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Surplus of Males and Runaway (with the Bride-Price) Brides:

The WSJ has a story today that we are increasingly likely to hear in some version. The one-child policy and preference for boys has led to a well-documented shortages of marriageable women in China, particularly in some parts. In this story, brides marry rural men, extracting a bride-price, and then running away with the money. There are other things that happen too - abductions of women in rural villages, the renting out of a farmer's wife to other farmers who cannot find wives. It is a social issue that is only now beginning to hit adult Chinese society in full force. There is an extremely important and good book on the implications of this surplus of males in China, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population, by Valerie Hudson and Andre den Boer (2004). (Demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has written on the economic implications of this for regions of China and India, as well as a superb series - published in Spanish, as it happens - on European health and retirement, in the Madrid Revista de Libros.) As the WSJ article notes:

Thanks to its 30-year-old population-planning policy and customary preference for boys, China has one of the largest male-to-female ratios in the world. Using data from the 2005 China census — the most recent — a study published in last month's British Journal of Medicine estimates there was a surplus of 32 million males under the age of 20 at the time the census was taken. That's roughly the size of Canada's population.

Now some of these men have reached marriageable age, resulting in intense competition for spouses, especially in rural areas. It also appears to have caused a sharp spike in bride prices and betrothal gifts. The higher prices are even found in big cities such as Tianjin.

A study by Columbia University economist Shang-Jin Wei found that some areas in China with a high proportion of males have an above-average savings rate, even after accounting for factors such as education levels, income and life-expectancy rates. Areas with more men than women, the study notes, also have low spending rates — suggesting that many rural Chinese may be saving up for bride prices.

A moderate libertarian like me has read Heinlein, of course, and even read long sections of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress aloud to his adoring, or anyway somnolent, child until she took over and finished it herself. So my operating assumption has generally been that a shortage of females in a suitable place - a penal colony on the moon, for example - would mean that women would be able to command a suitably high marriage price, and contract for favorable plural marriage conditions. My (lapsed) Mormon background rendered me quite unoffended by the concept of plural marriage as such.

Exposure to the wider world, however, has left me persuaded that abstract libertarianism must sometimes give way to the realities of cultures and actual conditions. My view today is that - drawing on conversations with Eberstadt in which he noted that he, too, had read Heinlein - it was far more historically common, and almost certainly the more common direction of things today, that in a world with scarcity of women - especially in a world of scarcity of females and yet a cultural preference for male births - the result would be increased treatment of women as property. More valuable property, yes, but increasingly as property precisely as the perception of its value increased.

The authors of Bare Branches have noted that a surplus of males unable to find mates is the social equivalent of plural marriage in which a single male has exclusive reproductive access to multiple wives. The effect is to create, as in China, India, and other places with similar cultural patterns combined with modern technology, the imbalance in the sexes. Again, my moderate libertarianism gives way to social realities - no doubt informed by my Mormon upbringing, which left me on the one hand the least offended person in the world by the idea of polygamy, but on the other hand a very detailed understanding of what it means in practice, for women but also for surplus men and boys. Indeed, there is a very good and persuasive paper by Thom Brooks arguing - contra Martha Nussbaum and others - that a society of multiple wives and a single husband is inherently and necessarily an inegalitarian one. Here is the SSRN abstract, courtesy Legal Theory Blog:

Thom Brooks (Newcastle University - Newcastle Law School) has posted The Problem with Polygamy on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

• Polygamy is a hotly contested practice and open to widespread misunderstandings. This practice is defined as a relationship between either one husband and multiple wives or one wife and multiple husbands. Today, 'polygamy' almost exclusively takes the form of one husband with multiple wives. In this article, my focus will centre on limited defences of polygamy offered recently by Chesire Calhoun and Martha Nussbaum. I will argue that these defences are unconvincing. The problem with polygamy is primarily that it is a structurally inegalitarian practice in both theory and fact. Polygamy should be opposed for this reason.

The inequality that is baked into a society in which one husband has multiple exclusive wives is perhaps not primarily or necessarily about the wives, if one makes (extremely, fantastically heroic assumptions, in actual social fact) about their freedom to choose, and if it included the right to divorce not only the husband, but other wives (however that might work in some idealized world). The intrinsic inequality is about the mateless men, deprived of the opportunity to even have a chance to marry and have families and children. I don't recall offhand the numbers, but it only takes a quite small percentage of men with three or four wives to create something approaching the imbalances of regions of China or India. It is in a certain sense an inequality far worse than mere economic inequality - although almost always deeply embedded and intertwined with it.

The point is not that the mateless men have a right to have a wife, but instead they ought, in an egalitarian society, to have a right to be able to compete for one in the marriage market. Equality of opportunity, not necessarily equality of result. And of course it goes the other way around; a society in which large numbers of women were deprived of the ability even to seek a mate would be equally unattractive. The reality, however, as Brooks points out, is that although one can talk about multiple husband societies, in actual social practice and history it is extraordinarily rare, to the point that it is more of a philosophical distraction than useful discussion.

But even framing the argument in this abstract way in a certain sense misses the social reality - it is not really the right way to debate the question, I think. The granular look at how these social arrangements work in fact, on a large scale, and not as a matter of abstract theory, is the proper starting place. Have there been any decently economically egalitarian societies that have not been relatively monogamous? And if so, what were they like?

This form of argument cuts against the libertarian grain, alas - but having a pretty good sense of what the breakaway Mormon sects, the fundamentalist Mormon sects in Arizona and Texas, actually do in actual social practice ought to count for something. It is an argument for taking the social realities of the fundamentalist Mormon groups into account as well as abstract libertarian theory, and the same being true for Muslim polygamy, or polygamy in other cultures and societies being gradually brought into this one through the interflow of populations.

Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):
Can't the men just share women?
6.4.2009 9:35pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Very, very interesting topic. I think the Chinese situation with their males and rising standards of living will make for a very fractious country, with divisive political implications, in the coming decades. Because men without spouses form "gangs" and agitate, when this is combined with a widening inequality in society brought about by the mechanisms of capitalism and skilled-based technological change, I believe we will see new radical political theories of governance being born and disseminated by the Chinese.
6.4.2009 9:39pm
Dan Hill (mail) (www):
It's scary when you ask yourself what does China do with 32 million surplus men to keep them from causing trouble? Put them in uniform and start a nice little war. Or we could sell them a slightly used but still running insurgency or two...
6.4.2009 9:45pm
Connie:
So there is nothing that can be done to raise the status of women above that of property?
6.4.2009 9:51pm
Desiderius:
"that a society of multiple wives and a single husband is inherently and necessarily an inegalitarian one."

This is already happening among large swathes of the (sub-upper-middle-class) American populace, and is a non-trivial factor in our rising inequality. Though the sperm are typically provided by cads in their mid-to-late twenties and the wallet by Uncle Sam and His various State Baby Daddies, such de facto polygamy is no less destructive and inegalitarian than the de jure variety.
6.4.2009 9:56pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Directly relevant article courtesy of Gene Expression, a blog I read:

In rural India, having a toilet has become an issue of a woman’s right. Many homes don’t feature plumbing because men, in particular, question the expense – even the desirability – of indoor facilities.

That’s changing rapidly in the state of Haryana, where the government is putting up funds and village women are leaning on their men to get with the program. Their slogan: “No toilet, no bride.”

The combined effort has helped boost the number of rural homes with toilets to 60 percent, up from less than 5 percent four years ago, says Kashi Nath Jha, the Haryana local chairman of the sanitation organization Sulabh International.

In Ladravan, a village of farms and brick kilns about an hour’s drive from Delhi international airport, one bride has already divorced her groom when she learned that his family lied about having a toilet, says Anil Kumar Chhikara, one of the village leaders. Another young woman, Monica, says of any potential suitor, “I’ll be asking him to build a toilet.” And if he doesn’t? “Then I won’t marry him.”
6.4.2009 9:58pm
Kenneth Anderson:
Connie:

Well, I guess what I'm trying to suggest in this post is that the conditions for that are better, much better, under monogamy than polygamy. And that is true whether it is multiple wives-one husband, or multiple husbands-one wife. the problem is not only, and perhaps not principally, those who marry, but those whose practical opportunities are diminished to effectively zero.
6.4.2009 9:59pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Yes, Dan Hill has hit on one problem with surplus young males: violence of one form or another, often as "cannon fodder" for a war.

One of the problems with Muslim polygamy is a similar situation: frustrated young men with no wives. In Islam, the situation is exacerbated by the generally puritanical sexual culture. Unfortunately, the military expansionist nature of Islam, which is written into the Koran, leads many of these frustrated but devout young men into the Jihadist ranks, as terrorists, suicide bombers and so forth.

This does not seem to be a problem with Mormon polygamy, etc., possibly because there is always the possibility of marrying outside the faith, there being a large pool of non-Mormons in the general population.
6.4.2009 10:01pm
Kenneth Anderson:
Cato the elder:

There are examples of that; in India, too, however, there are also increasingly examples of abduction and sale of brides. In theory, the effect could increase the value of women and their status, or go the other way. My estimation, fwiw, is that it is actually headed the other way, for reasons of culture and historical practice.
6.4.2009 10:02pm
Kenneth Anderson:
Dan Hill:

It has suggested that the most benign and practical, indeed traditional, solution might be large scale emigration of surplus Chinese men elsewhere in search of fortune and women. Again, all this is extraordinarily dependent upon cultural conditions about which generalizations (of the kind I make in this post) are very risky, as are the predictions of war and strife that Hudson and den Boer make.
6.4.2009 10:09pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Polygamy is a kind of winner take all game, that greatly benefits the men at the top of the status heap and his family but everyone else lower on the totem pole tries to resist. When men of lower status gain sufficient financial resources to seek political representation, they're the ones who create the laws and norms that enforce monogamy as the egalitarian choice so as to prevent the monopolization of females. Some people characterize many of Africa's problems as being related to "Big Man" syndrome, because whenever someone achieves enough power in those societies they tend to redistribute social resources for themselves.

Men who are high status gain greater sexual access to females. (Perusse 1993)

Modern men who have high incomes and who are high status have more frequent sex and larger number of children (Hopcroft 2006)
6.4.2009 10:15pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
One question I would ask, is monogamy actually the best situation for the woman and children? I am asking in reference to stable relationships in both cases, not general promiscuity. If the divide is large enough I could see being one of several wives to one very successful man as being a better situation than the single wife of a mate who can't offer children any futre.

