Information and Order

Hundreds of conservative economists have followed Friedrich Hayek into the intellectual swamp of “spontaneous order” and self-organization…

Predictability and order are not spontaneous and cannot be left to the invisible hand. It takes a low-entropy carrier (no surprises) to bear high-entropy information (full of surprisal). In capitalism, the predictable carriers are the rule of law, the maintenance of order, the defense of property rights, the reliability and restraint of regulation, the transparency of accounts, the stability of money, the discipline and futurity of family life, and a level of taxation commensurate with a modest and predictable role of government.

That is George Gilder, in his new book Knowledge and Power. Here is one review. My advice is to be skeptical toward anyone who would either laud the book uncritically or dismiss it categorically.

I was not very far into it before I determined that it is self-recommending in several senses of the word. I saw so much that pertains to my world view that I looked myself up in the index. I found, among several entries, this:

the source of the title for my book was Arnold Kling, Unchecked and Unbalanced: How the Discrepancy Between Knowledge and Power Caused the Financial Crisis and Threatens Democracy…which begins; “This book represents an attempt to explore the problem of the discrepancy between the trends in two phenomena: knowledge is becoming more diffuse, while political power is becoming more concentrated.” My book shows that Kling’s insight finds deep roots in the information theory that underlies the modern world economy.

Generally speaking, the thinkers Gilder attacks are more renowned than those, like me, he spares. Several of the attacks are caricatures (his misrepresentation of Burton Malkiel is particularly glaring). He devotes nearly an entire chapter to an attack on “Tyler Cowan,” and I leave it to Tyler Cowen to determine whether his ideas are as misconstrued as his name.

I will compose a longer review, emphasizing what I find valuable about the book, later.

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45 Responses to Information and Order

  1. Ajay says:

    Wow, must be tough to review a book where the author pulled his title in homage to yours and builds his work around the insight from your book. ;)

    At first I was confused by his bashing of Hayek’s ideas on self-organization followed by praise for your point about distributed knowledge, seemed contradictory. However, I read more carefully and he simply seems to be saying that the market cannot provide certain core functions of “predictability and order,” marking himself as a small-govt conservative and not a libertarian. I saw him on Reason TV once, where he talked about how problematic homosexuality was, so he’s clearly more in the social con vein.

    I’d like to see a debate between him and David Friedman, Milton’s son, hell, I’d like to see David Friedman debate anybody who could come even close to engaging him. I’d be throwing money at my screen for that. :)

    • shrikanthk says:

      I find him very wise. His wisdom on the “feminization” of men in the western world and the resultant decline in innovation have proven to be very prescient.

      I don’t like the dichotomy libertarians draw between “free market conservative” and “social conservative”. The two go together. The libertarian obstinacy not to accept this is baffling.

      • Ajay says:

        Nobody said “free market conservative,” I said “small-govt conservative,” precisely because of his socially conservative views. I find it baffling that conservatives sometimes claim to believe in free markets, yet would often constrict what people do in their bedroom or smoking room, let alone their strange beliefs on labor markets, with the immigration issue.

        • shrikanthk says:

          Well. Contrary to what libertarians think, the “free market” doesn’t promote personal freedom as much as it massively increases personal responsibility!

          In fact conservatives grasp this. And have always believed “personal responsibility and morality” to be a greater ideal than “personal liberty”. Markets need morals as a pre-requisite. Also they promote the “moral” life as a consequence.

          Markets by their very nature promote inequality and create losers. These “losers” need religion and conventional morality to retain their balance and stop turning reactionary. They need the family without which they will be wards of the state.

    • Ajay says:

      I’m going to stop replying to the previous comment, because of the ridiculous amount of indentation that WordPress adds as we keep doing that.

      The free market promotes personal freedom and responsibility, they go hand in hand. Markets have traditionally needed some level of trust and fair dealing, which is increasingly not the case as people deal more and more online with complete strangers, using new online mechanisms to track reputation and arbitrate disputes. To go from those limited needs of markets to needing “morals” is a pretty big jump.

      Perhaps personal responsibility incents the specific “moral” life that you prefer, perhaps it doesn’t. If it does, you don’t need laws against gay marriage or drugs to secure those “moral” lives, the market already pushes people in that direction.

      Markets may depend on some inequality, not sure they “promote” it, but there are basically no “losers” in a free market. We see that the poorest in the US are usually richer than the richest in less-free market countries, tough to call them losers. ;) But I’ll grant that the “poor” in the US usually need some stability and guidance, whether from religion or AA or friends and family.

      Where we may disagree is that you may want to enact laws to help them, say by banning drugs or prostitution or introducing taxes favoring the nuclear family that you support, whereas I think they will tend to match up with the best situation for them of their own accord and would rather leave the govt out of it.

      • shrikanthk says:

        “Gay marriage” doesn’t promote freedom! In fact marriage by definition is a restriction on one’s rights. Not an expansion! It is an institution evolved over tens of thousands of years keeping in mind the asymmetries that exist between the two genders and the unique procreative nature of the relationship. No reason why those laws should get transferred to homosexual relationships!

        Gays seeking marriage is akin to Muslims seeking incorporation in Hindu caste system or American football players seeking to play as per “Association Football” laws!

        No thoughtful conservative opposes gay behavior! Nobody can control what one does in one’s bedroom. But that doesn’t mean you overturn millenia of civilizational wisdom to perversely apply laws in ways that it doesn’t make sense.

      • shrikanthk says:

        Also many conservatives today favour decriminalization of drugs and prostitution, liberalizing gun control among other things. There is more common ground between conservatives and libertarians in that regard than most people think.

        The difference lies essentially in the tone of arguments. Conservatives favour the free market and small govt because a statist, bureaucratic state can push us towards barbarism in the civilization-barbarism axis. Libertarians favour the free market not because it promotes our civilization but because “freedom” is an end in itself. They tend to downplay the fact that “freedom” is a burden in itself and one needs traditional morality to help people bear this burden well.

      • shrikanthk says:

        Regarding your comment on “losers” in US.
        History teaches us that it is inequality that promotes strife and jealousy not the absolute level of squalor.

        People have a greater peace of mind in a uniformly poor agrarian society than in an industrial society where the poorest man may be reasonably well-provided for but the difference in wealth is massive across individuals.

        No wonder violent political movements like Communism, Fascism and Nazism captured the imagination of the “masses” in the 19th/20th centuries. Not in the 12th or 13th centuries.

    • Ajay says:

      Gay marriage may or may not restrict the married’s freedom, on net, but not allowing them to make that choice of marriage certainly is a restriction of their freedom to choose. The procreative aspects of marriage law may not always apply- they can adopt and females can give birth but cannot create an embryo of their own- but the partnership aspects do.

      Like any good libertarian, I’d just get marriage out of the law and have it be a contract like any other. That said, this issue certainly isn’t a deal-breaker for me, like it seems to be for others, particularly the young: I’d gladly delay gay marriage another couple decades if we could cut $1 trillion in spending this year. Unfortunately, nobody is offering me that choice. ;)

      We “overturn millenia of civilizational wisdom” all the time. With the advent of birth control, unmarried couples engage in pre-marital sex all the time, as there is little risk of children. That would have been frowned upon in many “civilized” societies, because you’d soon get pregnant and have to get hitched, possibly to someone who wasn’t a good long-term pairing for you. Similarly, gay couples adopt children nowadays, as we know and generally accept such homosexual relationships and families, unlike the past when “civilization” might have considered it abnormal.

      We have to reason about what “civilized” traditions to keep and what to throw away, just as we reason about the science and technology that makes such change possible. We will make mistakes, but that is far better than blindly following received “wisdom.”

      I don’t know that that “many conservatives today favour decriminalization of drugs and prostitution,” but I hope you’re right. You say “that ‘freedom’ is a burden in itself and one needs traditional morality to help people bear this burden well” and that the free market “promotes our civilization.” These are somewhat vague statements, particularly if you believe they allow for legal drugs and prostitution, ;) but I’d say instead that freedom allows for a plurality of moralities and “civilizations,” the old
      Isaiah Berlin insight
      .

      You say that “History teaches us that it is inequality that promotes strife and jealousy not the absolute level of squalor.” I don’t know about that: I think if we all weren’t so rich in the US, perhaps the recent inequality and recession would have caused a lot more strife. Has there ever been a “uniformly poor agrarian society?” Even the founders of the US owned dozens of slaves that likely made them as unequally wealthy as any CEO today, not to mention medieval kings and their vast accumulations of power.

