Marriage: How Good an Idea at the Margin?: Focus

Over at Equitable Growth: A fine rant from the very sharp and newly-parental Matthew Yglesias:

Matthew Yglesias: The “Decline” of Marriage Isn’t a Problem: “Among college graduates, marriage has been re-founded on a new basis…

…As Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers put it, we have gone from shared production to shared consumption and formed more egalitarian partnerships based on common preferences rather than a swap of housework for rent money. This new model of partnerships has thus far not taken root as strongly in working-class relationships. That’s unfortunate. But it’s a mistake to believe women are making themselves worse off than their next actually available alternative. As women have become more empowered, they have gotten pickier. That means more single women, and a higher quality of relationship for the non-single.
None of this is to deny either the conservative premise that many people would be better off in stable, loving relationships or the liberal premise that more and better employment opportunities for working-class men could make such relationships more likely.
But to explain a social crisis, you first have to establish that a crisis is occurring. There is no major dimension on which American children are doing worse in 2015 than they were in 1975. That should be a huge giveaway that the decline of marriage is a consequence of something good — prosperity, especially for women — rather than a cause or a consequence of something bad.

But I think Matt goes off the rails at the end, however.

The liberal premise is that there is a social and economic crisis and that is that the rise in inequality that has made blue-collar men less “marriageable”. So Matt’s view that “the decline of marriage is a consequence of something good” is wrong, or at least incomplete. The decline of marriage is in large part the result of something good — modern feminism — and in lesser part the result of and a canary-in-the-coalmine something bad — rising inequality.

And the conservative premise is not “that many people would be better off in stable, loving relationships.” It is considerably different than that:

David Brooks: The Cost of Relativism: “The health of society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens…

…In many parts of America there are no minimally agreed upon standards for what it means to be a father…. Norms… were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another…. It will require holding people responsible…. History is full of examples of moral revival, when social chaos was reversed, when behavior was tightened and norms reasserted. It happened in England in the 1830s and in the U.S. amid economic stress in the 1930s. It happens through organic communal effort, with voices from everywhere saying gently: This we praise. This we don’t.

For Brooks, the enemy is “a plague of nonjudgmentalism”, which would seem to apply that the solution is some form of judgmentalism. That is not exactly a call for people to work harder on establishing loving relationships, is it?

But Brooks is elusive about what kinds of judgmentalism he is calling for. So here we have Judith Thurman reporting on another voice from America’s conservative right:

Judith Thurman: Wilder Women: “When a journalist… asked… Sarah Palin’s sister… she mentioned only one book…

Little House on the Prairie, the third and best known of the eight novels… [of Laura Ingalls] Wilder… describ[ing] the Ingallses’ migration from Wisconsin to Kansas, where they build an illegal homestead on land reserved for the Osage tribe, and suffer a series of Job-like tribulations: predation by wolves and panthers, a prairie fire, malaria, blizzards, menacing encounters with the Indians, and a near-fatal well-gas accident. None of it crushed their spirits or shook their belief in self-reliance, although the story ends on a bitter note — one that Governor Palin might have recalled. Charles learns from a neighbor that federal troops are coming to evict the settlers. The ‘blasted politicians in Washington’ have betrayed them, and, without waiting to be run off ‘like an outlaw,’ he abandons the little house in a rage. In the last scene, with his family camped by its wagon in the high grass, he gets out his fiddle. ‘And we’ll rally round the flag boys,’ he sings. ‘We’ll rally once again / Shouting the battle-cry of Freedom!’ Ma shushes him — it’s too martial a song for the girls, who are half-asleep, but ‘Laura felt that she must shout, too.’…

Originally published at www.bradford-delong.com.