A question I'm not sure about Western polygamy practices of the past: how many wives were taken on as social obligation to dead relatives? I also believe that I've read that Mohammed's first wife was a widow. So if polygamy is practiced to keep the number of widows down I wonder how that changed the calculations. I would not expect that consideration to be nearly as important now.
6.4.2009 10:23pm
LibertyCowboy (www):
In the US more men die in their teens than women, and more are openly gay. So the Chinese guys just need to move here and everyone's problems are solved.

I'm not completley sure what you are getting at. In a libertarian society women can't be treated like property. If a woman wants to found her own megacorp and has the skills nothing could stop her. Any guy could compete for having up to [n] wives and there is really nothing anyone can do about it since state recognition doesn't really benifit plural marriages due to the lack of common law tradition. If the competiton is unfair it is probably due to a lack of economic freedom, which we would hope to maximize...
6.4.2009 10:27pm
John kmm (mail):
Or as a venezuelan law portraits it: There is a social reality of synchronic polygamy : a man with a wife a lover or more. And diachronic polyandry, a woman that has a child with one man after another.
This also apply to the american reality, a wealthy man able to stand one divorce after another. that left no woman for the younger ,poorer
6.4.2009 10:27pm
NowMDJD (mail):
Shortages of people, if I'm not mistaken, is commonly associated with slavery. It you can't hire people to do your work, you'll sieze the weak. This is counterintuitive to libertarians, but I believe that if you look at which societies had slaves (and serfs) this is what you'd find. If there is a surplus of labor, it is cheaper to bid for labor on the market. If laobr is scarce, it is cheaper to sieze the laborers, pay no more than you need for their subsistence, and sieze new workers when the old ones die (or breed them). As medieval Europe and the American south were expanding, they resorted to forced labor.

By analogy, if women are scarce, the powerful men will sieze them.

Free market theorists may exclude violence from their analysis of economic systems. However, powerful people who want scarce goods and services don't care what the books say. The ability to use force is a commodity too, in the real world.
6.4.2009 10:33pm
il1ra (mail):
Polyandry is not common for evolutionary biological reasons, namely Preaclamsia.
6.4.2009 10:37pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Can I have a cite for that statement, il1ra?

A bit OT, but the sociobiological theory for pre-eclampsia that I've read is really, really cool. It's an economic statement about the competition for resources between each "selfish" agent in the natural selection of the parenting relationship.

Mothers have a fertile period, over which "Nature" expects them to have multiple children, and invest in most viable ones to pass on her genes. However, the genes of each child she bears are specifically only concerned with their individual fitness, while hers are concerned about the viability of ALL her possible children. Apparently, there's an "evolutionary arms race" going on where the fetus is attempting to manipulate the mother to providing more resources than it is in the mother's best interests to provide!

Pre-ecmplasia is hypertension that causes damage to the kdineys during pregnancy as a result of high blood pressure. When it perceives it needs food, the fetus releases proteins into her bloodstream that elevate raise her blood pressure, so more nutrients flow to the fetus, more so than is absolutely necessary - in some cases endangering the life of the mother.

Twisted, huh?
6.4.2009 10:57pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
The problem here is not that China has a shortage of women. The problem is that China has a shortage of women.

In a society with a healthy respect for the rule of law and the rights of the individual, a scarce commodity commands a high price but does not incite violence. In a society with no such respect, a scarce commodity is a target. The fact that China can't deal productively with it's female shortage says more about China than it does about female shortages.

Put another way, a peaceful culture deals with its problems peacefully while a violent culture deals with its problems violently. We're not hearing about the horrific lot of chattel females in Alaska, despite their gender imbalance.




Shortages of people, if I'm not mistaken, is commonly associated with slavery. It you can't hire people to do your work, you'll sieze the weak.


Shortages of labor fuelled the Industrial Revolution. Because of the opening of the American frontier, workers who were dissatisfied with their lots could pack up, move west, and homestead a farm. This caused the price of labor to go up dramatically, forcing employers to compete for workers (wages and working conditions improved dramatically during the same period) and incenting inventors to develop machinery enabling fewer workers to do more work. Basic economics says that when labor costs more you spend on capital instead.

Again, the difference between "no people? steal some" and "no people? invent the steam engine" is one of cultural commitment to rights and law, or not.
6.4.2009 11:11pm
Fat Man (mail) (www):
I assume that if the Chinese economic surge continues, there will be a market for imported brides. India is also an interesting study. I have read that the custom in India is for the bride's family to pay a dowry to the grooms family. Will that turn around and become a bride price.
6.4.2009 11:32pm
John Stephens (mail):
Speaking of cultural solutions, I suppose the Chinese could start making eunuchs again.
6.4.2009 11:43pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Exposure to the wider world, however, has left me persuaded that abstract libertarianism must sometimes give way to the realities of cultures and actual conditions.


There's a novel concept.
6.4.2009 11:57pm
Eli Rabett (www):
As one who was addicted to Heinlein at 14, let me council you to put away childish things.
6.4.2009 11:58pm
A. Non E. Mouse (mail):
Polyandry historically has happened in places of scarce resources that could not support a large population. It keeps fertility rates down. I'm surprised the Dark Greens haven't suggested it as an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Could be China's solution, it happened/happens in Mongolia.

There's kidnapping of women in surrounding Asian countries, too. Seize a foreign woman and abduct her back home to be a slave-wife.
6.5.2009 12:02am
Jim at FSU (mail):
Whatever happened to the old fashioned way of getting rid of excess males? Attempts at world conquest, for example.
6.5.2009 12:25am
Loving Hubby:
I have enough trouble with one wife. Two or three more? No thanks. It'd be like a bunch of cats in a gunnysack.
6.5.2009 12:26am
Jim at FSU (mail):
I agree with the OP's comment, that women are going to start being treated more like property as their value increases. Of course, this value is represented in terms of the property that these women can extract from prospective mates with promises of marriage.

To the extent that women use their status as women to extract property from potential husbands, those husbands are going to attempt to preserve the investment they have made in their wives. It's not so much that the women have lost their status as individuals, it's that significant amounts of property must be sacrificed to acquire (or replace) a wife. The men are going to want to prevent women from exercising their prerogatives in ways that violate the fiduciary duty of loyalty that arguably comes with accepting bride prices.

This is really more of an agency problem than it is a women's rights problem. No one is forcing the women to accept several years salary for agreeing to a marriage. But I expect they will want to force those women to hang around after they accept the money.
6.5.2009 12:42am
GoodReason (mail):
Just a few, scattered observations:

1) Anthropologists have shown that the eradication of polygamy was an important precondition for social stability and democracy in human history. Polygamous societies are inherently unstable and inherently authoritarian, because of the surplus males produced by the system. Abnormal sex ratio societies such as China and India mimic these effects.

2) Somebody pimped these girls in the WSJ article. The cai li is given to the bride's family, not the bride. Whoever the "relative" was in the story was the pimp or the pimp's agent. Women do not hold their own value in these societies--somebody (usually male) is holding it and extracting resources from it. Women's status never rises with female scarcity--to the contrary, it falls.

3) The figure for bare branches under 20 in China is actually closer to 41 million.

4) The assault rate against women in Alaska is very high. Coercion of females in the context of female scarcity raises its head even in "civilized" societies. And the chattel markets for women in East and South Asia are highly coercive, too--kidnapping, rape, sale. You do not want to be a woman where women are scarce, unless you are past reproductive age. Even being prior to reproductive age does not help you--girl infants and toddlers are abducted, too.

5) There are 24 million fewer men than women in Russia. Of course, that is across the life span, not in the under-20 population, and is due to excessively high mortality rates among young adult males in Russia.

6) Mormon polygamy was temporally and spiritually unsustainable--for every man to have but two wives, 50% of LDS men would have to have remained unmarried or be kicked out of the community. In fundamentalist Mormon societies today, they call these poor teenaged boys, the "Lost Boys." Their male relatives discard them by the wayside so they themselves can continue to take underage brides. That is why non-fundamentalist Mormons understand nineteenth century polygamy in their faith community as an Abrahamic sacrifice (see D&C 132), which will always have an end, and will always have a ram in the thicket--because monogamy is a blessing, and polygamy is akin to being asked to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. We understand this because 1) the LDS will not baptize polygamists, even in countries where polygamy is fully legal, and 2) absent a command from God to practice it, we are told in Jacob 2 that those who practice polygamy are going to hell.
6.5.2009 1:13am
Ricardo (mail):
I assume that if the Chinese economic surge continues, there will be a market for imported brides.

There already is. Chinese men with money can contact marriage brokers who will send them to villages in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos or Vietnam where they can choose an eligible girl for a price.

India is also an interesting study. I have read that the custom in India is for the bride's family to pay a dowry to the grooms family. Will that turn around and become a bride price.

In a country like India, if women were ever to start commanding bride prices, parents would use this as an incentive to lock their girls inside the house and spend their resources preparing the girl for the marriage market rather than the job market. Some Indian parents do this anyway so I don't see why giving them a monetary incentive to do it to an even greater extent would contribute to women's liberation.
6.5.2009 1:19am
Ricardo (mail):
No one is forcing the women to accept several years salary for agreeing to a marriage.

If we're talking about Asia here, then someone may well be forcing the women to agree to a marriage: the woman's own extended family. They are the ones who, in practice, would receive the bride price.
6.5.2009 1:30am
Lior:
If your core argument is for "equality of opportunity" then why are you excluding the already-married from the competition? If all men get to compete for the affection of any given women, then "all men" should really mean all of them.
6.5.2009 1:40am
guest:

India is also an interesting study. I have read that the custom in India is for the bride's family to pay a dowry to the grooms family. Will that turn around and become a bride price.

In some communities in India (specifically in the state of Karnataka), this is already the case. These communities were paying dowry prior to the 1990s. Now they pay bride-price.
6.5.2009 2:12am
ohwilleke:
Japan is developing similar issues despite a relatively economically egalitarian society (despite intense social hierarchy) and a lack of polygamy. Lots of Japanese women have decided that they like having careers, and in Japan, the notion of career-family balance is rather less developed. So Japanese women are marrying later, and many are not marrying at all.

The result is that lots of Japanese men can't find Japanese brides.
6.5.2009 4:12am
scoonbug (mail) (www):
Ken, as a big fan of Heinlein and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, your post here piques my interest. Were you raised in one of the fundamentalist Mormon sects? I would be interested to read about "wife shortages" from a firsthand perspective. I suppose that what used to happen would be, for instance, the Viking raids... no wives at home, go pillage for wives!

