Saving Marriage

wedding ceremony Photo by Tom James

An article in the Deseret News about various efforts to make it harder to divorce led me to an article in Bloomberg View by Megan McArdle. The whole thing is worth reading but the part that got me thinking and writing was this:

The divorce laws of an earlier era were one part of a complex social institution with mutually reinforcing norms and a fairly elaborate system of punishments and rewards. People were encouraged to stay in marriages because divorce was difficult — but it is at least as important that divorce was heavily stigmatized. Even more important is the energy society spent encouraging people to get married in the first place — not just with the gauzy dreams of wedding gowns and perfect babies that help sustain the institution today, but also with a complicated system of carrots and sticks that have now completely vanished. Old maids were stigmatized; women who had babies out of wedlock were shunned. Marriage was the only socially permitted way to cohabit and, for that matter, often the only legal way to do so: Landlords didn’t like renting to people who were shacking up, and hotels that rented rooms to openly unmarried couples risked being indicted as brothels. On the positive side, getting married often meant a raise for a man, and for both parties, it constituted instant admission to adulthood. In short, the legal system of yesteryear didn’t have to worry that harsh divorce laws would discourage marriage entirely; any marriages that they did discourage probably shouldn’t have happened. But people would continue to get married, because there wasn’t any viable alternative for the majority of people who wanted to live on their own and raise a family without the neighbors talking — or calling the vice squad.

McArdle may be right in suggesting that making divorce harder could have unintended consequences but she has clearly identified many of the social supports we’ve kicked out that were never intended to bring the consequences that we are dealing with now. Continue reading

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Opportunity in Detroit

1000 dollar home

The city of Detroit desperately needs an investment of human capital, in fact things are so bad that they are selling homes for $1000. Of course a $1000 home is a sure sign that the home is going to need more than the purchase price to make it work but I see this as an incredible opportunity for those who are willing to tackle the whole challenge. Let’s have a look at what that whole challenge is. Continue reading

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Open Prospective Longitudinal Study

Mind Research
Photo by: Chris Hope

I’ve been reading Triumphs of Experience and really coming to appreciate the value of prospective longitudinal studies. I’ll write a review of the book after I finish it (and I might finish as early as tonight). The limitations of this study are well known to researchers but despite those limitations the study has incredible value. Imagine the value of a study that didn’t have those limitations. Continue reading

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Public vs Private Companies

Blessed 2 Scrapbook
Photo by Paul Riismandel

Coverage of the Hobby Lobby case seems to be consistent in saying that the U.S. Supreme Court is essentially deciding the question of whether not-specifically-religious corporations can exercise religious rights. The issue in this case is requiring insurance coverage for federally determined forms of contraception but if the decision is based on the ability of companies to exercise religious rights then it could also extend to whether companies can choose under what circumstances they will offer their services.

It struck me this morning that the question isn’t really whether corporations can exercise religious rights. The real question is: at what point in the pursuit of profit do individuals diminish or forego their right to religious expression? Those siding with the government in this case are afraid that companies will be able to use the guise of religious belief to get around the expense of some legal mandates. After all, if the Green family (Hobby Lobby) can claim religious belief avoid paying for some expensive forms of birth control for their employees why can’t the Walton family (Walmart) do the same? Continue reading

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Confusing the Point

Edward Snowden
Image by: DonkeyHotey

This may be the most obtuse argument I’ve read regarding Edward Snowden. I don’t want to be too hard on Jay Evensen but the logic he uses here is terrible. A conspiracy theorist could come up with many sinister motives for such a poor argument against Snowden but I’m sure it’s something much more mundane like trying to meet a publishing deadline.

Let’s break it down.

First we have an attempt to discredit Snowden based on his connection with Russia.

{Snowden} chose exile {in Russia} because he faces charges of espionage in the United States for revealing things he felt were so egregious he no longer could keep quiet about them. And yet neither he nor his friend, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, seem concerned enough about the blatant abuses in Russia or other countries to dig deeper and expose more.

But it’s no longer convincing, or even noble, to claim a sort of relativistic neutrality while hiding in Russia.

There are two parts to this. The first is that Snowden had a choice of where he took exile. This argument requires that we ignore the fact that while Snowden chose exile because of the charges of espionage in the U.S. he was unable to fly to any of the other locations that offered him exile. Russia was functionally his only option. The second is that Snowden should be exposing Russian digital espionage. This argument relies on ignoring the fact that Snowden’s revelations about the NSA are not based on some super hacker skill on Snowden’s part. Snowden’s information was based on him holding a position of privileged access within the NSA which he would never have within Russian intelligence.

Then we have an effort to defend the NSA by saying it does necessary work.

The U.S. government spies on people. We get it. The NSA is a huge agency with the resources to build a profile on just about anybody it chooses. We get that, too.

But why does the NSA do it? Could there be noble reasons, even if the methods aren’t the best?

Does Snowden care at all about the security of the nation he fled? Does he think the NSA should stop spying altogether, or can he imagine a reason why a spy agency might be important in a dangerous world? What would he consider proper spying?

Again this comes in two parts. The questions for Snowden can’t be asked sincerely unless you have only listened to the non-Snowden side of the story. He has been very clear that he recognizes the necessity of espionage activities and that the reasons behind his actions were the systemic abuses whereby the agency overstepped their constitutional authority (which someone might argue is occasionally necessary) and hid their actions not only from the American public at large (which is certainly necessary to some degree where espionage is concerned) but also from the very congressional committees with oversight over their actions (which is a red flag of the first order in all cases).

Using “Could there be noble reasons, even if the methods aren’t the best?” as an argument here would be like saying of the John Swallow case that raising money is necessary to run a campaign so even if he got money from payday lenders it really shouldn’t be a big deal. That argument completely misses the point of the outrage which isn’t that Swallow got money from payday lenders and that the NSA was spying. The reason for people to be upset in both cases is the way John Swallow and the NSA both went to great lengths to hide their activities from the very people they were supposed to be working for and the organizations that were authorized to provide oversight for their operations.

It occurred to me as I reviewed the article that the point Mr. Evensen wanted to make was that Russia was a greater threat to liberty than the NSA. If so, this was not the way to try making that argument.

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