marriage.


The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can't imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff.


Indeed. I do stuff all the time that is different from stuff that other people would do when they are doing stuff. And different people believe different stuff. For instance, in Saudi Arabia their stuff says that my stuff can't drive a car. If I drive a car their stuff could suffer. Therefore I should not have to drive people to the the mall, various entertainment venues, jobs, their boyfriend's house, their best friend's house, and their school when their stuff is too lazy to walk home. For we should always listen to people who attempt to foist their religious beliefs on others.

And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining. If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that's either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform.

So according to Megan McArdle, gay marriage in unnatural because marriage is between a man and woman for biological reasons; that is, reproduction, which is a good thing for society. McArdle has quite a few reasons why marriage is good for heterosexuals but no logical reasons why gays can't marry as well. The best she can come up with is that someone, somewhere, might be offended by gay marriage and that will somehow harm heterosexual marriage.


If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it.

No, we think the gays who persecute other gays via political attacks are repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots. The others are merely enabling, vindictive, passive observers.


Is this post going to convince anyone?

Do any of her posts convince anyone?
I doubt it; everyone but me seems to already know all the answers, so why listen to such a hedging, doubting bore?

Too easy.

I myself am trying to draw a very fine line between being humble about making big changes to big social institutions, and telling people (which I am not trying to do) that they can't make those changes because other people have been wrong in the past.

It's not bigotry, it's humility. It's not that they relish persecuting others to advance themselves politically, socially, and monetarily, it's just that stuff happens to stuff and one never knows.

In the end, our judgement is all we have; everyone will have to rely on their judgement of whether gay marriage is, on net, a good or a bad idea. All I'm asking for is for people to think more deeply than a quick consultation of their imaginations to make that decision. I realise that this probably falls on the side of supporting the anti-gay-marriage forces, and I'm sorry, but I can't help that.

Certainly! It's not her fault that people would be hurt if she got her way. It's just the way it has to be, for systemic reasons. So think very deeply and carefully when you are deciding who does and who does not deserve to have civil rights. You, too, may be saddened by what you discover, but what can one do? What is morality, what are Christian teachings, what is empathy and humanity compared to the necessity of preserving marriage as it is, without making big changes?

Look at what divorce did to marriage. And property rights for women. The ending of primogeniture. The selling of women like livestock to any man that wandered by with a couple of sheep to trade. Dear God in Heaven, what have we done by making such big changes to the big social institution of marriage???

This humility is what I want from liberals when approaching market changes; now I'm asking it from my side too, in approaching social ones. I think the approach is consistent, if not exactly popular.

So according to Megan McArdle, gay marriage is unnatural because marriage is between a man and woman for biological reasons; that is, reproduction, which is a good thing for society. Which is why McArdle stays home and bears their many children and P. Suderman, boy hunter-and-gatherer, goes out and brings home the bacon: biology is destiny and nothing should ever change. Except when the change benefits her.

But we do not rehash this old post to discuss McArdle's hypocrisy and lack of empathy. We bring it up to say that we hope Megan McArdle is weeping bitter, bitter tears of misery at the thought of being unable to gang together with her friends and exclude the outliers from her exclusive, straights-only club.

Congratulations to our friends, relatives and fellow travelers, for the breaking down of another barrier to universal civil rights.

22 comments:

Sharon said...

What a fucking moron.

Maybe she'd consider looking beyond her cirlce to other countries. Here in British Columbia we've had same-sex marriage since 2003 and everything's just hunky-dory so far.
We had a cold, wet spring and the BC government refuses to legalize pot but I doubt even McArdle could blame that on teh Gayz.

Lurking Canadian said...

I don't think the word "plausible" means what she seems to think it means.

Susan of Texas said...

No doubt McArdle would say that America is a special case and therefore we could not posibly benefit from others' experience.

Gary Norris said...

great post.

It's the great conservative and American Libertarian flaw. They forget that society is organized for Us not Me. It's that simple.

Batocchio said...

Nonetheless, libertarians should know better. The limits of your imagination are not the limits of reality.

Funnily enough, libertarians believe their extremely limited imaginations define reality. They also believe themselves to be brilliant.

This humility is what I want from liberals when approaching market changes; now I'm asking it from my side too, in approaching social ones. I think the approach is consistent, if not exactly popular.