      Perhaps there was no communism in the twelfth century, but it certainly was very violent. I don’t think one has to have “traditional morality” to keep socialism from taking root in a society that isn’t rigidly egalitarian. There are many other, richer possibilities we can consider, libertarianism among them. :)

      • shrikanthk says:

        The 12th century was violent. But violence in medieval times was to a great extent instigated by the “powers that be”. Instigated by the vanity of Kings and Queens often with a religious motive to boot. It was not the handiwork of political ideologies that gripped the masses! Therein lies the difference between 12th cen violence and 20th cen violence.

        Re your points on “overturning civilizational wisdom” : No noted conservative (atleast in the Anglo saxon world) campaigns against pre-marital sex these days! Conservatives have been more flexible in changing their agendas than they are often given credit for!

        However even the “sexual revolution” (that has been accepted grudgingly by even conservatives since the 60s) has not been an unmitigated success. Teenage pregnancy rates may not be much higher than in the past. However the number of unmarried teens is significantly higher than in the 30s/40s. Not a very pleasant trend from any point of view. Just goes to show that positive peer influence and traditional pressures are so much more effective in developing discipline than any amount of sex education.

      • shrikanthk says:

        It’s interesting that you say “libertarianism” is a richer option of preventing socialism from taking root in an inegalitarian society.

        Given the general disinclination towards cultural conservatism, why don’t I find a huge wellspring of support for libertarianism around me? The 2012 election clearly indicated that there really isn’t a libertarian constituency. The youth in particular are overwhelmingly in favour of Obama. It’s pretty evident they don’t like “freedom” the way you and I define it. Because they seem to grasp better than most libertarians that a smaller govt invariably means a more culturally conservative, conformist society. They believe in the causal link between the two. And as a result prefer Obama over Romney.

    • Ajay says:

      So you don’t think that Hitler and Mussolini were the “powers that be” for the 20th century? There have always been string-pullers who use the dominant ideologies of their time to rise to power and wreck havoc, whether using religion a millenium ago or communism a century ago. The only difference was that you could spread your ideology much wider with the mass communications of a century ago, ie the printing press, radio, etc, and that we had almost perfected mass killing by then, with machine guns and bombs. But I don’t think there was anything fundamentally new in using ideology to drive the violence.

      If conservatives can lessen their concern for pre-marital sex, my point is they should do the same for gay marriage. I don’t view “the number of unmarried teens” as much of an indicator in itself. Arnold talks about how subsidizing home ownership doesn’t instill the character traits that homeowners have, well, the same for marriage. Marriage is not an end in itself; what matters is the number of bad parents, whether unmarried teens or married adults. Far too many people are pushed into marriage and parenthood even today, outdated traditions that are still unfortunately the norm.

      “Given the general disinclination towards cultural conservatism, why don’t I find a huge wellspring of support for libertarianism around me? The 2012 election clearly indicated that there really isn’t a libertarian constituency.”

      After Obama and Romney, the next most popular candidates were both libertarians, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, both with heavy youth support. Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican, is considered the early front-runner for the Republican nomination. Perhaps that isn’t a “huge wellspring” but fiscal conservatism hasn’t been popular in my lifetime, even among Republicans, and libertarians are the most fiscally conservative group out there. The youth, of whatever stripe, are largely for freedom in the social sphere, that battle is over. But you’re probably right that there’s only a minority that favor as much economic freedom as the libertarians do.

      “Because they seem to grasp better than most libertarians that a smaller govt invariably means a more culturally conservative, conformist society. They believe in the causal link between the two. And as a result prefer Obama over Romney.”

      I don’t see that all. Whether govt grows or shrinks, the trend has been towards much more diversity, driven by technological forces like the internet and all kinds of other changes, like cheap flights. All govt does is increasingly eat more and more into that richness of our daily lives. Those who support Obama simply don’t see that financial drain, while viewing him as a symbol of that variety.

      • shrikanthk says:

        The youth, of whatever stripe, are largely for freedom in the social sphere

        The youth have always been for freedom in the “social sphere” as you put it. Be it in 1848 or 1968 or in 2013!

        Yet the ground realities of civilized existence tend to impose limits on that freedom. In fact the story of the last 150 years has been increased freedom in the “social sphere” and reduced freedom in the “economic sphere” – a massive expansion of the government. The two trends have coincided, but I suspect it’s definitely not a co-incidence!

        If conservatives can lessen their concern for pre-marital sex, my point is they should do the same for gay marriage

        Well. These are two different things. Pre-marital sex is as old as Adam and Eve! It was prevalent in society throughout the ages and was hardly something that surfaced in the 60s. We all know that pre-marital sex is older than marital sex!

        Gay marriage on the other hand is totally unprecedented in the history of civilization anywhere in the world. It may sound “chic” or “cool” at the moment. But we’ve no idea how things will pan out in the long run. By long run I don’t mean the next 10-20 years, but over the next 200-300 years. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said – “The life of the law is not logic, but experience”.

        There is no reason why such a civilizational risk should be taken to further a cause which doesn’t really “advance liberties”, but actually restricts freedom (because marriage by definition is a legal contract, not a “right”).

        Far too many people are pushed into marriage and parenthood even today, outdated traditions that are still unfortunately the norm.

        Nobody ever gets pushed into marriage. The reality is people want to get married because they seek legal protection given the asymmetric nature of the relationship. The world is more “monogamous” today than it was 600 years ago. And in my book monogamous marriage is one of the bedrocks of Western civilization and very vital to the rise of the West. Even oriental countries like India are more strictly monogamous today than they were say in 1500 – this is an outcome of the Westernization of that country over the past 250 years

        • shrikanthk says:

          At any rate thanks for a very good discussion!

          Just a clarification : I am a bit of a libertarian myself. And I don’t favour any legislation to further “conservative” causes. The debate arose because of our very different reactions to that George Gilder video. You probably abhor his cultural stances, while I see wisdom in them and understand where he’s coming from.

          Nevertheless I do not favour any legislative intervention to “change” culture (be it conservative intervention or liberal intervention of the “gay marriage” variety).

          I like the idea of a low-entropy carrier as articulated by Gilder. The two key elements of this carrier are “the rule of law” and “traditional values”.

    • Ajay says:

      “The youth have always been for freedom in the ‘social sphere’ as you put it. Be it in 1848 or 1968 or in 2013!”

      Right, my point was that a lot of social freedom has already been achieved, so that there isn’t really a driving issue on that front at the moment, like racial equality was in the past. Gay marriage comes the closest, with marijuana legalization maybe the next big one, but these just aren’t that important, at least on their own.

      “Yet the ground realities of civilized existence tend to impose limits on that freedom. In fact the story of the last 150 years has been increased freedom in the “social sphere” and reduced freedom in the “economic sphere” – a massive expansion of the government. The two trends have coincided, but I suspect it’s definitely not a co-incidence!”

      Not quite, it all depends on how you’re counting. ;) We’re agreed on social freedom, but economic freedom has also greatly increased, because we are so much richer. Even though the govt was taking 8% of our pie a century ago but is taking 40+% today, we don’t care because the pie has grown five times since then! Nobody cares that they’re taking two more pies than they were, because we have three whole pies to ourselves now, :) as opposed to splitting a single pie between us a century ago. Of course, we need to wrest back all the pies the govt is taking and wasting now.

      I don’t see what connection you think there is between larger govt and increased social freedom, they are parallel developments.

      “Pre-marital sex is as old as Adam and Eve!”
      Homosexuality or gay coupling is something new?

      “Gay marriage on the other hand is totally unprecedented in the history of civilization anywhere in the world. It may sound ‘chic’ or ‘cool’ at the moment. But we’ve no idea how things will pan out in the long run.”
      What could go wrong?

      “There is no reason why such a civilizational risk should be taken to further a cause which doesn’t really ‘advance liberties’, but actually restricts freedom (because marriage by definition is a legal contract, not a ‘right’).”
      As I said before, it doesn’t matter if a contract restricts or enhances freedom, by disallowing that choice for certain people, you are restricting their freedom to choose.

      “Nobody ever gets pushed into marriage.”
      People get pushed into it all the time, particularly in the oriental countries that you mention.

      “The world is more ‘monogamous’ today than it was 600 years ago. And in my book monogamous marriage is one of the bedrocks of Western civilization and very vital to the rise of the West. Even oriental countries like India are more strictly monogamous today than they were say in 1500 – this is an outcome of the Westernization of that country over the past 250 years”
      A passing fad, like blue jeans the world over. People from those non-Western countries ape what they take to be a more materially successful culture in the West, cargo-cult style, because they don’t know what attributes mattered and what didn’t.

      “The debate arose because of our very different reactions to that George Gilder video. You probably abhor his cultural stances, while I see wisdom in them and understand where he’s coming from.”
      I don’t abhor his stances. He calls himself a libertarian and seems to advocate his beliefs through communicating them instead of calling for legislation, at least in that venue. While I disagree with his beliefs, you and him are far better than the majority who would impose their beliefs on others through law.

      “I like the idea of a low-entropy carrier as articulated by Gilder. The two key elements of this carrier are ‘the rule of law’ and ‘traditional values’.”
      I don’t think his formulation really applies. The reason I mentioned David Friedman above is that he’s one of the foremost advocates of private courts and law, ie getting the govt out of the law, where Gilder seems to think it’s essential.

      As for “traditional values,” perhaps they were helpful in the past, but I don’t think a lot of it has much of a place in the information age we are entering into.

      • shrikanthk says:

        “getting the govt out of law”

        Now this is an oxymoron of sorts. You can’t get the government out of law because the govt is the entity that makes laws!

        Marriage is a form of govt intervention. Yet everybody (including libertarians) are in favour of this intervention because they realize it has been a remarkably successful institution. It is absolutely essential because men are simply put more “powerful” than women because of biological realities and hence to make long term relationships between sexes viable one needs “marriage” – which is one of the few areas where we need govt. It makes the “nuclear family” possible and prevents us from descending to the brothel-like traditional culture of certain oriental countries. Howeve rmarriage like any other institution loses its effectiveness when the govt expands its scope.

        Being a libertarian with a small “l” I wouldn’t want an expansion of govt in the area of marriage which is what “gay marriage” represents.

        People from those non-Western countries ape what they take to be a more materially successful culture in the West, cargo-cult style, because they don’t know what attributes mattered and what didn’t.

        What do you think are the attributes that mattered? It is fashionable these days to not attribute any of the West’s success to cultural reasons (because it is politically incorrect). But the conventional wisdom has been that the rise of the West was very closely linked to a cultural and moral revolution that accompanied the Protestant reformation – as was the case with the English Puritans who helped found the United States! Theirs was a culture that clearly emphasized the family, monogamy, rectitude and hard work. These values have today percolated all over the world thanks to the West’s global influence. This universalisation of western values is one of the important reasons why the world of 2013 is about 50 times richer than the world of 1700 in terms of per-capita income.

        A denial of this is a form of inverse snobbery and extreme cultural relativism that refuses to acknowledge the link between culture and prosperity.

        • shrikanthk says:

          Homosexuality or gay coupling is something new?

          Homosexuality is not. But Gay marriage is.

          • shrikanthk says:

            Even though the govt was taking 8% of our pie a century ago but is taking 40+% today, we don’t care because the pie has grown five times since then! Nobody cares that they’re taking two more pies than they were, because we have three whole pies to ourselves now, :) as opposed to splitting a single pie between us a century ago

            The growth of the pie has not a lot to do with the increase in “social freedom” if that is what you’re implying.

            “Social freedom” in the west has massively expanded since the late 60s yet the growth rate of the pie has dropped very sharply. I am not saying there is a reverse correlation (as Gilder probably would). What I do claim is that there is no positive correlation at any rate.

          • Ajay says:

            “Homosexuality is not. But Gay marriage is.”
            True, but gay marriage is merely a formalization of a phenomenon that is as old as pre-marital sex, gay coupling.

            “The growth of the pie has not a lot to do with the increase in ‘social freedom’ if that is what you’re implying.”
            My only point was the stated one, that economic freedom has greatly increased if you look at the absolute size of the pie, as opposed to just the percentage cut taken by govt.

            “‘Social freedom’ in the west has massively expanded since the late 60s yet the growth rate of the pie has dropped very sharply. I am not saying there is a reverse correlation (as Gilder probably would). What I do claim is that there is no positive correlation at any rate.”
            Has it? I think the pie has kept growing. How would you disentangle whether the reason for slowing growth, if it were happening, was increased social freedom or increased govt growth?

            I think you mean negative correlation, not reverse. I do think social freedom was a cause of increased growth, even though that wasn’t my point earlier.

            You hear a lot of reasons talked about for why Silicon Valley is where it is: good universities, a pre-existing defense industry cluster, a financial capital nearby, but Boston, Orange County, and New York exurbs all have at least one of those. One factor you don’t hear as much is the radical hippie/anarchist culture of the area, where wild-eyed utopians gathered to think and to try to build crazy visions of the future. I’m not saying that culture was the only factor, but it may have been the unique one and thus the most important. Perhaps such an experiment could have only been run in a country that runs 50 laboratories of freedom. :)

            Of course, that is gone now and the bay area is currently filled with a swarm of grasping drones, which is why there hasn’t been another Apple in 30 years.

    • Ajay says:

      “Now this is an oxymoron of sorts. You can’t get the government out of law because the govt is the entity that makes laws!”
      You need to read The Machinery of Freedom, you may also want to check out the online draft version of Friedman’s upcoming book on various legal systems, particularly private ones. Common law doesn’t come from any govt and is the basis of the English legal system.

      “Marriage is a form of govt intervention. Yet everybody (including libertarians) are in favour of this intervention because they realize it has been a remarkably successful institution.”
      I think you misrepresent the libertarian position on this issue. The standard libertarian view is to not favor marriage over any other contract and to get marriage out of the law altogether, as I suggested earlier.

      “It is absolutely essential because men are simply put more ‘powerful’ than women because of biological realities and hence to make long term relationships between sexes viable one needs ‘marriage’ – which is one of the few areas where we need govt. It makes the ‘nuclear family’ possible and prevents us from descending to the brothel-like traditional culture of certain oriental countries. Howeve rmarriage like any other institution loses its effectiveness when the govt expands its scope.”
      A lot of allusive statements, which are perhaps obvious to you, but not to me. I certainly don’t see marriage as essential.

      “Being a libertarian with a small ‘l’ I wouldn’t want an expansion of govt in the area of marriage which is what ‘gay marriage’ represents.”
      This is why most libertarians would get marriage out of the law altogether, rather than going around amending the law to fit in new couplings.

      “What do you think are the attributes that mattered? It is fashionable these days to not attribute any of the West’s success to cultural reasons (because it is politically incorrect). But the conventional wisdom has been that the rise of the West was very closely linked to a cultural and moral revolution that accompanied the Protestant reformation – as was the case with the English Puritans who helped found the United States! Theirs was a culture that clearly emphasized the family, monogamy, rectitude and hard work. These values have today percolated all over the world thanks to the West’s global influence. This universalisation of western values is one of the important reasons why the world of 2013 is about 50 times richer than the world of 1700 in terms of per-capita income.”
      Perhaps the “moral” culture that you espouse was important once, though certainly not the only factor in the rise of the West. I’d attribute much more to science and the open-minded sort who pursued it, but there was certainly an interplay between different mindsets and factors. But I don’t think the set of “moral” values that you champion are particularly useful in the information age we’re entering, when we’re so rich, historically speaking, and when nuclear families pumping out potential soldiers isn’t quite as important as it once was. The environment changes and the optimal factors change with it.

      It is interesting that you put forth “western values” as the cause of income growth up to 2013, when all conservatives ever talk about is how that “nuclear family” broke down a half-century ago, with divorce rates sky-high all across the west. How did we keep growing richer for the last 50 years while your preferred culture broke down? Cultural momentum?

      “A denial of this is a form of inverse snobbery and extreme cultural relativism that refuses to acknowledge the link between culture and prosperity.”
      Or it’s a form of insight into why what might have worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future. The culture that you prefer might have had a role to play in our material success today, but if it’s so powerful, it will win on its own in a free market, a free market of cultures and values. I don’t mind you espousing your culture, where I draw the line is when it gets encoded into the law. I’d much rather than various groups chose the culture that suits them best, and the free market will sort out the winners and losers.

      If you believe you have to encode your values into the law, you either don’t believe your values are that strong, if you have to force others to follow them, or you believe that you are so omniscient or infallible that everybody must be forced to follow your superior code, a nannyism which resembles the progressive desire to force everyone not to eat trans fats or talk and think politically correct more than anything else.

      The essential feature of a free market is that we don’t know which approaches will work, so we let everyone try their own approach and may the best approach win. That applies as much to values and cultures as anything else, hence the Berlin link I gave you above.

      • shrikanthk says:

        It is interesting that you put forth “western values” as the cause of income growth up to 2013, when all conservatives ever talk about is how that “nuclear family” broke down a half-century ago, with divorce rates sky-high all across the west. How did we keep growing richer for the last 50 years while your preferred culture broke down? Cultural momentum?