However, in current society, that wouldn't work. But, likewise, men are unlikely to sit on their hands, content with 0 wives while their neighbor has 4. What happens in Saudi Arabia?
6.5.2009 4:56am
Jerome Cole (mail) (www):
Most Chinese men from the Mainland are stinkers. It is common for them to dress extremely badly, not brush their teeth, never go to the dentist, spit, smoke, swear, not take a bath, patronize prostitutes, work incessantly, spend their free time on anything but their wife, gamble, have affairs, etc. Would you want to marry someone like this? I bet a big issue here is that many women just don't have an acceptable partner available to marry. By the way, renting out wives, kidnapping women, prostitution, and all the other nasty stuff described on this thread were problems long before the current population imbalance.
6.5.2009 6:13am
NowMDJD (mail):

Again, the difference between "no people? steal some" and "no people? invent the steam engine" is one of cultural commitment to rights and law, or not.

I wasn't suggesting that resorting to slavery was inevitable. Rather, I was suggesting that commitment to the conception of rights and law that precludes slavery or deprivation of the freedom of women to choose a mate (the Southern states had commitments to rights and law in their own twisted way) is NOT inevitable.

If you are (for example) a libertarian law school professor, you are inclined to conceive of responses to shortages in terms that preclude the use of force. Law is important to you. It is basic to you. But many lay people regard law as, at best a necessary and nasty constraint, and at worst an impediment to their goals that must me overcome. If you are a Frankish warlord or a Southern planter, however, you lack the law professor's scruples.
6.5.2009 6:13am
Desiderius:
Cato,

"Polygamy is a kind of winner take all game, that greatly benefits the men at the top of the status heap and his family but everyone else lower on the totem pole tries to resist."

This is not empirically true. Lower status women benefit (or at least seem to perceive themselves as benefiting, early in their lives when they take the decision to conceive) from the access, even if fleeting, to higher status genes offered by polygamy, de facto or de jure.

I'd say the above is the story of the rise of the welfare state concomitant with the broad female franchise (to buttress such decisions, and ameliorate their consequences). The solution is not the restriction of the franchise, however, but a greater focus of the general welfare of future generations, of all genders.

Perhaps the next wave of feminism can attack that one.
6.5.2009 7:27am
rick.felt:
Men who are high status gain greater sexual access to females. (Perusse 1993)

Modern men who have high incomes and who are high status have more frequent sex and larger number of children (Hopcroft 2006)


Bishop of Rome dons tapered headgear. (Obvious, 1974)

Ursus arctos defecates in wooded habitats. (Noduh, 1983)
6.5.2009 8:46am
rick.felt:
Most Chinese men from the Mainland are stinkers. It is common for them to dress extremely badly, not brush their teeth, never go to the dentist, spit, smoke, swear, not take a bath, patronize prostitutes, work incessantly, spend their free time on anything but their wife, gamble, have affairs, etc. Would you want to marry someone like this?

My wife did.
6.5.2009 8:48am
Bart (mail):
Demographically, a surplus of males is the worst of all worlds.

Population maintenance is a function of women, not men. If a nation loses a large part of its male population in wars and the like, it can still turn to some variation of polygamy and replenish its population in a single generation. However, if a nation ends up with a generation where the males outnumber the females 2:1, each female would need to double her child bearing to an average of 4.2 children simply to maintain the population.

Individual access to birth control in modern states has already made it difficult for modern nations to maintain the 2.1 children per couple required to maintain the population when the gender proportions are roughly equal. The EU and Japan are far below replacement rates now and their populations are slowly dying off. America is the only modern country barely maintaining its replacement rate.

China makes population maintenance even more difficult with its one child policy. A shortage of females coupled with a one child policy will put China on a rapid demographic death spiral. There is no Chinese century on the horizon.

These trends also mean that American economic and military supremacy is assured at least through the next century as the populations and hence the economic production of its rivals gradually diminish in most countries and collapses in China.
6.5.2009 10:05am
Widmerpool:
Could the escalating bride price also explain, at least in part, the extraordinarily high savings rate in China? As suggested in the article, an entire community (or, at least, an extended family) must pool its savings over a long period of time for the scarce commodity of one bride. If true, this suggests that the savings rate in China will increase along with the number of excess males, thus postponing the future consumer economy. This also means that looking to China as the solution to the globe's economic ills might be a bit premature.
6.5.2009 10:14am
Houston Lawyer:
Women can deal with a shortage of eligible husbands much easier than men can deal with a shortage of eligible wives. If a woman is looking for a man primarily to father her children, that can be be arranged fairly easily.

In this country, the number of women earning college degrees will soon be double that of men. That means that a great many women, who have traditionally tried to marry men who can earn more than they can, will no have that option. I believe that this will result in fewer marriages and more out-of-wedlock births, resulting in even fewer of the next generation of men going to college. It will also lead to greater demands that the government fulfill responsibilities traditionally taken on by nuclear families.
6.5.2009 10:22am
rick.felt:
In this country, the number of women earning college degrees will soon be double that of men. That means that a great many women, who have traditionally tried to marry men who can earn more than they can, will no have that option.

I don't know if the wealth disparity is that great between a man who starts working construction jobs at 18 and a woman who starts doing, well, whatever the hell it is you do with a degree in Lacanian Semiotics from Nubbinsville State.
6.5.2009 10:28am
DCP:

Most Chinese men from the Mainland are stinkers. It is common for them to dress extremely badly, not brush their teeth, never go to the dentist, spit, smoke, swear, not take a bath...

And the mainland women ain't exactly Lucy Liu, so let's call it a wash (though that is probably a poor pun given the topic). You can more or less see the same social dynamics playing out on a weekday stroll through Wal-Mart.

People who are ugly, fat, stupid, unpleasant, foul, etc. tend to marry their male/female counterparts unless there is a serious income inequality tipping the scales.

Although there does seem to be some evidence of a growing trend in Russia. In addition to a surplus female population (alluded to in a post above), Russian men are just off the charts in terms of chronic alcoholism, physical abuse, crime, disappearing for months at a time and pretty much anything else that would be considered deal-breaker material for any would-be female paramour.

I have a friend living in Russia right now. He did very poorly with women here, but over there they are literally lining up for him. He also notes that there is a fast growing phenomenon of women over 30 (or under but lacking the requisite beauty to ever hope to be a mail order bride or member of some mafia concubine) partnering up with another woman in a quasi-homosexual relationship. It's not about sexual desires per se, but simply a recognition that we need to go through life with a partner and the men - at least the ones who haven't managed to kill themselves or get shipped off to some Siberian work camp - are simply not cutting it.
6.5.2009 10:53am
devil's advocate (mail):
Wow, did I just stumble across the lost Margaret Mead does the mainland blog?

not to quibble but it is preaeclampsia.

Cato


However, the genes of each child she bears are specifically only concerned with their individual fitness, while hers are concerned about the viability of ALL her possible children. Apparently, there's an "evolutionary arms race" going on where the fetus is attempting to manipulate the mother to providing more resources than it is in the mother's best interests to provide!



Wikipedia warning for all those who took part in the spirited dissection of that resource a few weeks back, but I must caution that this doesn't appear to be the sole or leading theory for preeclampsia pathogenesis (no dash in the US English convention, also according to wiki).

Indeed if the syndrome were a genetic resource demand that improved the outcome for the fetus, you would think that it would be seen in the majority rather than minority of cases. While no one claims to have the answer, causes seem to focus on outlier complications in uterine implantation and the consequent production of an unusually high degree of immunologically relevant factors by the fetus that contain the genetic material of the father which the mothers body finds intensely allergenic.

Now maybe wikipedia has been taken over by male chauvinists as the preventative is supposed to be significant preconception exposure to the father's sperm especially through the gastrointestinal tract.

This is not a per se case against polyandry although it does vaguely suggest that focusing on one semen source might be safer.

Trying to return to polite discussion - assuming that preeclampsia risk is exacerbated by polyandry, it seems to me that birth control would play some role here, and or there seems a possibility that one could develop tolerance for multiple males.

So, I'm back to debating Ken's fundamental assumption about the extent to which polygyny is unegalitarian to 'bare branch males. I'm not suggesting that I think polygyny is a stable societal arrangement but this talk about its unegalitarian nature as somehow frustrating equal opportunity seems a red herring. Because any male is free to compete for multiple mates. It seems that enforcing monagamy is affirmative action for less attractive mates.

Perhaps if political society affords signicant redistribution towards married individuals, then you might call the result of polygamy necessarily unegalitarian. And I can see many manifestations of common policies that favor marriage and childbearing that would make this so -- e.g. public education is the most glaringly obvious, albeit the stereotype of polygamists as cultural outliers makes me wonder the extent to which they would avail themselves of public education.

Now, society might have an interest in privileging stable relationships and in addressing the negative social forces that may arise from a plethora of unmated males. But I think it quite false to paint such discrimination as egalitarian. It is, of course the possibility that society can indeed privilege certain relationships that leads it into realm of governmental sanction or recognition of marriage to begin with.

So it seems to me that gays, for instance, have no right to marry if singles do not have the right to insist on equal dispersion of the benefits to the unmarried. Simply because there is an analogy of two people living together does not address whether gay marriage serves the societal purpose for marriage recognition.

Now, it might well do so to the extent that the oft cited child centered arguments are the tip of the iceberg and that the gay community can and will make the arguments over time that the societal purpose for marriage is well served by gay analog. But this is winning the policy argument, not the constitutional one, which I personally believe unavailing with the exception of a movement to place single individuals in parity with married couples insofar as privilege.

And, of course, with cherished good humor I wish to point out that no one has brought up gay marriage as the obvious solution to China's problem.

Desiderius

Your early and late post seem somewhat difficult to reconcile even if you are talking about two different social pathologies.


This is already happening among large swathes of the (sub-upper-middle-class) American populace, and is a non-trivial factor in our rising inequality. Though the sperm are typically provided by cads in their mid-to-late twenties and the wallet by Uncle Sam and His various State Baby Daddies, such de facto polygamy is no less destructive and inegalitarian than the de jure variety.

. . .


Lower status women benefit (or at least seem to perceive themselves as benefiting, early in their lives when they take the decision to conceive) from the access, even if fleeting, to higher status genes offered by polygamy, de facto or de jure.


I wonder if your are speaking in your first post to more indirect statist in loco parentis[m] than welfare checks -- public education, or other non-means-tested general benefits or maybe even the EITC that reduce the cost of parenting. Otherwise I don't understand your reference to sub-upper middle-class that would appear to incorporate a great many parents, single and otherwise who are not getting direct support payments.

Secondly, maybe you have sociological data not in evidence, but I don't see those responding to government incentives to produce children out of wedlock, essentially an incident of your first post, as somehow necessarily incentivized towards "higher status genes" or how polygamous behavior contributes to collecting such high status genes unless conscious birth control is practiced until they are found the genes in which case the whole preeclampsia and idea of males and extended family manipulating the polygamous circumstnace and benefits arising is turned on its head.