"My side"? Funnily enough, Megan is arguing against liberalism and for conservatism in both cases. That is indeed consistent – as is her pretense of being an independent thinker.

It's cute the way Megan concern trolls gay marriage pretty much the same way she concern trolled health care reform (and pretty much everything else). Essentially, she's arguing against gay marriage while being too gutless to come out and say so. How unsurprising that she argues for supply-side economics and the Laffer Curve in the same piece that she argues against gay marriage. And funny how she condemns the rampant individualism that she claims support of gay marriage represents, while condemning the widespread public support for investigating and prosecuting the banksters.

uncertaintyviceprincipal said...

This should not be taken as an endorsement of the idea that gay marriage will weaken the current institution. I can tell a plausible story where it does; I can tell a plausible story where it doesn't. I have no idea which one is true. That is why I have no opinion on gay marriage, and am not planning to develop one.

What makes a woman turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?

The one saving grace, the one streak of certainty in Megan's utter neutrality is always there, always certain, always blazingly non-neutral, and is embodied in one, glowing, ever-present idea:

"Whatever hippies and liberals say is wrong, but about anything else I can't make a case either way, and therefore neither should they."

KWillow said...

... changing the explicitly gendered nature of marriage we might be accidentally cutting away something that turns out to be a crucial underpinning...

That's what happens when women are no longer completely dependent on men to the point of being owned by them. Take that "crucial underpinning" away from marriage, and Society, and yes, everything changes. Usually for the better in the long run, but conservatives are never about the "long run"- unless they're looking backwards thousands of years to find a justification for one sector of society enslaving another, be it religion, sex, skin color or wealth.

KWillow said...

Who'd want to marry knowing they would be pretty much Owned by their spouse, that He would have control of your money, your body, would own your children when you had them, would be legally allowed to beat you, even beat you to death? Gay marriage is an outcome of Women's Lib.

atat said...

Gah, so much stupid. Can I just point and laugh at the fact that she wrote "programme"?

fish said...

(See what happened to the inner cities between 1960 and 1990 if you do not believe this.)

What the hell does that even mean? If she is talking about crime, the trend has been steady to dropping since the 70's.

Teen pregnancy was trending down since the 90's (until the Republicans took over).

So yeah, facts.

Forget about the morally bankrupt argument of depriving citizens of civil rights to preserve something or other blah blah blah.
I fully expect she gives up her job at the Atlantic because babies and all.

Anonymous said...

What a surprise...she manages to do libertarianism without even the minimal redeeming traits.

Dragon-King Wangchuck said...

This ignores the fact that you may not be the marginal case.

You do have to concede that ME-gan is a bit of an expert on marginal cases.

Marriage is a big institution; too big for me to feel I have a successful handle on it.

And that is why you can expect these long diatribes on it.

All I'm asking for is for people to think more deeply than a quick consultation of their imaginations to make that decision.

Herp derp derp. Funneh how change nevar starts with teh ME-gan in teh mirror.

NonyNony said...

Similarly, you--highly educated, firmly socialised, upper middle class you--may not be the marginal marriage candidate; it may be some high school dropout in Tuscaloosa. That doesn't mean that the institution of marriage won't be weakened in America just the same.

Okay - wait a minute. I gotta stop right here.

McArdle is arguing that there might be some "marginal" marriage cases - people who might get married but, because gay folks are allowed to marry, decide "fuck it - I'm not going to bother. Getting married is sooooo gay now".

Okay, let me grant, for the sake of the argument, that I believe this utterly ridiculous premise and give it some weight. Now by what fucking mechanism does this then weaken the institution of marriage? If anything this idea should cause fewer "marginal" marriages - which should cause fewer divorces and stronger marriages. Stronger marriages make the idea of marriage more attractive which should then enhance the entire institutional idea of a marriage.

Her premise is ridiculous to start with, but even if I grant her idea that there are people at the margins who might be affected by this, I can't see any scenario where their decision to not get married makes the institution of marriage anything but a stronger one.

atat said...

@fish
That was the part that caught my attention too. I have no idea what phony claim she's trying to make there.

Larkspur said...

So this is like another thing that is just too complicated for her, and thus for anyone? Maybe she and Matt Taibbi can discuss this on the television too. I would watch, with popcorn.