        Culture is not the only variable influencing economic growth. However it is an important variable. Even today intact nuclear families are richer than broken-down families in US. Divorce rates are a lot lower among the rich and upper-middle class as compared with the underclass (especially among minorities).

        Also a lot of the economic growth is increasingly unequal with the beneficiaries being the highly educated culturally conservative sections of society (by “culturally conservative” I do not mean religious fanatics, but people who work 50-60 hours a week, practice serial monogamy and adhere to social conventions). The lower middle class and the poor have stagnated over the past 40 years – with little hope of upward mobility. This is partly because of the nature of the economy (with the relative scarcity of manufacturing jobs), but also partly an outcome of underdeveloped human capital, poor levels of industriousness and conscientiousness among the unskilled labour force.

        The standard libertarian view is to not favor marriage over any other contract and to get marriage out of the law altogether

        Well there are different types of libertarians amongst us. The poster boy for the libertarians is ofcourse Milton Friedman who also called himself one. However his stances on these issues were always less radical and more conservative than what you suggest. Here’s a link where he offers a stirring defence of the family. He goes to the extent of saying we live in a “family society” not in an “individualist” society.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRpEV2tmYz4

        • shrikanthk says:

          I’d much rather than various groups chose the culture that suits them best, and the free market will sort out the winners and losers.

          I agree with you entirely here.
          And this is precisely what is happening in the US today. The free market is amply rewarding communities that exhibit the virtues that I talked about (Eg : Chinese, Indian immigrants, Cuban Hispanics).

          Ofcourse this doesn’t mean I favour legislation to further a certain type of culture. Gilder doesn’t favour that either. However there is a case for a public discourse that discusses cultural choices as opposed to a politically correct climate where discussions on “ranking cultures” is judiciously avoided.

          • shrikanthk says:

            This is why most libertarians would get marriage out of the law altogether, rather than going around amending the law to fit in new couplings.

            If this is indeed true why the clamour for gay marriage? Not just among progressives but also some libertarians.

            Why do gays want to be tied down by this “repressive, ante-diluvian” institution that is the favourite punching bag of everyone who isn’t a conservative.

    • Ajay says:

      “Culture is not the only variable influencing economic growth. However it is an important variable. Even today intact nuclear families are richer than broken-down families in US.”
      Correlation or causation? Ie, do hard-working, conscientious people tend to marry or does marriage itself add anything to the mix?

      “Divorce rates are a lot lower among the rich and upper-middle class as compared with the underclass (especially among minorities).”
      They are still fairly high among all the classes.

      “Also a lot of the economic growth is increasingly unequal with the beneficiaries being the highly educated culturally conservative sections of society (by “culturally conservative” I do not mean religious fanatics, but people who work 50-60 hours a week, practice serial monogamy and adhere to social conventions).”
      You are picking and choosing here. If a gay couple works very hard, is monogamous, and adheres to the “social conventions” of their super-liberal social groups, does that mean they are “culturally conservative?” If you start blurring the lines from the traditional/religious families that you purport to be talking about and start including any secular families that are hard-working and successful, your cultural argument becomes so vague as to be meaningless.

      “The lower middle class and the poor have stagnated over the past 40 years – with little hope of upward mobility.”
      I disagree, a rising tide has lifted all boats. We constantly have immigrants entering into the economy, who start on the bottom rungs of the ladder, but we lift so many people up that we are constantly lifting them up also.

      “This is partly because of the nature of the economy (with the relative scarcity of manufacturing jobs), but also partly an outcome of underdeveloped human capital, poor levels of industriousness and conscientiousness among the unskilled labour force.”
      Perhaps, but I don’t see “traditional” values helping these people skills or industriousness, nor the schooling scam for that matter.

      “Well there are different types of libertarians amongst us. The poster boy for the libertarians is ofcourse Milton Friedman who also called himself one. However his stances on these issues were always less radical and more conservative than what you suggest. Here’s a link where he offers a stirring defence of the family. He goes to the extent of saying we live in a ‘family society’ not in an ‘individualist’ society.”
      Friedman became more radical in his libertarianism as he aged. I doubt he would have disagreed with the standard libertarian opinion on getting marriage out of the law, though perhaps he never voiced an opinion on the issue. I don’t think your video or his talking about the importance of families is any defence of straight marriage or critique of gay marriage, as you seem to imply. He can be for the family and want to include gay marriage in such an institution.

      “And this is precisely what is happening in the US today. The free market is amply rewarding communities that exhibit the virtues that I talked about (Eg : Chinese, Indian immigrants, Cuban Hispanics).”
      These groups are a small section of the US populace and might merely be examples of selection bias, ie the most entrepreneurial and innovative from those countries come here to benefit from freer markets. I’d be leery of using them as examples of the importance of their family structure, particularly given the strange and likely counter-productive parenting styles of, for example, Tiger moms.

      “Ofcourse this doesn’t mean I favour legislation to further a certain type of culture. Gilder doesn’t favour that either. However there is a case for a public discourse that discusses cultural choices as opposed to a politically correct climate where discussions on “ranking cultures” is judiciously avoided.”
      Sure, we’re having that argument now, although “ranking cultures” is a bit too simple a way of looking at it. Every culture has positive and negative attributes and we can try to tease those out, even weighing which groups have been more successful along various metrics like wealth, but an overall ranking is probably too simplistic a concept.

      Somehow you always seem to defend that we don’t allow gay marriage now, even if we got marriage out of the law to allow it, so that seems to contradict your general claim that you are for keeping cultural preferences out of the law.

      “If this is indeed true why the clamour for gay marriage? Not just among progressives but also some libertarians.”
      Obviously many believe that there’s nothing wrong with gay marriage- or polygamy for that matter, which I have no problem with as long as everyone is consenting- they just have differing routes on how to get there. The progressives have no problem with just adding more law to handle this case, as they always do, ;) while the libertarians would like to take this opportunity to remove the govt from marriage altogether.

      “Why do gays want to be tied down by this ‘repressive, ante-diluvian’ institution that is the favourite punching bag of everyone who isn’t a conservative.”
      No idea, but we libertarians support people having the right to make dumb choices, whether shooting yourself up full of heroin or getting married. ;)

      • shrikanthk says:

        Correlation or causation? Ie, do hard-working, conscientious people tend to marry or does marriage itself add anything to the mix?

        There has been a lot of research on this and several economists support the conclusion that there exists a “marriage premium” for men which is significantly larger than the “marriage penalty” for women. And that this net premium is causal. Brian Caplan is one of the few economists who has been very vocal on this subject.

        You are picking and choosing here

        I am not. I only added that qualifier because there is a kneejerk tendency among both progressives and libertarians to associate the word “conservative” with religious nuts in the bible belt.

        Every culture has positive and negative attributes and we can try to tease those out, even weighing which groups have been more successful along various metrics like wealth, but an overall ranking is probably too simplistic a concept

        Sure. Every culture has its positives and negatives. However the outcomes for different cultures are often vastly different. History is littered with examples of communities that met with vastly different outcomes upon transforming their cultural values. Eg: Anglicization of the 18th cen Scots leading to a Scottish Golden age.

        Given the strong predictive power of certain cultural attributes (with positive outcomes being the dependent variable) I do not see why one should desist from “ranking cultures” unless one is too keen not to offend people.

        Social stigma is often a very effective way of coaxing people to discard counter-productive cultural behaviors.

        Somehow you always seem to defend that we don’t allow gay marriage now, even if we got marriage out of the law to allow it, so that seems to contradict your general claim that you are for keeping cultural preferences out of the law.

        To my mind marriage is a legal concept. So taking marriage out of the law amounts to having no marriage at all. I don’t care what gays do in private. They can have “marriage” ceremonies if they want to! But that doesn’t mean the govt needs to ratify that relationship with its stamp! Marriage by definition is between two adults of opposite sexes. Changing definitions to please the whims of people is plain silly. Would you expand the definition of marriage to allow for a legal marital union of a 14 yr old girl and an 80 yr old man? I’d be okay with them cohabiting and doing whatever they want to in private. But no reason why govt should chip in and give them a certificate. One may not be comfortable with the analogy I drew. But the point is this sets a bad precedent and there are no limits to where “loose thinking” can lead us.

        I doubt he would have disagreed with the standard libertarian opinion on getting marriage out of the law

        I just don’t get what you mean by “getting marriage out of law”. If you want to do that just don’t get married! As simple as that. “Marriage” is for people who want to get married just as temples and churches are meant for people who wish to pray. If one doesn’t wish to pray but instead wishes to have sex then one simply chooses not to go to the temple! You don’t try to persuade the temple authorities to permit sex in the premises!

