Thursday, February 09, 2012

Being Single Is a Luxury

Bryan Caplan

I'm baffled by people who blame declining marriage rates on poverty. Why? Because being single is more expensive than being married. Picture two singles living separately. If they marry, they sharply cut their total housing costs. They cut the total cost of furniture, appliances, fuel, and health insurance. Even groceries get cheaper: think CostCo.

These savings are especially blatant when your income is low. Even the official poverty line acknowledges them. The Poverty Threshold for a household with one adult is $11,139; the Poverty Threshold for a household with two adults is $14,218. When two individuals at the poverty line maintain separate households, they're effectively spending 2*$11,139-$14,218=$8,060 a year to stay single.

But wait, there's more. Marriage doesn't just cut expenses. It raises couples' income. In the NLSY, married men earn about 40% more than comparable single men; married women earn about 10% less than comparable single women. From a couples' point of view, that's a big net bonus. And much of this bonus seems to be causal.

If you're rich, admittedly, you have to consider the marriage tax. But weighed against all the financial benefits of marriage, it's usually only modest drawback.

Yes, you can capture some these benefits simply by cohabitating. But hardly all. And cohabitation is far less stable than marriage. Long-term joint investments - like buying a house - are a lot more likely to blow up in your face. And while there may be some male cohabitation premium, it's smaller than the marriage premium.

If being single is so expensive, why are the poor far less likely to get married and stay married? I'm sure you could come up with a stilted neoclassical explanation. But this is yet another case where behavioral economics and personality psychology have a better story. Namely: Some people are extremely impulsive and short-sighted. If you're one of them, you tend to mess up your life in every way. You don't invest in your career, and you don't invest in your relationships. You take advantage of your boss and co-workers, and you take advantage of your romantic partners. You refuse to swallow your pride - to admit that the best job and the best spouse you can get, though far from ideal, are much better than nothing. Your behavior feels good at the time. But in the long-run people see you for what you are, and you end up poor and alone.

SOURCE (See the original for links)


Dishonorable Mentions

Like the writer below, the age of semi-literacy into which modern "education" has thrust us does rather give me the horrors. You have to think clearly to write well and that ability is disappearing. I see semi-literacy as a sign of degraded education generally. And the more degraded education is, the more susceptible people are to empty Leftist asssertions. -- JR

Last month, this column gave out awards for the ten greatest linguistic monstrosities of 2011. It was not required that the winners be born in that year — only that they had been prominently, glossily, and grossly overused in it.

I thought I'd made my decisions wisely, but evidently I was wrong. Word Watch has an intelligent and discerning audience, and there was a great outcry against my choices.

No one asserted that the ten expressions were innocent and charming victims of Cox's vindictive spleen. After all, who could defend “dead on arrival” (used for every piece of legislation one doesn’t like), “icon” (used for everything except religious pictures), or “epic” (used for everything whatever)? The objection in each case was to my omission of other candidates, expressions just as worthy of hatred and fear as the ones I mentioned.

There was merit — much merit — in the protests I received. It is therefore my duty, and my pleasure, to publicize some of the strongest additional candidates for inclusion among the Most Gruesome Expressions of the Year Just Past. Again, there’s no requirement that a contender should have originated in 2011. The distinguishing characteristic is disgusting overuse.

I’ll arrange this new set of linguistic freaks under four headings.

1. The labor theory of value

When the January Word Watch was published, an anonymous correspondent wrote immediately to ask, “What about the awful term ‘worker,’ which apparently we've all now become?” To which a reader named Rusty replied, “I would add 'working families' to the list.”

They're both right. The labor theory of value continues to spawn all kinds of smarmy words. The current use of “worker” (which I'm always tempted to pronounce as "woikuh," in the old Daily Woikuh style) is one of the most insidious items in our political vocabulary. It has no meaning of its own; it’s just a code for other things. Stupid other things.

My anonymous reader was getting at that when he noticed that we are all "workers" now. Yet because the word is used only to signify good things, certain parties are necessarily, though illogically, excluded. When President Obama uses the term, he plainly doesn’t mean “everyone who works.” He doesn’t mean people who work on “Wall Street” (however many thousands of those people he also has working in his own administration). He doesn’t mean employers. He doesn’t mean doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs. He means something like “manual or subordinate laborers.” He means the people whom he frequently pictures as “living from paycheck to paycheck.”