Mr. Wonderful said...

What Nony just said, which is a complete bull's eye.

The "high school dropout in Tuscaloosa" would, if we're discussing Megan's hypothetical example, be exactly the sort of person who gets married because he (let's assume it's a man) "is supposed to" and who--because he's a high school dropout from a small Southern town--can be expected to do all the other things such dim-wits are supposed to: drink to excess, abuse his wife, smack his kids around, etc. etc.

Which Megan must, if she's honest (stop laughing), grant. If he's not one of Megan's (and "our") set, who of course are above being dissuaded from marriage by its being available to gays, then he's one of the cohort of provincial yahoos who help give marriage a bad name by making it synonymous with entrapment, boredom, unexamined hostility, a breeding ground for patterns of violence, a lifelong sentence to suffocating misery, etc., etc.

Whereas gays who get married really want to get married, and therefore embody marriage's best side. They actively embrace it, as opposed to that idiot in Tuscaloosa (don't we hate him!), who passively, grudgingly accepts it, until it gets all faggy, affording him (whew!) an excuse for dodging it. As Nony says, if anything gay marriage "strengthens" the institution.

Thus, Megan's argument fails, no matter how much a) she claims she doesn't have one, and b) she thinks she's above it all by employing a supercilious, smug tone.

(And "boy hunter-gatherer" is Snark Gold.)

Tommykey said...

Here in British Columbia we've had same-sex marriage since 2003 and everything's just hunky-dory so far.

I'm sure wingnuts could find a causality between same-sex marriage and the rioting in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup.

Susan of Texas said...

I still haven't identified why McArdle thinks marriage will be harmed if bigots decide they won't marry if gays can marry. Perhaps McArdle thinks all the gay bigots will have children outside of marriage and society will crumble to dust due to the inevitable resulting social and intellectual decay.

Or she just likes arbitrary exercises of power and wants to deny gays civil rights just to jerk them around.

Anonymous said...

Megan is a coward who attributes her own homophobic ideas to a fictional third party while feigning neutrality. This is a brazen lie as the entire post only presents arguments for a reactionary view of marriage (including tougher divorce laws [saying she's not necessarily in support of them, but...]).

Had she not locked comments, I might have pointed out how everything in her post could be written about interracial marriage, but given the section attacking financial aid to single mothers, I think that's meant to be taken as read.

Open bigotry is disgusting, open bigotry which claims not to have an opinion is especially vile.

Sharon said...

"could find a causality between same-sex marriage and the rioting in Vancouver after the Canucks lost..."

Ah, you got me there. Obviously a direct link.

Substance McGravitas said...

To which, again, the other side replies "That's ridiculous! I would never change my willingness to get married based on whether or not gay people were getting married!"

Now, economists hear this sort of argument all the time. "That's ridiculous! I would never start working fewer hours because my taxes went up!"


Economists totally do hear this all the time! Megan would know because she is not one. Also I believe having something happen to you - a change in your tax rate - is not quite equivalent to something not happening to you.

Ken Houghton said...

"Now, economists hear this sort of argument all the time. "That's ridiculous! I would never start working fewer hours because my taxes went up!"

Economists totally do hear this all the time! Megan would know because she is not one."

Economists know better: it depends on where you are on the distribution, how much you depend on that income, and whether you can find something better to do. (Think Slutsky Equation.)

Economists who study the issue usually find a second-order Slutsky effect as well: in those cases where hours worked goes down, productivity per hour increases. (Gosh, there's diminishing returns to hours worked! Whodda thunk it?)

How that parallels marriage, which is a discontinuous function, is not clear. Unlike work, I cannot choose to be more or less married today than I was yesterday, nor will I be more or less so tomorrow, pending a discontinuity [death or divorce].)

So the marginal case really has to be a state change: gay marriage causes one to divorce (because it was a sham marriage anyway?) or keeps one from getting married (the "Tuscaloosa" example above).

From a societal perspective, moving the marginal case from "gets married" to "chooses not to" is a good thing--the marginal marriage is, by definition, more likely to result in divorce. And anyone who won't marry because gay people can do the same thing isn't getting married for any reason that would keep the marriage going.

Gay marriage should, if McMegan's reasoning is correct, reduce the heterosexual divorce rate.

Why does McMegan prefer divorce?