        As far as getting rid of “marriage” law altogether – that was indeed the case for most of human history when the rule of law did not prevail. Instead what we had was a clan culture where people chose to get married to close relatives (out of fear of the outsider) resulting in tightly knit, insular and incestuous communities. It wasn’t very pleasant.

        I disagree, a rising tide has lifted all boats

        It has. But those figures you shared are not really a dramatic change when one looks at the length of the timeframe (40 years).

    • Ajay says:

      “There has been a lot of research on this and several economists support the conclusion that there exists a ‘marriage premium’ for men which is significantly larger than the ‘marriage penalty’ for women. And that this net premium is causal. Brian Caplan is one of the few economists who has been very vocal on this subject.”
      Caplan says that one data source shows a 44% rise in pay for married men. He then goes on to estimate how much of that is causal versus correlation and estimates that less than half is causal, without any research to back it up, just a pure guess on his part. He says that while most economists assume that much of it is causal, it is very hard to tease out causation from current data.

      Note also that he says that marriage probably domesticates men, making them work harder and longer with a better attitude. Perhaps those were good traits to have in the industrial age; I don’t think they’re that important in the information age, which is much more about embracing risk. Married men might actually be disadvantaged in the information age we’re entering into.

      “I am not. I only added that qualifier because there is a kneejerk tendency among both progressives and libertarians to associate the word ‘conservative’ with religious nuts in the bible belt.”
      Well, if you’re going to expand the definition to include the gay couple I mentioned, you need to be very precise about what you mean by “culturally conservative” and what that has to do with the “traditional values” you keep talking up. Because merely being hard-working and highly educated doesn’t mean you believe in traditional values.

      “Sure. Every culture has its positives and negatives. However the outcomes for different cultures are often vastly different. History is littered with examples of communities that met with vastly different outcomes upon transforming their cultural values. Eg: Anglicization of the 18th cen Scots leading to a Scottish Golden age.

      Given the strong predictive power of certain cultural attributes (with positive outcomes being the dependent variable) I do not see why one should desist from ‘ranking cultures’ unless one is too keen not to offend people.”
      Because there are various orthogonal outcomes and merely being materially successful doesn’t mean that one culture is better than another. I have no problem with ascertaining what cultural attributes lead to various kinds of better outcomes, whether economic growth or literacy or equanimity or whatever, but to then assert that one culture is better overall, simply because it does better on some of those outcomes, is an awfully crude way of looking at things.

      “Social stigma is often a very effective way of coaxing people to discard counter-productive cultural behaviors.”
      Sure, but this is increasingly losing its effect, for various reasons. Like it or not, the information age is much more individualist so I doubt these stigmas will matter as much as before, though there will always be some form of social pressure within one’s peer groups.

      “To my mind marriage is a legal concept. So taking marriage out of the law amounts to having no marriage at all.”
      It means that marriage would become a contract like any other, without any special relevance in the law, ie there would be no civil law written to grant special status to the married, such as granting legal visitation rights automatically to a spouse of someone in a hospital. Such marriage provisions would all be contractual and up to what the person wrote down. This contractual approach is probably inevitable and should be the way most do it, as it forces them to think about how they want such provisions dealt with, rather than depending on legal fallbacks that may not be ideal.

      “I don’t care what gays do in private. They can have ‘marriage’ ceremonies if they want to! But that doesn’t mean the govt needs to ratify that relationship with its stamp! Marriage by definition is between two adults of opposite sexes. Changing definitions to please the whims of people is plain silly. Would you expand the definition of marriage to allow for a legal marital union of a 14 yr old girl and an 80 yr old man? I’d be okay with them cohabiting and doing whatever they want to in private. But no reason why govt should chip in and give them a certificate. One may not be comfortable with the analogy I drew. But the point is this sets a bad precedent and there are no limits to where ‘loose thinking’ can lead us.”
      Why does the govt need to “ratify” or “certify” any relationship? Nobody is talking about 14-year old girls, who haven’t reached the age of majority and have limited contractual rights as it is. The “loose thinking” that you are worried about is a fantasy. You sound like a progressive who’s worried about people drinking Coke in extra-large cups or not talking in a PC manner when you use such authoritarian language.

      “As far as getting rid of ‘marriage’ law altogether – that was indeed the case for most of human history when the rule of law did not prevail. Instead what we had was a clan culture where people chose to get married to close relatives (out of fear of the outsider) resulting in tightly knit, insular and incestuous communities. It wasn’t very pleasant.”
      There is no risk of going back to that clan stage simply by taking marriage out of the law.

      “It has. But those figures you shared are not really a dramatic change when one looks at the length of the timeframe (40 years).”
      Again, I disagree, especially if you look at the composition of those groups. While we don’t have good data to really nail this down, I bet that that low-income group today has a lot of recent entrants, mostly immigrants, ie the people who were in the low-income group 10-20 years ago have almost all been raised up. Such an increase in prosperity is unprecedented in the world, as almost no country even has that high level of income per capita, let alone constantly elevating people from the lower rungs into higher ones.

      Admittedly, part of that was driven by a housing bubble recently, but even taking out such cyclical factors, the rise is amazing.

      • shrikanthk says:

        Why does the govt need to “ratify” or “certify” any relationship?

        I am not sure if you’re reading me right. That’s precisely what I am asking. Why do gays seek a government certification? They can just live in. Alternatively they can “take marriage out of the law” by having a lavish marriage ceremony! No harm at all.

        I am not being authoritarian or “progressive” as you claim. In fact I am being libertarian by saying – “let people do what they want to in private as long as it is consensual”. It’s the progressives and libertarians who are seeking to add further red-tape to the law by expanding the clauses of existing laws (evolved over millenia). Firstly it indicates an utter disregard for history and goes contrary to the great “common law” tradition you spoke about where laws are formed based on historical experience as opposed to arbitrary vague ideas like “equal access to laws”, “we live in an information age” etc.

  2. Frank Hecker says:

    Per the motto of your blog, I will be charitable here. Based on my past reading of Gilder, he’s perfectly capable of saying sensible and even insightful things. However he also has a tendency to latch onto something (here, information theory) and then proceed to apply it to everything under the sun, in ways that are often superfluous or (worse) nonsensical. When he attempted to take his ideas to biology and argue that the theory of evolution by natural selection is false because (his conception of) information theory says so, he got taken down pretty severely (by John Derbyshire, among others). Maybe he’ll have better luck with economics.

  3. Floccina says:

    Predictability and order are not spontaneous and cannot be left to the invisible hand. It takes a low-entropy carrier (no surprises) to bear high-entropy information (full of surprisal). In capitalism, the predictable carriers are the rule of law, the maintenance of order, the defense of property rights, the reliability and restraint of regulation, the transparency of accounts, the stability of money, the discipline and futurity of family life, and a level of taxation commensurate with a modest and predictable role of government.

    This sort of talk always make me think of the market for marijuana in which most people get what they pay for. The market for marijuana works pretty well with none of the above working in its favor.

    • Eric H says:

      I wouldn’t say that none of them work well in that market. Maintenance of order, defense of property rights, and stability of money seem to be assumed and operational.

  4. Bret says:

    George Gilder is one hella stupid donkey puncher. [this sort of empty, ad hominem comment is not welcome on this blog–AK]

  5. shrikanthk says:

    There is no risk of going back to that clan stage simply by taking marriage out of the law.

    How do you know that? Do we have a crystal ball?
    Also this needn’t be a US/Europe centric discussion. Not everybody lives in Manhattan or Hyde Park.
    In India and a lot of other oriental countries, it is the marriage law (strengthened over the past 200-300 years) which has prompted people to marry out of their close communities. Because with the protection of the law (which includes the provision of divorce, alimony etc) they can trust people who don’t belong to the same culture. The marriage law has helped defeat the age old caste system and caused races/castes to intermingle.

  6. Ajay says:

    “I am not sure if you’re reading me right. That’s precisely what I am asking. Why do gays seek a government certification? They can just live in. Alternatively they can ‘take marriage out of the law’ by having a lavish marriage ceremony! No harm at all.”
    The only one having trouble reading here is you, or at least being willfully obtuse. The govt currently certifies hetero marriages and has various laws written explicitly for married couples. You claim that if two gays want to marry there is no reason for the govt to “ratify that relationship with its stamp,” whereas they want the benefit of all the laws that advantage marriage. The libertarian solution is to remove all certification and laws that reference marriage.