I don't know any Indian chiefs who live from paycheck to paycheck, but maybe that's because I don't know any Indian chiefs. I do know plenty of doctors and lawyers who live that way, just as I know plenty of people who work with their hands but have no problem meeting their mortgages. So Obama's moral or financial distinction between workers and — what? non-workers? — isn't worth a damn. Let me tell you, my doctor does a lot of work when he has to deal with me.

The core reference of this coded language of work is “union labor.” That type of labor is, understandably, a central concern of Obama's administration, since unions were crucial to making him president. Yet from the intellectual point of view (and Obama is supposed to be an intellectual), it’s too bad that he and his friends want to wipe the literal meaning of "work" completely off the map. If the unionized denizens of the DMV do “work,” and lifesaving medicos do not, then what happens to the concept of, well, work? What happens to "effort expended for a productive purpose"? It vanishes, that’s what.

I haven’t mentioned the odor of self-righteousness that now attaches to “worker,” the word. All so-called workers, such as our friends at the DMV, are assumed to be more deserving, more useful — in short, better than everyone else. This is simply, directly, and stupidly offensive. It’s worse when the reference spreads to people who don’t even pretend to work, as in “working families.” Now the two-year-old child of the DMV desk-holder is included among the Woikuhs of duh Woiurld, and the medical scientist remains in the outer darkness.

2. The awesomeness of awesomeness

Willard Brickey wrote to say, “Maybe you've mentioned it before, but ‘awesome’ is a word abused so often that it's practically impossible to use it in its original, legitimate sense.”

True. The current plague of “awesome” resulted from some mutation in the brains of skateboarders and other such people. For more than two decades, “awesome” has been employed as a universal adjective, the anointed successor to such words as “cool” and “incredible.” At first it was boards, waves, and dudes that were awesome; but soon it was everything — caps, tatts, high ‘n’ tights — that was in any way associated with maleness. (“Awesome” is a male-coded word.)

This disease had ugly precedents at the other end of the social spectrum from gamers and thrashers. Historically, “awesome” has been most strongly associated with religion. But at some point in the 20th century, people, even religious people, stopped being interested in traditional religious language. They were no longer sure what “awe” might mean, and they didn’t care. They recognized that the word itself must have some power, since it appeared in prayers and stuff like that, but they were confused by the “some” that often got attached to it. Unwilling to resort to a dictionary, they assumed that “awesome,” the adjective, was some kind of general intensifier that could be used on anything.

Here’s an example — with a fairly long preamble.

Virtually all Christian songs that are widely known today were introduced before the mid-twentieth century. One reason is that around that time — the time when the Baby Boom first went to school — many otherwise verbal people stopped being interested in traditional literary language. They suddenly didn’t know what “hither” meant, let alone “thither” — or “sustain,” “solace,” “deplore,” or “chide.” They stopped having enough language to write enduring songs. They stopped understanding songs that had been universally popular only a few years before. They couldn’t understand what the hymn writer meant when he said, in the moving last stanza of a song that used to be standard in Christian congregations:

God be with you till we meet again:
Keep love’s banner floating o’er you,
Smite death’s threatening wave before you;
God be with you till we meet again.

What, they wondered, could "smite" possibly mean? And how does a banner "float"? So songs like that began to vanish.

“Amazing Grace” is a Christian song that everyone still “knows.” It was written in the 18th century and popularized by its use in a movie (The Onion Field) in 1979. Despite its present popularity, which is generally based on a serious misunderstanding of its meaning, no one could write that kind of song today. It has too many of those, like, weird old expressions in it. It even refers to “snares.”

The only other universally recognized Christian song that was popularized after the mid-20th century is “How Great Thou Art.” To my ears, this song is the pale, bewildered ghost of a great tradition. One proof is that it begins in this way:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made . . .
Then sings my soul, my savior, God, to thee.
How great thou art! How great thou art!

When I hear those lines, my own soul says, “How dumb this is! How dumb this is!” