Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jillian Keegan: Legalize Polygamy

This is weak. (h/t Dr. Tao)

It doesn't appear to be a serious effort at all.

The case for polygamy is simple and straightforward. In fact, there's barely any reason to articulate it: if people want to do it, and there's minimal harm, then the burden is on the anti- position to identify reasons against whatever is in question.

Keegan makes no serious effort to grapple with the apparent costs of polygamy--costs to women, children, young males, and society at large.

So this Slate piece doesn't advance the debate an inch.

Look, I'm pretty up front about my wildly inconsistent inclinations here. I'm fine with a few instances of three- or four-person marriage here or there. But I'm not fine with large tribes of religious nuts where one dude is "married" (in some sense of 'married') to five or ten or twenty women. I don't want the state sanctioning that sort of insanity. I don't see how a line can be drawn in terms of numbers, so my current guess is that we should expect to draw the legal line at two people.

Needless to say, there's nothing wrong with three people falling in love and spending their lives together. But the question is whether the state should sanction the relationship and give it the standard protections and privileges. I hate to think in these terms, but the fact of the matter is that probably we will never be able to draw the lines perfectly; some good people and some admirable relationships will, probably, fail to be captured no matter how we divide things up. What we want to do is minimize the number of errors, but without sanctioning and encouraging destructive/crazy types of relationships (see above).

Look, in the history of humankind, there have, no doubt, been many admirable relationships between people we now consider to be of the age of consent and people we now consider to be under the age of consent. But that doesn't obviously mean that we should lower the age of consent.

Incidentally, nobody's mentioned the insurance-related problems for polygamy. We have a system of employer-provided insurance. Weird, but we have it. (Will the ACA help us break away from that? Yes, right? I can't remember...) We've also got a system that has tended to shift more and more of our salaries into benefits. And health care is very expensive. I don't have kids. In effect, part of my salary goes to provide health care for my colleagues' children. Hey, ok. Raisin' the next generation and all that...  But I don't want to pay for other people's three wives and ten kids. The system would go haywire if hiring one person meant providing health care for twenty people. This is not a fatal objection; there are possible ways around it. But we would have to find those ways.

I'm not sure what we should do in this vicinity, but I'm pretty damn sure of this: a rush to legalize polygamy would be a terrible error. Lots of thought and research and, probably, experimentation at the state level (Utah: laboratory of democracy?) needs to be conducted before we go and do anything possibly crazy. This is the kind of thing that makes me sad that we don't have a real conservative party that, while non-crazy, would urge that any change in this respect be slow and circumspect.

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