    “I am not being authoritarian or ‘progressive’ as you claim. In fact I am being libertarian by saying – ‘let people do what they want to in private as long as it is consensual’. It’s the progressives and libertarians who are seeking to add further red-tape to the law by expanding the clauses of existing laws (evolved over millenia). Firstly it indicates an utter disregard for history and goes contrary to the great ‘common law’ tradition you spoke about where laws are formed based on historical experience as opposed to arbitrary vague ideas like ‘equal access to laws’, ‘we live in an information age’ etc.”
    You make vague assertions that changing the marriage laws in any way, whether to get rid of those laws as libertarians want or shoehorning gay marriage in as progressives want, would lead to unspecified damage, which you are careful never to spell out, because you know it would be laughed at. :)

    We “disregard” history all the time by changing laws because our circumstances and knowledge have changed. “Equal access to law” is an “arbitrary vague idea?” Who would have thought? ;) I never said the information age had anything to do with gay marriage, that is sloppy reading on your part.

    “In India and a lot of other oriental countries, it is the marriage law (strengthened over the past 200-300 years) which has prompted people to marry out of their close communities. Because with the protection of the law (which includes the provision of divorce, alimony etc) they can trust people who don’t belong to the same culture. The marriage law has helped defeat the age old caste system and caused races/castes to intermingle.”
    I don’t know much about the Indian or oriental experience with marriage law, perhaps you are right that it has been beneficial to them. But in the US these days, where clan or caste marriage hasn’t been a problem in generations, I see no reason to keep marriage in the law, nor any risk of reverting back to clans if we got rid of it. Any claim otherwise is laughable.

  7. shrikanthk says:

    You claim that if two gays want to marry there is no reason for the govt to “ratify that relationship with its stamp,” whereas they want the benefit of all the laws that advantage marriage. The libertarian solution is to remove all certification and laws that reference marriage

    The benefits and constraints imposed by “marriage” laws are based on the realities of heterosexual relationships and more importantly procreative relationships. There’s absolutely no reason why these benefits and constraints should apply to homosexual relationships or for that matter platonic associations of two people. The libertarian solution you talk about is so utopian and also currently lacking the support of the majority that it is a non starter at the moment. Also if you do want to move towards that kind of a world, the intermediate step surenly mustn’t be “addition” to existing marriage laws to accommodate special relationships.

    You make vague assertions that changing the marriage laws in any way, whether to get rid of those laws as libertarians want or shoehorning gay marriage in as progressives want, would lead to unspecified damage

    I only prefer the status-quo because I think it works alright. Not because any change would lead to unspecified damage. I do not have a crystal ball. Why fix something that ain’t broken? Also laws are never drafted to suit a given circumstance or era but for posterity. Social security was introduced in the aftermath of the Great Depression and it is still with us! Just goes to show how politically irreversible these laws are.

    “Equal access to law” is an “arbitrary vague idea?” Who would have thought? ;) I never said the information age had anything to do with gay marriage, that is sloppy reading on your part.

    It is a vague idea. Because access to law depends on the circumstance of the individual. If a given road disallows cars and allows only cycles, then car-drivers can get around the law by stepping out of their cars and mounting a cycle instead. This isn’t “discrimination” against car users!

    Regarding the “information age” comment I did not make that remark in the context of gay marriage per se. But was in general referring to your idea that even fundamentally important laws are not based on past wisdom and experience but the circumstances of the age one lives in (which keep changing every few years).

    But in the US these days, where clan or caste marriage hasn’t been a problem in generations, I see no reason to keep marriage in the law, nor any risk of reverting back to clans if we got rid of it

    If things have changed over the past “few generations” they may change again over the next “few generations”. My horizon is not the next 20-30 years but the next 200-300 years. I don’t see how you can altogether rule out a revival of insular cultural habits. It is not laughable in the least. Even if the civilizational risk posed by a legislation is 2% I wouldn’t want to undertake it (especially as things are working out alright without that legislation change at the moment)

  8. Ajay says:

    The benefits and constraints imposed by “marriage” laws are based on the realities of heterosexual relationships and more importantly procreative relationships. There’s absolutely no reason why these benefits and constraints should apply to homosexual relationships or for that matter platonic associations of two people.
    Hospital visitation rights are based on “the realities of heterosexual relationships and more importantly procreative relationships?” I agree with you: let’s take these “benefits and constraints” out of the law, for everyone.

    The libertarian solution you talk about is so utopian and also currently lacking the support of the majority that it is a non starter at the moment. Also if you do want to move towards that kind of a world, the intermediate step surenly mustn’t be “addition” to existing marriage laws to accommodate special relationships.
    And yet, it is you that is in the minority in trying to keep gay marriage out. Those who want to include it may not agree on how to do so, but they’re certainly the majority. Libertarian solutions are rarely popular anyway, because they’re right. The mob driving democracy doesn’t do what’s right until they’ve burned themselves trying every other wrong option first. ;) I have not proposed any “additions,” only deletions. :)

    I only prefer the status-quo because I think it works alright. Not because any change would lead to unspecified damage. I do not have a crystal ball. Why fix something that ain’t broken?
    You have made several veiled references to supposed damage. Obviously the current system is broken, as it preferences certain marriages and not others.

    Also laws are never drafted to suit a given circumstance or era but for posterity. Social security was introduced in the aftermath of the Great Depression and it is still with us! Just goes to show how politically irreversible these laws are.
    You’re really going to use a ponzi scheme like Social Security as a long-lived law that needs to stick around, like the marriage laws that you want untouched? Social Security was not designed “for posterity” as it has been revised several times since and does not resemble the original law. No law can last “for posterity,” as circumstances change. Laws are “politically irreversible” until they aren’t, ie people’s minds change.

    It is a vague idea. Because access to law depends on the circumstance of the individual. If a given road disallows cars and allows only cycles, then car-drivers can get around the law by stepping out of their cars and mounting a cycle instead. This isn’t “discrimination” against car users!
    Wtf are you talking about? :) This hypothetical is so removed from gay marriage and reality that I cannot take it seriously.

    Regarding the “information age” comment I did not make that remark in the context of gay marriage per se. But was in general referring to your idea that even fundamentally important laws are not based on past wisdom and experience but the circumstances of the age one lives in (which keep changing every few years).
    It is a trade-off. One balances past experience against new technologies, understanding, and possibilities. In the case of gay marriage, there is no reason to treat it any differently. The industrial age lasted a century or so and the information age, who knows, but that’s a lot longer than a “few years.” But yes the industrial age changed our laws drastically, just as the information age will.

    If things have changed over the past “few generations” they may change again over the next “few generations”. My horizon is not the next 20-30 years but the next 200-300 years. I don’t see how you can altogether rule out a revival of insular cultural habits. It is not laughable in the least. Even if the civilizational risk posed by a legislation is 2% I wouldn’t want to undertake it (especially as things are working out alright without that legislation change at the moment)
    They may change again, but they’re not going back to the way they were, which were more a result of the technologies and economies of their time than the culture, ie the environment determines the culture. Nobody can see out 2-300 years, so if that’s what you’re aiming for, you will continually look foolish. ;)

    You cannot keep talking about “civilizational risk,” but not say what that risk is! What is the risk from gay marriage or getting rid of marriage laws? I have asked you this before but you did not answer. We have 6 billion people on this planet, we don’t need more hetero couples cranking out babies. There is no point in talking about “risks” that you will not name.

  9. shrikanthk says:

    Obviously the current system is broken, as it preferences certain marriages and not others.

    Bizarre reasoning. How is that obvious at all?
    Current system is “broken” because the current definition of marriage doesn’t fit in with your idea of marriage? This reminds me of a sarcastic definition of “crisis” offered by Thomas Sowell in the 80s – “A crisis is any situation that you want to change”

    I have not proposed any “additions,” only deletions.

    Expanding the scope of marriage to include gay unions will definitely result in reams of addition to the law. Existing laws can’t hold as-is for gay unions! Several clauses in the laws pertaining to divorce and alimony just simply don’t make sense in the case of unions which are not procreative. Most marriage laws have arisen because the woman is the one who invests time and energy in making babies (often sacrificing her career) while the man doesn’t face any marriage penalty whatsoever. As a result any unforeseen separation demands that the woman be justly compensated for her “investment” by the man. None of this makes sense in the case of couples that don’t produce babies. It’s simply a ridiculous thought that two such very different types of relationships be bracketed under a single umbrella named “marriage”.

    Social Security was not designed “for posterity” as it has been revised several times since and does not resemble the original law. No law can last “for posterity,” as circumstances change

    That’s precisely the point. Social security was not “designed for posterity”. However it has survived and remains a thorn in the flesh that is the American economy. It’s simply not politically feasible to get rid of it though it may make economic sense. It provides a classic example of why one must be careful while contemplating any change to fundamental laws such as marriage…

    Wtf are you talking about? :) This hypothetical is so removed from gay marriage and reality that I cannot take it seriously.