But such behavior would be frustrated by simply conceiving to get government checks as you'd be out of the game for at least 9 months and have some compulsion to care for less high status progency lest you loose the financial incentive or prove to be a poor parent in some respect that would hazard your ability to maintain and benefit from rearing a higher status infanct.

Maybe I misconceive or falsely conflate your two theories. Please enlighten me.

Finally, if you didn't stop reading 800 words ago:

NowMDJD

(Color me non-text savvy, the closest I know is VJD , still celebrated in Rhode Island)


But many lay people regard law as, at best a necessary and nasty constraint,


Actually, I would hope that is precisely view of libertarian law professors.

Brian
6.5.2009 10:54am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
The women-led clans of Heinlein were able to survive only because the men who were willing to recognize the benefits of that social structure outnumbered or out-gunned the men who preferred to resort to violence to get women. I've never thought that his portrayal was terribly realistic, to be blunt. In Heinlein, the men who don't get to be with one of the wives that evening just happily spend the evening alone, and they never get really jealous over the sexual activities of the wives with the other men.

I don't think most men are wired that way. Some, yes. And ideally, we all should strive to reduce jealousy and possessiveness. But in reality, we're going to fail at that striving, because of how we are hard-wired.

In reality, jealousies and hormones and general lack of good thinking skills will lead societies with a surplus of young males into the path you describe, where women are treated as property and commodities, and the men take what they want, one way or another.

See, ideological theory would predict that, with surplus males, a woman could leave an abusive husband (in your example, a husband who rents her out as a prostitute), because she should be able to easily find another one. In reality, the act of leaving would leave her suddenly with no protection in a world with a lot of extra horny men. She MIGHT be able to find another, better guy, but until she does, she is very much at risk of violence and economic harm. It doesn't take all that many men willing to act as thugs and gang-rape women to put all women in fear of that, should they leave their male protector in that society.
6.5.2009 11:19am
mischief (mail):
I note that paying LOTS AND LOTS of money to the parents of women does give parents an incentive not to kill their baby daughters.
6.5.2009 11:26am
Aultimer:

GoodReason

Women's status never rises with female scarcity--to the contrary, it falls.


You obviously didn't attend an engineering school. More generously, your proposition may hold true, but only in the absence of the rule of law respecting human rights.
6.5.2009 11:35am
seth neel (mail):
i'd like to see something that ties this to the termination of female pregnancies. i know it happens a good bit in india, and i'd assume people w/ access to ultrasound in china would feel many of the same pressures.
6.5.2009 11:38am
devil's advocate (mail):
Mischief,

very good point. One I had thought of but lost track of in my epic prose above.

This seems an obvious response whose monetary import would go a long way to overcoming societal focus on male children,

although such a 'solution' will lag a generation behind the imbalance being discussed.

Brian
6.5.2009 11:40am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Aultimer... a fundamental question is whether the rule of law respecting human rights can, in reality, function in a society with such a tremendous scarcity of women. Yes, if men were perfect (or much closer to perfect than currently), your observation would be correct. But in reality, humans are not like metal or concrete or other materials which are subject to the laws of engineering.

We are animals, in the end. The drive to reproduce leads even the best and smartest of people to do really stupid stuff, even in well-developed societies. The survival of the rule of law in societies where large numbers of men have no way to act on that deep, evolutionarily-driven desire is by no means a given (or, to my thinking, even a likelihood).

Theory must give way to reality, every time. More generously, your proposition may hold true, but only in a society composed of beings other than humans.
6.5.2009 11:50am
Nony Mouse:
Ever heard of a little country called the "USA" and a territory called "California" during a gold rush?
When women are few, their value goes up either leading to men attempting to treat them as chattel or leading to women re-negotiating their status in their society. Granted, sometimes it takes a while to figure out which way things are going to pan out, because it all comes down to cases, but I'm with Gabriel above: the reason we're still not sure is because it's China. Having visited a couple of decades ago (6 months after Tienamen, actually), I got the sense that the young ladies were stuck in my oldest aunt's generation of the south. Nice girls finish high school and get married and don't poke around too much in business or anything outside the house. They weren't exactly thrilled with the limitations, but were working to gently expand the definitions of what was acceptable. I have no idea how the intervening time has changed the circumstances.
6.5.2009 12:11pm
pmorem (mail):
Anecdotal data from a mainland China friend...

Video games are very popular, at least among those who can afford them.

In the US, this seems to relate to a general self-removal from the market.

This may also happen in China, partially mitigating the effects. This would likely be concentrated in urban areas, where a greater percentage can afford games.

On the other hand, its been noted elsewhere that video games bear a resemblance to and offer training for modern combat systems.
6.5.2009 1:02pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

In a society with a healthy respect for the rule of law and the rights of the individual, a scarce commodity commands a high price but does not incite violence.


Well there is always going to be some push towards violence but society will push back against it.

Agreed that China is not this society.
6.5.2009 1:22pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):

We're not hearing about the horrific lot of chattel females in Alaska, despite their gender imbalance.

The assault rate against women in Alaska is very high.


Correction: We're not hearing about the horrific lot of chattel non-native females in Alaska, despite their gender imbalance. The Inuit population suffers from no gender imbalance but does not have a Western liberal commitment to rights and law, and that's where the Alaska VAW rate comes from.
6.5.2009 1:47pm
MSESQ (mail):
When I was in China in 2005 I asked several young men what they were doing about the shortage of brides. Sveral said they were "getting brides" from other Asian countries and others made sure to tell me they treated their girlfriends very, very nice due to fear of losing her.
6.5.2009 2:18pm
Aultimer:

PatHMV :

Theory must give way to reality, every time. More generously, your proposition may hold true, but only in a society composed of beings other than humans.

You miss my point. Engineering schools are overwhelmingly male, yet women aren't turned into property. Your "reality" may play out given some particular definition of "society" or some set of social or geographic boundaries, but you've twice asserted that it's universal. My single counterexample proves you wrong.
6.5.2009 2:34pm
Putting Two and Two...:
We think of China as one society, but it is really many different cultures in one nation. Someone already pointed out that polyandry already exists in Mongolia. It exists in parts of Northern China, as well.

And speaking of the Gold Rush and video games, some clues to how Chinese society will react to a scarcity of women might be found in the history of the Chinatowns of the West Coast after the Chinese Exclusion Act. Many Chinese men were stranded here, with no hope of importing a bride (even if they were already married to her). I'm no expert, but I understand it led to a lot of smoking and gambling.

Also, I would think that modern, urban China will be more amenable to same-sex marriage as at least a partial solution to the demographic problem.
6.5.2009 2:47pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

But, likewise, men are unlikely to sit on their hands, content with 0 wives while their neighbor has 4.

Many of them would engage in adultery with their neighbor's wives, or just wait until one of those wives are divorced.

Is there any reason that sharing men is more tolerated by women than sharing women is tolerated by men?
6.5.2009 2:47pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Not at all, Aultimer. An engineering department is not a "society." We were talking about populations on the scale of nations, not fairly minor institutions within a society.

Are you seriously suggesting that an engineering school is a "society" in the same sense that China is a society? Please.

Do you disagree with the hypothesis that in a real society (not some tiny subset of an actual society like "engineering schools"), the existence of a sever gender imbalance increases societal disharmony and reduces the likelihood of the rule of law and respect for individual rights?

In an actual society, individuals have real opportunities to travel and choose mates and otherwise interact with folks within that society, while interaction with or travel to areas outside that society carries fairly significant costs of one type or another. Women within an engineering school are easily able to date non-engineers, to travel to non-engineering areas of the university, to mate with non-engineers. Women within China are not able to easily date non-Chinese, to travel outside China, to mate with non-Chinese.

I'm guessing you are an engineer... or maybe an accountant.
6.5.2009 2:49pm
Jerome Cole (mail) (www):


And the mainland women ain't exactly Lucy Liu, so let's call it a wash (though that is probably a poor pun given the topic). You can more or less see the same social dynamics playing out on a weekday stroll through Wal-Mart.



What you say about women here is only partially true. Like most places, women in China pay a lot more attention to hygiene and manners than men.

There are lots of fantastic women here who simply can't find a husband or even a decent boyfriend. The Chinese marriage market has some really strange dynamics. If you are a beautiful woman who also happens to be well-educated and or financially successful you are much less attractive to Chinese men. Divorced women and women with children also run into rather extreme problems dating. Many Chinese men even view women of certain occupations as off-limits. For example, hotel workers are considered by many people to be just one step above prostitutes.

China has lots of good things going for it. Rational ideas about marriage and dating are still a long way off though.
6.5.2009 3:01pm
pmorem (mail):
My experience running around Shenzen (unsupervised) was very much like engineering school.

Granted, I had a narrow sample, and I was in an engineering environment, far from the rural population. Different segments may be different. Nonetheless, I suspect that much of the urban population is moving in the same direction.
6.5.2009 3:14pm
pmorem (mail):

Rational ideas about marriage and dating...


I suspect that's an oxymoron.
6.5.2009 3:16pm
Dan Weber (www):
but everyone else lower on the totem pole tries to resist.

Is this true? From personal conversations, lots of men think polygamy would be cool. Yes, only 1-in-4 men gets 4 wives and the other 3-in-4 get 0, but men are more risk-accepting than pure economics would suggest. Men enter contests with lots of losers and few winners where the expected payoff is low, but they imagine themselves as the winners.

I'm lost on which is the cause and which is the effect. A history of polygamy would select for men that were overly risk-accepting, but risk-accepting men would also want polygamy, even though most men are poorly served by it.

(Q: What's the penalty in Texas for bigamy? A: Two wives.)
6.5.2009 3:38pm
Jimmy W (www):
Bart, regarding your comment about "maintaining population":
The entire reason for having the "One Child Policy" is to reduce the population in China. They want to reduce the population from the current 1 billion+ to half that. So the "population death spiral" is the desired effect for them.

For Chinese and Indian males on bottom rungs of the economic ladder, they are effectively practicing polyandry through forms of prostitution.

China has exported laborers and merchants to the surrounding countries. Chinese presence in Russia has led to anti-Chinese riots in some Russian cities. But perhaps love will conquer the historic enmity between Russia and China.

Both China and India have also been exporting merchants to Africa. It may lead to semi-colonizations later, as AIDS hollows out Africa's countries.
6.5.2009 4:19pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
OK, I just read the Brooks paper on polygamy and it's a pretty awful bit of scholarship. He has 4 major points:

women in polygamous marriages are at greater risk of suffering harmful effects

This assertion is based on studies of polygamy among Bedouins, Nigerians, Nepalese, and other third-world misogynist cultures. There's no reason to suppose the same issues would obtain in a hypothetical polygamous, liberal Western culture.

polygamy is almost always polygyny in fact

Again, not a valid criticism of a hypothetical Western polygamy. Polyandries and relationships involving multiple males and multiple females might well be equally legal, and we have no basis for speculating which forms might become more or less common.

polygamy is unjustified because spouses lack equal options to divorce.

Yet again, not a valid criticism of a hypothetical Western polygamy. We can easily speculate that divorce laws would evolve to meet the needs of all participants.

All forms of polygamy then presuppose that polygamous marriages are heterosexual marriages

And yet again, not a valid criticism of a hypothetical Western polygamy. As SSM gains acceptance, there's no reason to think that a culture which was willing to recognize polygamy would blink at same-sex polygamy.

Very disappointing. I was hoping for a more challenging read; instead, it's a collection of unsupported and unjustified assertions and preconceptions.
6.5.2009 4:45pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
In other words, Gabriel McCall, no evidence regarding the societal impacts of various marriage forms is at all relevant unless it comes from an advanced, Western society. Unless and until one can show an experiment with polygamy in an advanced, Western society, all the speculation must be made in favor of the idea that society will well-tolerate it, without substantial harm to the overall social fabric.

Certainly the experiences of third-world nations with polygamy are not definitive proof of the effects that polygamy would have on our Western, advanced society, but those experiences are certainly some evidence which should be taken into consideration. Western society has been predominantly monogamous in its social family structures for a millennium or two now, certainly since way back when our own social advancement (and the status of women in our society) was no greater than the Bedouins, Nigerians, Nepalese, and others. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is some cause and effect there, and that our monogamous social structures are partly responsible for our achievements. I don't claim to be able to prove that, but you certainly cannot disprove it. The study is certainly full of quite supported and justified premises. You dismiss them out of hand as being no valid criticism at all, but it's you who fail to provide any real support for your argument.
6.5.2009 5:05pm
Brian K (mail):
You miss my point. Engineering schools are overwhelmingly male, yet women aren't turned into property. Your "reality" may play out given some particular definition of "society" or some set of social or geographic boundaries, but you've twice asserted that it's universal. My single counterexample proves you wrong.


Something tells me you haven't actually gone to engineering school. I have. my specific field was 90% male. the problem with your example is that both women and men can easily go outside of the school for mates. and engineering males routinely take female dominated electives. the other problem is that many engineering males either weren't seeking a mate or wouldn't be able to land one if they tried...this effectively removes them from the pool of competition.
6.5.2009 5:27pm
Bart (mail):
Jimmy W (www):

Bart, regarding your comment about "maintaining population":
The entire reason for having the "One Child Policy" is to reduce the population in China. They want to reduce the population from the current 1 billion+ to half that. So the "population death spiral" is the desired effect for them.


I believe the initial intent was to stabilize the population by allowing rural couples to have multiple children and limiting urban couples to one. However, the cultural preference for males in one child families has turned stabilization into a probable free fall in population.

A free fall in population means not only a reduction in economic production, but also that the younger working population will be shrinking when compared to the non productive elderly population that will need to be supported.

Both the overall and the per capita GDP will be falling in China when the smaller one child generation takes over the workforce must support a far larger elderly population.
6.5.2009 5:56pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
In other words, Gabriel McCall, no evidence regarding the societal impacts of various marriage forms is at all relevant unless it comes from an advanced, Western society. Unless and until one can show an experiment with polygamy in an advanced, Western society, all the speculation must be made in favor of the idea that society will well-tolerate it, without substantial harm to the overall social fabric.


Correcting the words you've put in my mouth:

No evidence regarding the societal impacts of various marriage forms is at all relevant to advanced, Western society unless it comes from an advanced, Western society. Unless and until one can show an experiment with polygamy in an advanced, Western society, there is no evidence to support the speculation that such a society will not well-tolerate it, with substantial harm to the overall social fabric.

An oppressive culture is an oppressive culture whether or not it practices polygamy. If one studies polygamy in oppressive cultures, one will not be surprised to find it oppressive. This says nothing at all about what we can expect to find of the practice of polygamy in a non-oppressive culture.

To make an analogy with another contentious issue, one cannot usefully predict the societal effects of widespread gunownership among the Swiss, by analyzing the effects of widespread gunownership in inner-city Detroit. Just because one sort of culture is is not prepared to handle (guns|polygamy) in a responsible and moral fashion, does not mean that another can't.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is some cause and effect there, {in} that our monogamous social structures are partly responsible for our achievements. I don't claim to be able to prove that, but you certainly cannot disprove it.


I suppose that's possible and it would be an interesting point to analyze, however a) the burden of proof, or even demonstration of likeliness, is on those who would make such an assertion, and b) even if this is the case that says nothing about whether we would be capable of handling polygamy *today*. Even if monogamy was a crutch to our societal development, perhaps we're at a cultural level of development where we no longer need that crutch.

The study is certainly full of quite supported and justified premises. You dismiss them out of hand as being no valid criticism at all, but it's you who fail to provide any real support for your argument.


The paper certainly supports and justifies a stance of opposing polygamy as currently and historically applied in third-world antifeminist cultures, and if he had stopped there I would have no objection to his work. However, he repeatedly generalizes from those valid conclusions to a condemnation of all polygamy in the abstract, and there's simply no logical justification offered for that leap.
6.5.2009 6:39pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Gabriel, the words I used accurately describe your position, even as you've restated it. Your prime fallacy is insisting that the evidence from other cultures is not relevant to our society at all. We are not some separate species of humanity, you know.

It is your assumption that the practice of polygamy is entirely unrelated to whether a society becomes (or remains) backwards, despotic, tyrannical, or whatever. You assume that without providing any evidence of it.

If one looks throughout history and fails to find any advanced, non-oppressive society which practices polygamy, then one can hypothesize that perhaps polygamy is antithetical to modern pluralistic democracy. As I say, it's not proof, and I don't claim it to be proof. I do say that the experiences of other cultures are relevant evidence of human nature, and that we are, ultimately, no different (in terms of our basic human natures) than humans in other cultures.
6.5.2009 7:16pm
Jimmy W (www):
Bart, yes, they will have to support more old people. However, a crisis is also an opportunity. The Chinese distribute education and job training slots based on formalized competition. As the population decrease, it will get easier for people to get into college, the theater companies, dance troupes, and a variety of other semi-governmental entities. Farmers can acquire neighboring land to produce more crops. If they need laborers for specific industries, the Chinese have no qualms toward importing expat labor.

Another factor is the self-destructive behavior common among single males: smoking, drinking, driving fast, gambling, etc. The single males have higher mortality rates, reducing their welfare burden on society.

So the population death spiral will have less effect on GDP per capita than you expect.
6.5.2009 8:57pm
Jimmy W (www):
Pat and Gabriel,

Western culture certainly did not discourage the informal polygamy widespread in Renaissance Europe. Back then, many men of means took on unofficial mistresses. Some of the resulting offspring even had some inheritance rights. So liberal culture does not stop polygyny.
6.5.2009 9:03pm
Toby:
As one of the female students at Cal Tech told one of my kids on a college tour--"the odds are good, but the goods are odd"
6.5.2009 9:44pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
Pat, the Brooks paper is making a positive assertion that there is a relationship between oppressive polygamy and liberal polygamy. I'm disputing that link and arguing that Brooks fails to support it. You're asserting that the burden is on me to prove that there is no link, but that's not the way it works: the burden is on Brooks to show that there is one.

Brooks: A -> B
Me: Sez who?
Pat: Prove that it doesn't.

I don't have to prove that it doesn't, and wouldn't be able to since we have no data to draw on. The point I'm making is not that there is definitely no link, but rather that in the absence of data Brooks has absolutely no justification for assuming there is one.

"We're all human beings" is hardly an adequate support for generalizing from Nigeria to the United States; by that logic one could reasonably assume that people in Western cultures practice all sorts of unsavory behaviors which we have, in reality, long since left behind.
6.5.2009 9:49pm
Joseph White (mail):

by that logic one could reasonably assume that people in Western cultures practice all sorts of unsavory behaviors which we have, in reality, long since left behind.


Like polygamy.
6.5.2009 11:00pm
Desiderius:
G. McCall,

"a hypothetical polygamous, liberal Western culture."

It's not hypothetical, it's already here.
6.5.2009 11:00pm
Donna B. (mail) (www):
The Mosuo Matriarchy

An interesting alternative to polygamy, polyandry, and patriarchs, though not exactly OT.
6.5.2009 11:38pm
theobromophile (www):
Late to the party, but a few thoughts:


Free market theorists may exclude violence from their analysis of economic systems. However, powerful people who want scarce goods and services don't care what the books say. The ability to use force is a commodity too, in the real world.

Agree with NowMDJD. Will combine with an erroneous statement of Gabriel McCall's (i.e. Alaska, despite having a gender imbalance, does not have violence): even in the sane and civilised areas of the world, an excess of males results in violence. Alaska, IIRC, has a very high rate of rape (perhaps twice the national average).

Polygamy made sense in times in which there was a shortage of men (not just a shortage of wealthy men), such as after a war or in a society that would lose a lot of men to hunting, seafaring, or the like. Polygamy would allow everyone a shot at marriage and would also help the society to maximise births (i.e. ensuring that all fertile women are with men).

The problem with polygamy as a wealth-distributing scheme is that, except in societies with vast inequalities of wealth and those in which women have nothing practical to contribute (a very 19th century notion, albeit not a universal truth), polygamy doesn't make sense. A woman might prefer a less-wealthy man (say, 1/2 or 1/3d of the wealth of his rich, hot competitor), but, with that wealth given exclusively to her and her children, it would be an improvement over a polygamous marriage in which four women (and all of their children) shared less than four times that wealth. Also, women don't share well (in case y'all haven't noticed): no, we don't kill each other, but we will make each other's lives a living hell. Few women would voluntarily get into a situation in which they are sharing not just a man's sexuality, but also his affection and devotion.
6.6.2009 12:02am
Fat Man (mail) (www):
"From personal conversations, lots of men think polygamy would be cool."

Clearly, men who have not been married. The idea of having two wives makes me think about Mt. Athos.
6.6.2009 12:07am
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):


To make an analogy with another contentious issue, one cannot usefully predict the societal effects of widespread gunownership among the Swiss, by analyzing the effects of widespread gunownership in inner-city Detroit.

This mistake is often made regarding health care policy.