    It is removed from “gay marriage” yes. I only suggested it to illustrate why “equal access to law” is a vague idea. There are thousands of laws that I don’t have access to because they simply don’t apply to me! It does not follow that those laws discriminate against me!

    Nobody can see out 2-300 years, so if that’s what you’re aiming for, you will continually look foolish.

    This is a poor reading what I said. I explicitly stated out that nobody can see out 200-300 years. I am not aiming to predict what things will look like in 200-300 years time. Which is why I am averse to drastic changes to very basic laws such as marriage. If gay unions indeed require legal protection that is something similar to marriage, then such a “gay marriage” law should be based on the experience of homosexual unions, not heterosexual unions. Such a “gay marriage” law cannot be legislated by a few wise congressmen on Capitol Hill but it can only evolve over a few centuries as “heterosexual marriage” laws evolved.

    What is the risk from gay marriage or getting rid of marriage laws?

    Well the question that needs to be asked is “What is the risk of not having gay marriage or not getting rid of marriage laws”. The onus is not on me to answer your question. The justification for a drastic change to the way our society functions must be provided by the people who seek that change. Not by conservatives like myself.

    We have 6 billion people on this planet, we don’t need more hetero couples cranking out babies

    So is this going to turn into a Malthusian rant? This statement reeks of liberal elitism and betrays a lack of faith in the possibilities of human life. The world today has more than three times as many people as it did in 1900 and yet the average person on earth is many times richer than he was in 1900! There simply is no trade-off on that front.

  10. Ajay says:

    Bizarre reasoning. How is that obvious at all?
    Current system is “broken” because the current definition of marriage doesn’t fit in with your idea of marriage? This reminds me of a sarcastic definition of “crisis” offered by Thomas Sowell in the 80s – “A crisis is any situation that you want to change”

    The only “crisis” here is yours, as the majority wants to see gay marriage allowed, while you are in the minority clinging to the existing marriage laws.

    Expanding the scope of marriage to include gay unions will definitely result in reams of addition to the law. Existing laws can’t hold as-is for gay unions! Several clauses in the laws pertaining to divorce and alimony just simply don’t make sense in the case of unions which are not procreative. Most marriage laws have arisen because the woman is the one who invests time and energy in making babies (often sacrificing her career) while the man doesn’t face any marriage penalty whatsoever. As a result any unforeseen separation demands that the woman be justly compensated for her “investment” by the man. None of this makes sense in the case of couples that don’t produce babies. It’s simply a ridiculous thought that two such very different types of relationships be bracketed under a single umbrella named “marriage”.
    Sigh, you can keep arguing with your strawman about modifying the current law to include gay marriage, I’ll just repeat my position: get marriage out of the law altogether, so that there is no law concerning divorce, alimony, or any of the marriage laws that you are so worried about. Chuck it all and stick to contracts.

    Also, one doesn’t need to “produce babies” to care for and raise them, so your examples are also strange.

    That’s precisely the point. Social security was not “designed for posterity”. However it has survived and remains a thorn in the flesh that is the American economy. It’s simply not politically feasible to get rid of it though it may make economic sense. It provides a classic example of why one must be careful while contemplating any change to fundamental laws such as marriage…
    So your analogy to existing marriage laws that don’t allow gay marriage is a century-old law that is “a thorn in the flesh that is the American economy?” It appears we are closer together than I thought! :)

    If your point is that changing marriage law might turn it into a horrible beast, as Social Security has become, such a point wouldn’t be risible only if you could come up with what that horrible outcome might be… which you are never able to bear naming, likely cuz it doesn’t exist.

    It is removed from “gay marriage” yes. I only suggested it to illustrate why “equal access to law” is a vague idea. There are thousands of laws that I don’t have access to because they simply don’t apply to me! It does not follow that those laws discriminate against me!
    I figured you were trying to make some point like that, your example was just so out there that I didn’t want to twist my brain into arguing it. ;) Marriage law may not have applied before, but now it does. The best way to have “equal access” is to get rid of these dumb marriage laws in the first place.

    This is a poor reading what I said. I explicitly stated out that nobody can see out 200-300 years.
    You said nothing of the sort. I see now that you said it way earlier in this thread, but that’s why your argument is so contradictory. One second you’re saying you can’t know what will happen, the next you’re saying we shouldn’t change anything anyway.

    I am not aiming to predict what things will look like in 200-300 years time. Which is why I am averse to drastic changes to very basic laws such as marriage. If gay unions indeed require legal protection that is something similar to marriage, then such a “gay marriage” law should be based on the experience of homosexual unions, not heterosexual unions. Such a “gay marriage” law cannot be legislated by a few wise congressmen on Capitol Hill but it can only evolve over a few centuries as “heterosexual marriage” laws evolved.
    Back to your strawman again. I don’t care about “legal protection” for gay marriage, I want to get rid of all “legal protection” for all marriage. It is amazing how many times I’ve repeated this statement, yet it doesn’t seem to register.

    Well the question that needs to be asked is “What is the risk of not having gay marriage or not getting rid of marriage laws”. The onus is not on me to answer your question. The justification for a drastic change to the way our society functions must be provided by the people who seek that change. Not by conservatives like myself.
    Nope, that onus is on you, as you are in the minority. If you don’t make an argument, we just laugh at your old man bubbling and change the law.

    So is this going to turn into a Malthusian rant? This statement reeks of liberal elitism and betrays a lack of faith in the possibilities of human life. The world today has more than three times as many people as it did in 1900 and yet the average person on earth is many times richer than he was in 1900! There simply is no trade-off on that front.
    Do you even know who you are talking to? Libertarians don’t care if you want to have kids or don’t want to have kids, as long as it’s your choice. It is you conservatives who are constantly pushing the “need” for more kids, or at least a culture that cranks out kids. I’m against that kid- and by extension marriage-pushing culture, because it pressures people into choices that aren’t their own. As you said, we haven’t had a serious problem with the great growth in population, but a kid-pushing culture, as the conservatives are by default, is definitely backwards-looking.

  11. shrikanthk says:

    The only “crisis” here is yours, as the majority wants to see gay marriage allowed, while you are in the minority clinging to the existing marriage laws.

    We are not discussing who is in a majority or minority over here. There are polls of some kind every other week and results on this front keep changing every few years. US is first and foremost a constitutionally bound republic and only then a democracy. While I am a strong admirer of representative democracy I don’t warm up to this idea of legislation being influenced by snap polls and referendums which are heavily influenced by what is “hot” at a given moment.

    Tomorrow the US people may vote in favour of “extermination of muslims” in some referendum. Would you favour that just because it has “majority backing” in an opinion poll?

    One second you’re saying you can’t know what will happen, the next you’re saying we shouldn’t change anything anyway.

    The two statements are not contradictory. I am unsure about the distant future. Hence I’d prefer to stick with the basic institutions and laws that have made Western civilization the greatest of all civilizations! Does this mean I am a statist? No. There are aspects about our society which demand radical thinking and reform. Eg: Slavery in the 19th cen, Child marriage, abuse of homosexuals. But those are extreme cases. I don’t want radicalism in areas where there’s nothing broken in the first place.

    I don’t care about “legal protection” for gay marriage, I want to get rid of all “legal protection” for all marriage. It is amazing how many times I’ve repeated this statement, yet it doesn’t seem to register.

    I only spoke about why I favor the legal institution of marriage. Not about your views on the same. Also I find the stances of certain libertarians on these issues often contradictory (give access to marriage laws for gays on one hand, abolish marriage on the other hand)

    So your analogy to existing marriage laws that don’t allow gay marriage is a century-old law that is “a thorn in the flesh that is the American economy?” It appears we are closer together than I thought! :)

    No. I drew the analogy between Social security legislation of the 30s and the gay marriage legislation that is contemplated today. Both were attempting to fix things that ain’t broken. The former has already had a deleterious impact not just on the economy but also on the family (a consensual non-governmental institution). Not sure what sort of impact this gay marriage thing will have going forward.

    Also, one doesn’t need to “produce babies” to care for and raise them.

    Never said otherwise. Agree with you. However production of babies involves inherent asymmetries that necessitate marriage laws. For eg: A woman invests potentially 2-3 years of her life to have 2-3 babies. While a man’s investment is limited to a few brief moments of intercourse. Marriage laws address this asymmetry. Adoption of babies by gay couples has none of these asymmetries!!

    Libertarians don’t care if you want to have kids or don’t want to have kids, as long as it’s your choice.