Singapore has an excellent health care policy, and yet that does not mean that if Los Angeles County adopts that policy, they would achieve the same results.
6.6.2009 12:14am
sestamibi (mail):
Also late to the party, but make the following observations in response:

Desiderius: Absolutely right insofar as we've created a nirvana for the few alpha males who get to breed prolifically while socializing the cost of their offspring (google "Desmond Hatchett", for instance). Beta males, already seething with resentment at having been squeezed out of the job market by intense competition from women, cannot be pushed a whole lot more without the whole system falling apart from their refusal to participation in their looting.

Gabriel McCall: Without offering any opinion on the extent of VAW in Alaska and which groups are chief perpetrators, let's put it in perspective. The most obvious point is that while there might be a severe woman shortage there, we are in fact looking at very few men affected as well. Remember that the entire population of the state is about 500,000, which is about one-third the population of Manhattan.

Jim at FSU: A full treatment of case studies of conditions in which sex ratios get too far out of balance (especially within the most marriageable age cohorts) was provided as far back as 1977 by Marcia Guttentag and John Secord in their book "Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question". Personally, if it were in my power, I'd fix things at about 90-95 (men per 100 women). At that level, even the lamest dweeb (like myself) gets a shot at finding a mate, while women's numbers aren't overwhelming enough to result in them gaining too much political power and governing by "feelings" instead of evidence.

rick.felt: ROTFLMAO!!! Bravo!!
6.6.2009 12:54am
Gabriel Hanna (mail):
If it has been raining, then the sidewalks are wet. But you can't reverse the conditional (if the sidewalks are wet, they could have got wet some other way).

In the case of polygamy and the oppression of women, we don't know which way the conditional goes. In nearly all cultures, throughout all history, women (until very recently in a few places) have been little more than chattels, whether or not polygamy was practiced.

Men are stronger and more violent than women. Men do not have to carry a child. Men do not die in childbirth.

Polygamy may not be the point. The point may be gender imbalance. Polygamy is one way of dealing with it. But I think gender imbalance made women into property.

Think about it. In Europe there hasn't been polygamy for over a thousand years. But there was always a shortage of women. Women died younger than men; childbearing and drudgery saw to that. It was common for men to go through several wives in their lifetime. To be an old childless widow was a terrible fate. No man to protect or provide for you, and no way for you to make a living yourself; you weren't allowed.

Read the Lewis and Clark journals. The Indian men hunted, traded, and made war. The Indian wives did all the manual labour. One example: the man rows the boat across the river, and the wife put it on her back and follows him home. The Lewis and Clark expedition were offered the "use" of Indian wives by nearly every tribe they encountered. And Sacajawea died at age 25.

In the West women have contraception and very few of us do manual labor as our ancestors would understand the term. It may be that polygamy can work for us without lowering the status of women; as women, on the average, have the higher status anyway, as measured by education and employment at any rate.

We have few enough functioning social norms as it is; I am reluctant to experiment further with marriage.
6.6.2009 12:57am
M. Report (mail):
It is always risky to criticize a Heinlein hypothesis;
There is usually an instructive hidden assumption in
there somewhere, which validates his conclusion.

The moon _is_ a harsh mistress; She kills those who do not
meet her high standards for intelligence, honesty, bravery,
and love of freedom, thus producing a superior society,
which in turn arrives at a superior solution to a high
M/F ratio.

Note that Heinlein revisited that society after the moon
had been made safe for mediocrity, and found just that.
6.6.2009 1:05am
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
I'm wondering why you used the term "libertarian" throughout your article instead of "Christian", "Muslim" or better yet "polygamist". There is certainly a much higher correlation between chrisitans and polygamy than libertarians and polygamy. I know of absolutely no libertarian polygamists and none of the great libertarian writers I've read have every advocated polygamy.

Nor is there any ancient meaning of libertarian that subsumes polygamy that I know about. An archaic meaning of libertarian used to mean someone who believed in free will, as in philosophical libertarian. Again, nothing to do with polygamy.

Which left me with the question "Have the wackos over at the libertarian pary added this to their platform?" I then went to look and indeed they had. I'm certainly glad I decided the libertarian label was not for me even though I agree with much of their economic policy.
6.6.2009 8:11am
Paul Rubin (mail):
We can gain a lot of insight on this issue from an evolutionary perspective. In Darwinian Politics (Rutgers Press, 2002) I consider polygamy. Some points:
1. We evolved in polygamous societies and male-male competition explains many observed facts -- larger size of males, greater risk taking of males, male aggressiveness.
2. There are important evolutionary gains to men from multiple wives; we are all descended from successful polygamists. There are no such gains to women from multiple spouses since female fertility is limited and does not depend on number of mates. Males therefore have a much stronger "taste" for polygamy than women for polyandry. Therefore in a libertarian equilibrium, there would be many more polygamous than polyandrous families.
3. Polygamy creates a set of unmarried and unmarriagable males. This is not consistent with an open society; such males are a force for instability in a society. Liberal open societies are almost always (and maybe always) monogamous.
4. Economic theory would indicate that women would gain from polygamy as it would increase their market value. But this does not generally happen. Rather, men engross the value of women (their wives and daughters) and women become porperty

Paul Rubin
Department of Economics and School of Law
Emory University
prubin@emory.edu
6.6.2009 8:13am
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmm.

*shrug* gender imbalance is merely one-half of the issues that stem from the "One Child" policy. The other is the massive number of unsupportable elderly that will comprise some 400+ million of China's population in just a short 40 years. Imagine that. A population of 400+ million 65+ elderly Chinese all past their prime working age, mostly rural and unlikely to have access to advanced medicine or nursing.

The die off from that will be epic.

But the real problem with the situation of "excess males" in China won't be the importation of foreign women instead it will be a stage of extreme territorial expansion by China to use up the excess male population before it completely destabilizes the Chinese society.
6.6.2009 9:46am
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

In nearly all cultures, throughout all history, women (until very recently in a few places) have been little more than chattels, whether or not polygamy was practiced.

I wonder why.

People of Chinese descent do not dominate every culture. How is it that men dominate nearly every culture?
6.6.2009 9:49am
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

There are important evolutionary gains to men from multiple wives; we are all descended from successful polygamists. There are no such gains to women from multiple spouses since female fertility is limited and does not depend on number of mates. Males therefore have a much stronger "taste" for polygamy than women for polyandry. Therefore in a libertarian equilibrium, there would be many more polygamous than polyandrous families.

What would women have to gain by sharing a man?

Are women really more accepting of sharing men than men are of sharing women?
6.6.2009 9:56am
devil's advocate (mail):
Nominate Dan Weber for <i>Best Quip</i> of the thread.

<blockquote>

Q: What's the penalty in Texas for bigamy? A: Two wives.
</blockquote>


theobromophile

<blockquote>
Alaska, IIRC, has a very high rate of rape (perhaps twice the national average)
</blockquote>

Going for the deep cuts on this thread yields a few treasures. Somehow I had presumed that theobromophile was a man from past discourse. Don't know if you take that as a compliment or insult, or can accept as a neutral observation. Perhaps if I had previously taken the time to inquire into the meaning of the moniker, it might have been a bit of a gender clue. Thanks again to wikipedia. I'm not sure that it's partisanship or ideological fervor has yet affected the definition of chocolate, but you never know.

Always better late than never. I wonder if you did notice in the foregoing posts the unanswered proposition that the skewed rate of violence against women in Alaska traces to the native population. If that is so, it would appear to upset the applecart of Alaska as the gender equivalent of <i>Lord of the Flies</i>.

Anyway, nevermind engineering school, what do you suppose the gender ratio is at Volokh?

But bucking the trend I might expect and the nominal misdirection, Gabriel also turns out to be a woman, who I thought was winning her argument, but then seems to have laid down the sword:

<blockquote>
In the West women have contraception and very few of us do manual labor as our ancestors would understand the term. It may be that polygamy can work for us without lowering the status of women; as women, on the average, have the higher status anyway, as measured by education and employment at any rate.

We have few enough functioning social norms as it is; I am reluctant to experiment further with marriage.
</blockquote>

Gabriel - Are you saying that, despite your spirited defense of the abstract proposition that contemporary western society could manifest benign polygamy, you would not encourage an empirical test?

And with deference to the running argument on this thread, shot through on occasion with class distinctions, do respondents here believe that our occidental practice of non-marital polygamy evidences the oppressive tendencies of the oriental marital variety? A <s>rose</s> <i>carrion flower</i> by any other name . . . . Is your view on this affected by whether the non-matrimonial fecundity that evidences this trend is of the self-supprting free love sort or that resulting from/in government incentive payments?

Is it fear of losing control of an otherwise civil thread that has kept the interrelation of these kind of questions to gay marriage on a low boil. I don't wish to incite the hostility that goes along with that topic, but remain fascinated by the question. The obvious point for instance,

substitute in Joe White's <i>touche</i> comment:
<blockquote>

<blockquote>
by that logic one could reasonably assume that people in Western cultures practice all sorts of unsavory behaviors which we have, in reality, long since left behind.
</blockquote>




Like <s>polygamy</s> <b><i>gay marriage</i></b>.
</blockquote>

I wouldn't say there has been the same kind of overt widespread empirical trial of gay marriage. Certainly, to the extent that the comparison is east and west, the eastern approach has offered even less empirical teaching. But, if the style of argument is rather that the west has built a stable just society on a relatively minarchist model that has nonetheless adopted into its rule of law cultural prohibitions on recognizing certain household arrangements thought less than beneficial -- by implication perhaps even to those who would engage them -- then this substitution by analogy works.


Brian

PS -Eugene, as you might imagine I would argue, please don't adopt a comments engine that doesn't provide for easy use of strike-through. Is there an html tag for underlining recognized by the current engine?
6.6.2009 10:25am
devil's advocate (mail):
funny, I ask an html question and html shuts down on my post. don't have any idea how I turned it off.

brian
6.6.2009 10:31am
Spartee:
"But the real problem ... will be a stage of extreme territorial expansion by China to use up the excess male population before it completely destabilizes the Chinese society."

If true, you will see this coming 5-6 years out, since training, organizing, equipping, mobilizing, deploying and engaging armies on that scale takes years, not days, weeks or months.

Are we seeing any "green shoots" signs of that sort of societal militarization in China? (Real question)
6.6.2009 10:32am
Spartee:
"What would women have to gain by sharing a man?

Are women really more accepting of sharing men than men are of sharing women?"

I think it was G.B. Shaw who noted that women would rather have 1/10 of a first rate man than all of a third rate one."
6.6.2009 10:51am
devil's advocate (mail):
Brian


"Have the wackos over at the libertarian pary added [polygamy]
to their platform?"


I do think even the little "l" focuses on free will these days, and that subsumes notions like polygamy.

Here I would agree with Gabriel that cultural evidence of harm to individual women who live uner polygamous circumstances is largely dependent on the cultural context and thus does not translate to a natural law bar on the practice or some moral rule that a libertarian ought to adopt.

Those who test libertarian invention with Burke's cynicism probably arrive at the same result that you do, but I wouldn't define that answer as the libertarian answer. Depending on the filter applied, it might be utilitarian but that seems quite distinct from libertarian.

Paul

Thoughtful contributions but to be true to my own moniker (which I think knows no gender - an obscure reference to my last post. -- that might be redundant):


There are important evolutionary gains to men from multiple wives; we are all descended from successful polygamists. There are no such gains to women from multiple spouses since female fertility is limited and does not depend on number of mates. Males therefore have a much stronger "taste" for polygamy than women for polyandry. Therefore in a libertarian equilibrium, there would be many more polygamous than polyandrous families.


first let me cite Paul's use of "libertarian equilibrium" for support of my previous point.

second -- what about the possibility that by multiple spouses (and careful use of them) a woman could be less penalized for choosing wrong. So if you choose several men you have a better chance of having chosen good or complimentary genes and thus a better evolutionary outcome for your maternal gene contribution.

With men, multiple spouses could mean virtually the same thing, depending on familial resource constraints, or it might mean more because the man would produce more progeny as well as more varied progeny.

So the effect could be magnified for men, but is it the null set you allege for women?

Brian
6.6.2009 10:57am
ken in sc (mail):
I read a sociology journal article a few years ago, which described the interrelationship between polygamy and institutional slavery in ancient Africa. Village leaders, who had multiple wives, would round up troublemaking unmarried young men, and send them to the king. The king would sale them to passing caravans. This became a major source of the king’s wealth and a quota system was developed. This is as about an unequal system as you can get, and it was all based on polygamy.
6.6.2009 10:59am
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmm.

@ Spartee


"If true, you will see this coming 5-6 years out, since training, organizing, equipping, mobilizing, deploying and engaging armies on that scale takes years, not days, weeks or months."


Not really. The issue here is that you are applying -US Army- levels of training and equipment -not- Chinese. You have to remember that, prior to the economic surge in trade with the USA, Chinese infantry was very very light. For decades the average Chinese infantryman was not mechanized or motorized and carried a weeks worth of rice, an AK-47 and 50-100 rounds of ammunition.

In comparison a US Army infantryman will ride into battle on a Stryker or Bradley, carry some rations though most gear will remain in the vehicle and carry 1,000+ rounds of ammunition.

The reality is that you can very quickly, and cheaply, train a Chinese light infantry force in about 6 months. Particularly if your potential opponents aren't up to US Army standards.


"Are we seeing any "green shoots" signs of that sort of societal militarization in China? (Real question)"


What we are seeing is territorial expansion through colonization. It's happening in Siberia, which must be giving the Russians some issues even as Russia's population will be cut by half in just 40 years. It's happening in Africa where colonizing Chinese are starting to supplant native Africans.

There are a lot of different ways to conquer territory. One way is with guns. Another way is with a surging population that pushes into third world nations and overwhelms native populations.
6.6.2009 12:29pm
AHA (mail):
A recent CSIS publication, The Graying of the Great Powers discusses the gender imbalance in some detail; the other big story for China's demographics is that it is also aging rapidly, and that it may become old before it becomes rich (assuming that the financial crisis doesn't stall it in any case).
6.6.2009 12:30pm
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmm.

Don't forget China's significant problems with corruption in it's banking system. Nobody really knows the total amount of NPL's (Non-Performing Loans or defaulted loans) the Chinese banks are holding onto. This is in part because of Hank Paulson, of Dept of Treasury fame, who helped the Chinese banks "securitize" their NPLs into stocks and then sell them to unwary investors. But the guesstimate is that it's around $3+ trillion dollars.

This money is from personal savings by Chinese citizens for when they get older. If you have millions of Chinese becoming elderly -and- a collapsing banking system because the depositors have become withdrawers then that's another serious issue.
6.6.2009 12:51pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):
No evidence regarding the societal impacts of various marriage forms is at all relevant to advanced, Western society unless it comes from an advanced, Western society.


Perhaps what we're seeing is evidence that you don't get to be an advanced, Western society in the first place unless you first give up polygamy.
6.6.2009 2:15pm
A. Non E. Mouse (mail):
Isn't widespread serial monogamy (marital or otherwise) de facto polygamy?

The lessened risk of bad decisions, and group pressure to enforce positive family norms, could be an argument for group marriage. That could even be a step beyond limited concepts of polygyny and polyandry because it could be both--multiple men and women involved. If one member was abusive or a loser, the whole group could enforce better behavioral norms, to stop abusive behavior or loserly behavior and attitudes.

It's sort of taking the "pack dating hookup" group ethic of young people and familizing it. Maybe the millenials will be the first to do it successfully. If they are liberal minded on SSM then they are likely to be open minded on polygamy and group marriage.

It takes a village to get everyone's rocks off on a consistent basis, to breed, to raise offspring, to look after each other through the ups and downs of a lifetime. Perhaps less pressureful than strictly enforced dual monogamy.

I can think of people I wouldn't mind being in a group marriage with.
6.6.2009 3:02pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
devil's advocate, you've overlooked surnames: there are two Gabriels posting in this thread. Gabriel Hanna is reluctant to experiment further with marriage; I have no such qualms. I'm male and would expect that G. Hanna is also; the feminine form of the name is usually Gabrielle. The text "In the West women have contraception and very few of us do manual labor as our ancestors would understand the term." could almost as easily be read with "us" meaning "Westerners" as meaning "women".
6.6.2009 3:18pm
Desiderius:
Gabriel Hanna,

"It may be that polygamy can work for us without lowering the status of women"

There's no can about it. De facto polygamy raises the status of low-status women by giving them access to high-status genes for their offspring, or it would if the low-status women who pursue this strategy were more skilled in figuring out who the high-status men actually are. Tragically, many of those who pursue this strategy often do so in their late teens/early twenties and thus are easily deluded by the local Kevin Federline.

Doesn't mean that polygamy doesn't further their (narrow) self-interest over the alternatives, particularly when subsidized by the state, not least in the Family Court system.

The nub of the problem is not not the status of females, but that of low-status males, who are stuck raising the offspring of the high-status males who beat them to the punch, if they want any offspring at all, rather than, say, a life on World of Warcraft.
6.6.2009 9:42pm
tsotha:
Are we seeing any "green shoots" signs of that sort of societal militarization in China? (Real question)

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "societal militarization", but Chinese military capability has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. For the first time since 1949 if they decided to invade Taiwan we couldn't stop them. They're fielding weapon systems (like carriers) they've never fielded in the past, and the quality of complicated systems like jet fighters and communications systems has taken a quantum leap even in just the last decade.

But war is different than it was in 1915. You don't win by grinding your enemy down, and you don't take millions of casualties in any event. War will not be a solution to their population imbalance, especially given the other powers in the region either have nuclear weapons, like India, or could have them on very short order (Korea and Japan).
6.6.2009 10:01pm
M. Report (mail):
What will China do ? A multifaceted
question, with many possible answers.

A simple question; Is there _any_ answer
which does not mean grief for the U. S. ?

It might be in our best interest to help
save China from itself - for a small fee.

We sell them a 21st century infrastructure,
capable of sustaining their population for
another generation, by which time they can
buy, for a small additional fee, genetic
mixing techniques which would give every
male a very personal interest in several
children, and every female a superior
child.

See also the relevant sub-plot in
John Brunner's "Stand On Zanzibar"
6.7.2009 12:22am
ReaderY:
Dare I point out that same-sex marriage has precisely the same potential to cause an imbalance of the sexes as sex-selective abortion? There's no reason to assume homsexual behavior will be sexually balanced in practice as it develops in the culture. There are plenty of cultures where it's been done more in one sex than the other. Such an imbalance has the risk of causing precisely the problem Professor Anderson describes.

And I think Professor Anderson has done a good job explaining the potential social consequences of that problem. A sexual imbalance in the population carries a risk of igniting forces that can lead to the subjugation and chattelization of women. Professor Anderson's explanation that shortages of women lead to their being more valuable while simultaneously more likely to be treated as chattel is interesting.

It's truly unfortunate that the Supreme Court emotionalized the subject with its rhapsody about transcendence and it fervent, emotionally-based faith that the only reason for the taboos involved were irrational. When Justices behave like that, it stops rational discourse about a subject cold. There may well be a way around the problems, but pretending they don't exist, particulary if accompanied by ex cathedra emotional declamations that no problems exist, isn't going to lead to finding any solutions.
6.7.2009 5:29am
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):
I think it was G.B. Shaw who noted that women would rather have 1/10 of a first rate man than all of a third rate one."

Maybe some women, but not the vast majority, since the vast majority would be offended if their husbands were to cheat on them.

I wonder why women would be more prone to sharing a man than men would be prone to sharing a woman.
6.7.2009 11:57am
Jimmy W (www):
Mouse:
There is too much incentive for free riders in a "group marriage". also, the group will quickly pair off, going "steady". people may change partners from time to time, but the group itself is inherently unstable. have you ever been friends with both the male and female of an ex-relationship?

Ed:
Russia has big problems with the Chinese de facto colonization of Siberia. Their response is official harrassment of the Chinese communities in Siberia, and periodic, semi-official, anti-Chinese riots in Moscow and other big cities.

The NPLs primarily come from politically-connected real estate developers. The state will bail them out, thus contributing to the moderate inflation in China.

AHA:
China will not necessarily gray. Life expectancy of male and female can be dramatically different, as we see in Russia with chronic alcoholism. In China with its formalized competition system for job entry, education, etc, we can expect the male losers (of competitions) to be relatively poorer than the male bottom rung in Western societies. Therefore, the low status males will engage in more self-destructive behavior such as drinking, smoking, gambling, etc, all of which decrease life expectancy. The lowered male life expectancy means that the future work force will not be unduly stressed in supporting old people, and the demographic profile will remain somewhat stable.
6.7.2009 12:19pm
Desiderius:
Michael Ejercito,

"I wonder why women would be more prone to sharing a man than men would be prone to sharing a woman."

Because its physiologically impossible for woman to unwittingly raise another woman's child. Not so for men.
6.7.2009 5:26pm
newscaper (mail):
Regarding group marriage (multiple males and females -- and yes, I was/am a big Heinlein fan)...
for the love of god, its been tried in the late 60s early 70s in the hippie communes, and even in a few late 1800s groups IIRC, and fallen apart *every* time. And in the larger field of anthropology, I believe its a rarer bird than even polyandry and SSM.