    I don’t care either! Though my personal views on the subject may differ from yours. What I objected to was your categorical remark that we “don’t need babies”! A strange thing to say when the rich world is facing serious issues with entitlement culture that can potentially be solved or atleast mitigated by a younger population. Having said that I’d be the last person to pressurize anybody into marriage or having kids.

  12. shrikanthk says:

    By the way just curious to know what’s Arnold’s take on this rambling discussion? Sorry for hogging this space.

    You may have the final word if you’ve time!

  13. Ajay says:

    Ah, I knew it was only a matter of time before you pulled “the majority can’t trample on the rights of the minority” argument. :) You started us along this vein, when you stated that the “libertarian solution you talk about is so utopian and also currently lacking the support of the majority.” I then repeatedly pointed out to you that while the libertarian solution might have minority support, you are also in the minority against the “legalization” of gay marriage, in whatever form it may take. Since marriage is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, we can remove whatever laws we want regarding marriage without trampling any minority rights, disregarding your silly analogy.

    “One second you’re saying you can’t know what will happen, the next you’re saying we shouldn’t change anything anyway.

    The two statements are not contradictory. I am unsure about the distant future. Hence I’d prefer to stick with the basic institutions and laws that have made Western civilization the greatest of all civilizations! Does this mean I am a statist? No. There are aspects about our society which demand radical thinking and reform. Eg: Slavery in the 19th cen, Child marriage, abuse of homosexuals. But those are extreme cases. I don’t want radicalism in areas where there’s nothing broken in the first place.”
    Yet by your reasoning on gay marriage, we shouldn’t change any of those laws, as we must “stick with the basic institutions and laws that have made Western civilization the greatest of all civilizations!” After all, how could we know whether it wasn’t slavery, child marriage, and gay abuse that made Western culture so great? Perhaps removing such institutions would cause irreparable harm in the “distant future?” ;)

    You may not care about gays wanting to marry, just as many Americans didn’t care about slavery in the past. I’ve admitted that gay marriage is a minor issue. But something is “broken” for them and I think we can debate the issue and come up with a better solution, rather than sticking our heads in the sand.

    “I only spoke about why I favor the legal institution of marriage. Not about your views on the same. Also I find the stances of certain libertarians on these issues often contradictory (give access to marriage laws for gays on one hand, abolish marriage on the other hand)”
    You mentioned those who want legal protections for gay unions, which I’ve repeatedly said I’d like to get rid of for all unions. Not sure why you keep bringing up such folk to me, if you know I’d simply get rid of the marriage laws. Maybe not all libertarians are on the same page on how to include gay marriage, but I suspect the “abolish it” crowd is the majority and I’ve certainly made my position clear.

    “No. I drew the analogy between Social security legislation of the 30s and the gay marriage legislation that is contemplated today. Both were attempting to fix things that ain’t broken. The former has already had a deleterious impact not just on the economy but also on the family (a consensual non-governmental institution). Not sure what sort of impact this gay marriage thing will have going forward.”
    Ah, I finally understand your analogy. :) I’m pretty sure gay marriage will have nowhere near the impact that even the original 1% tax had. I don’t see how it would have any impact on the economy or families, but in the latter case, even if it did, I don’t care.

    “Never said otherwise. Agree with you. However production of babies involves inherent asymmetries that necessitate marriage laws. For eg: A woman invests potentially 2-3 years of her life to have 2-3 babies. While a man’s investment is limited to a few brief moments of intercourse. Marriage laws address this asymmetry. Adoption of babies by gay couples has none of these asymmetries!!”
    I’m pretty sure marriage laws are not about the time spent in pregnancy, which is small in comparison to the 17 years afterwards spent raising them, which would apply to gay parents as well. If they don’t adopt any kids, well, many straight marriages don’t produce any kids either and the law applies equally to them.

    “I don’t care either! Though my personal views on the subject may differ from yours. What I objected to was your categorical remark that we ‘don’t need babies’! A strange thing to say when the rich world is facing serious issues with entitlement culture that can potentially be solved or atleast mitigated by a younger population. Having said that I’d be the last person to pressurize anybody into marriage or having kids.”
    I was cutting you off at the pass for the usual conservative argument that we need to enable family and child-rearing. I was very precise: I said we don’t “need” babies, which is the usual conservative argument that even you seem to be making finally, if only to keep the entitlement ponzi scheme going. If someone wants to have babies, I have little problem with that, as long as they weren’t pressured into it. Entitlement culture is not going to be “solved” or “mitigated” by simply churning out a bunch of kids; it’s solved by getting people off the entitlements.

    You may not personally “pressurize anybody into marriage or having kids” but the heterosexual family-oriented culture you want to keep enshrined within the law often has that effect anyway. Let’s get it all out of the law and let people choose what sort of life they want. Speaking of which, I just stumbled across this recent piece that addresses exactly some topics we talked about. Perhaps she’s reading our conversation, ;) more likely this is a common meme these days.

  14. shrikanthk says:

    You may not personally “pressurize anybody into marriage or having kids” but the heterosexual family-oriented culture you want to keep enshrined within the law often has that effect anyway

    I think you’re being very condescending here. Just because the law includes marriage doesn’t mean people are coaxed towards a certain type of lifestyle. Don’t underestimate the will of the people around you. Regardless of whether marriage remains legal or not, people will choose the lifestyle they like. They can choose to get married and have kids, they may choose to live in with their partners, they may choose to remain single or choose to have gay partners. All these choices remain open to everyone. Not just in US but in most parts of the world.

    However you will still notice that in heterogenous societies like US with relatively low trust levels a lot of people will continue to get married of their own volition for the simple reason that they like marriage.

    I was very precise: I said we don’t “need” babies, which is the usual conservative argument that even you seem to be making finally, if only to keep the entitlement ponzi scheme going

    Entitlement culture is not going to be “solved” or “mitigated” by simply churning out a bunch of kids; it’s solved by getting people off the entitlements.

    You’re never going to get people off entitlements in a society where informal safety nets do not exist (of which family is one).

    I was very precise: I said we don’t “need” babies

    Your remark was totally unprovoked wherein you used flippant words like “cranking out” to describe what is a fundamental aspect of human existence.

    I’m pretty sure marriage laws are not about the time spent in pregnancy

    Marriage laws arise from the basic fact that women have babies while men don’t!! I don’t know why it is so difficult to grasp this. Both progressives and libertarians want to get around this by pretending women and men are just about the same by using gender neutral words/phrases like “spouse”, “a pregnant couple” etc. It is a denial of nature that is at work.

    You may not care about gays wanting to marry, just as many Americans didn’t care about slavery in the past

    Absolutely no parallel here at all. Slavery was about something as basic as not treating an individual as someone’s property. Marriage on the other hand is a contract, not a right. Even if gay marriage is disallowed, two gays can draft up a contract which has the features they need and apply it to themselves!

  15. shrikanthk says:

    Maybe not all libertarians are on the same page on how to include gay marriage, but I suspect the “abolish it” crowd is the majority and I’ve certainly made my position clear.

    My position is even clearer. Let the existing set-up remain. People ought to mind their own business be it taking care of kids, parents, significant others, instead of descending on to the streets trying to change the world! If you don’t like marriage or any of the laws, do not be a party to these laws. Make your own contracts (formalize them if you wish) and stick to them.

    Ofcourse we live in a free country. And people are still free to express their idiocy by participating in inane demonstrations. All I am saying is that I don’t like it.

  16. shrikanthk says:

    By the way I quite liked that Shikha Dalmia piece.

    I am all in favour of “flexibility of moral rules making social growth possible” as she quotes Hayek in that article.

    Having said that I am not an iconoclast either who will go about changing the very definition of a 3000-4000 year old institution or abolishing the legal basis of that institution altogether.

    I am a gradualist who believes that man is not as clever as he thinks. Knowledge is distributed in nature. And the stock of knowledge we have is the result of millenia of accumulation. A single generation has no right to pass a summary judgment on this stock of knowledge while being unaware of the process of accumulation, especially when such a drastic summary judgment can impact of lives unborn for millenia to come.

    • Arnold Kling says:

      ok guys, let’s give it a rest. Maybe exchange emails if you want to keep this going.

    • Ajay says:

      Your position is a muddle, your thoughts spurious and random. I pointed out that pregnancy only affects a year of straight couples’ lives, while gay couples have to spend the same 17 years raising their kids as any straight parents: you repeat your nonsensical assertion that because only the woman can get pregnant, that changes everything!!!

      Why? Who knows.

      Since Arnold has some strange affinity for keeping his blog’s comments sparse and you continue to manufacture all kinds of aversions and weird allusions of danger, while never stating what you’re actually worried about, as it would no doubt be laughable, I’ll leave it here.

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