PLEASE, people, dust off a copy of The Red Queen by Matt Ridley to get the popularized starting point on what evolution (rather than cultural anthropologists who geenrlly ignore it) has to say about these issues.

Someone else said
"I think it was G.B. Shaw who noted that women would rather have 1/10 of a first rate man than all of a third rate one."

Quite possibly -- at first. Then she would start doing her damnedest to connive to have more, if not all, of Mr. First Rate for herself and her offspring. History and literature are full of the havoc this can cause.

That so many 'libertarians' can't even seem to bring themselves to acknowledge some serious tension between what we would like to allow in the interests of individual liberty yet which could have have grave negative [external] consequences if practiced on a wide scale, is a large part of why I find the libertarian label fits me less and less these days. Simply asserting 'but that won't happen' is no counter argument. In their own way, in their insistence on relying on the checks and balances of an ideal (and utopian in the literal sense) 'free market' to discourage counterproductive human behavior, the purist libertarians are as blind as the Marxists, only seeing economics and not cultural values.

It is baffling to me that the presumed idea-oriented folks are oblivious to the power of non-economic motives, much less stubborn human nature.
6.7.2009 11:02pm
markm (mail):
"If one looks throughout history and fails to find any advanced, non-oppressive society which practices polygamy, then one can hypothesize that perhaps polygamy is antithetical to modern pluralistic democracy."

An advanced, non-oppressive society has only been invented once - starting in northwestern Europe (but still pretty oppressive), developing further in the USA, then imported back to European nations and spread to their other colonies with varying success. A few more non-European nations without a colonial history have tried to copy it, again with varying success. So far, there are really only two unambiguously advanced and rarely oppressive cultures - western Europe and the white English colonies share one, and Japan is the other. The sample size is too small to draw solid conclusions.

In the past, women were second class citizens everywhere. That's simply a function of their lower strength; until Samuel Colt found a way to mass-produce revolvers, women could not defend themselves adequately, and they had a much smaller choice of jobs until industrialization lowered the strength requirement of most jobs. It took a century for those changes to pass through our society and reach their conclusion; polygamous societies may have just been in a worse position to industrialize or slower to adapt.

It is actually likely that polygamous societies advance slower, but it isn't because of polygamy; instead, polygyny with a large class of men with little prospect of marriage has generally been a symptom of a society with wealth and power greatly concentrated in a few men. Such societies are resistant to most advances, because what good are they for the guys at the top?

There are a couple of other widespread polygynous social patterns. There were Polynesian cultures where, if the reports are accurate, the chiefs married all the women, but were willing to "share" with men who earned the privilege. That seems like a terrible power imbalance, but remember the more "advanced" middle-eastern and Chinese societies where men often had themselves castrated for better job opportunities. OTOH, the white men who wrote about the Polynesians often murdered those chiefs and stole their land, so they just might have exaggerated.

A more common pattern is polygyny in very primitive societies, hunter-gatherer or just barely agricultural with small or no cities, such as most native American tribes. These societies do not have great differences in wealth or power among mature men, but often there was a very high death rate among young men. Also there were often requirements that a boy prove himself a man and accumulate a bride price that delayed male marriageability five to ten years past the age when females were married. (I didn't say there weren't great power differences between men and "boys", but there weren't any men forced into permanent bachelorhood.) There was a great excess of marriageable women, and so someone had to marry more than one...

This does suggest that polygyny is generally a symptom of some kind of societal problem. With 30+ years of marriage, I also consider it unlikely that many men would be able to handle two wives, unless women are too downtrodden to make trouble. It's a lot less clear whether governmental action to try to ban polygyny will help anything. It doesn't change the underlying problem, and it's likely to leave many of the women worse off - instead of the women being in a recognized relationship with rights to support, men with polygynist tendencies in our society leave a trail of mistresses, single mothers, and cast-off first wives. (Aside from the Mormons, and in many ways they're even worse.)


Finally, in parts of most American cities, there is a population with a severe shortage of marriageable men. A substantial percentage of the young men are absent much of the time, because they're in prison. And they aren't the only ones that are such dismal marital prospects that a woman is better off without them, even as a single mother. The ones that stay out of jail aren't necessarily making a living honestly, they often just lack the gumption to do much of anything, and if a woman takes one of them in, she'll wind up supporting him. For a woman whose job prospects range from McDonalds to a cleaning service, they're a disaster.

Monogamy isn't working for these women - not that I would expect they would do much better under legal polygamy. They aren't what a rich man would look to marry, if he was sufficiently unwise to even want two wives.
6.7.2009 11:55pm
Cactus Wren:
Connie @9:51: "So there is nothing that can be done to raise the status of women above that of property?"

Apparently not, considering that the very first comment in the thread asks whether they can't be shared.
6.8.2009 1:41am
Ken Adler (mail):
Or maybe 5% of that 32 million surplus will just come out the closet and the China will see a demand for gay rights. This week is Shanghai pride and there are gay bars and saunas all over Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

Just a thought

Ken
6.8.2009 12:00pm
FOARP (mail) (www):
Have to say that this smacks of an unfamiliarity with China. The truth is that China has been a polygamous society for a very long time, and that its abolition in 1912, and enforcement of that abolition with the rise of the communists, has not actually changed that much. The vast majority of reasonably wealthy men continue to have at least one or more girlfriends (or 'second wives' - 小老婆) whom they will pay upkeep and rent for. This is traditional, and was only temporarily suppressed by the communists, and is one of the main reasons why mainland China now hosts millions of Taiwanese and Hong Kong men who could not otherwise use their relative wealth to gain such a position. The biggest effect, therefore, of a shortage in womenfolk is not polyandry, but the sentencing of a generation of young men to lonely lives as their usually richer and more physically attractive counter-parts continue on as they might have before.

Where women do gain is that they can use their position to find relatively more faithful/wealthy/physically attractive men. They can also use their position to ensure before their marriage that they will receive various freedoms, and may be more willing to resort to divorce in the face of marital dispute secure in the knowledge that there may be other men available. Marriage may also be delayed until later safe in the knowledge that the man has fewer alternatives. Women are therefore more liberated perhaps in their relations with their husbands, but the idea that they will adopt culturally/biologically male practices such as multiple partners is ridiculous.

Have women become more commoditised (if that's a word)? I would say this is much more the effect of economic liberalisation than it is of the sex disbalance. It is also the result of an actual surplus in women in cities like Shenzhen, which disproportionately attract women from the countryside, many of whom work as hostesses, prostitutes and the like, earning sums which would be difficult for them to earn at home, as well as impossible for them to do where their family members might find out about it. The fact that so many women are willing to perform such work may also add to them being seen more as a commodity.
6.8.2009 1:19pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

Women are therefore more liberated perhaps in their relations with their husbands, but the idea that they will adopt culturally/biologically male practices such as multiple partners is ridiculous.

Why would women be less prone to have multiple partners than men?


The biggest effect, therefore, of a shortage in womenfolk is not polyandry, but the sentencing of a generation of young men to lonely lives as their usually richer and more physically attractive counter-parts continue on as they might have before.

That depends on the divorce rate in China.
6.8.2009 9:01pm
denelian (mail):
this is a really interesting discussion (i read my first Heinlein novel at age nine while stuck in the hospital again). but...
but there was something said that everyone appears to have ignored.
sestamibi said that s/he (i assume male, from the statement, but *could* be female) would like a ratio of approx 9men:10women - because that way all men were "ensured" a chance at a wife, while (and i quote) "women's numbers aren't overwhelming enough to result in them gaining too much political power and governing by "feelings" instead of evidence."

this may seem a little over the top in response, but it's been a bad time since last Sunday for us women.

so let me say this: most men are good men, in that they wouldn't do something bad. most men are bad men, in that they won't generally speak out against the men who *do* commit sexual crimes. having stated that, i follow with this - the gender that gets away with running around raping women because "men can't control their sexual urges" really doesn't have any moral or intellectual high ground from which to cast stones at women for being "unable to control their emotions". if i "pms" (stands for "putting up with men's sh!t", just ask Heinlein) and can't "control" my reactions, i might make some of the people around me slightly unhappy. if a man rapes a women because he can't "control" his reactions, he is destroying at a minimum one life... and men who rape once have probably raped, or will rape, more. the number of rapists compared to the number of men is very small; rapists make up a small percentage of any population - but every time anyone says "he couldn't help himself, he saw her ankles" or whatever, that person is aiding and abetting the rape of a person and the terrorizing of half the populace.

i like a lot of libertarian views, and a large portion of the ideaology, i consider myself a "rational anarchist" akin to the Professor in Moon is a Harsh Mistress. i'm great with libertarians until i run into things like this... not that someone stated something so incredibly ignorant, but that no one said to the commenter that it was wrong. or at least uncool.

(betcha someone accuses me of posting my "feelings".)
6.9.2009 1:02am
Jack Sprat (mail):
Dear Mr. Anderson,

As someone who has lived among Mormons for many years, I feel compelled to point out that two of your statements regarding Mormonism and polygamy are phrased in such a way as to perpetuate false stereotypes. I'm sure this was unintentional on your part.

First, you wrote: "My (lapsed) Mormon background rendered me quite unoffended by the concept of plural marriage as such." In my experience, many (most?) faithful, practicing Mormons find the concept of plural marriage offensive. That you don't find it offensive is, I believe, less a result of your self-professed "lapsed Mormon background" than it is a result of your own personal value system. The way you expressed it could give the false impression that Mormons are comfortable with the concept of polygamy. They aren't. Most are as troubled by the implications a daily life in a plural marriage as the average American.

Second, you wrote: "Again, my moderate libertarianism gives way to social realities - no doubt informed by my Mormon upbringing, which left me on the one hand the least offended person in the world by the idea of polygamy, but on the other hand a very detailed understanding of what it means in practice, for women but also for surplus men and boys." As you well know, Mormon doctrine expressly forbids the practice of plural marriage (and has for more than 100 years), and so unless you are very, very old it is simply inconceivable that your Mormon upbringing left you "a very detailed understanding of what it means in practice". Any understanding you may possess of polygamy is a result of your own study of the subject, and not a result of your Mormon upbringing. Your phrasing could give the false impression that polygamy is or has been a part of Mormonism over the last century. It is not and has not.

Again, I'm sure these false impressions were unintentional on your part, but I wanted to set the record straight lest a casual reader come away with an incorrect understanding.
6.9.2009 3:14am

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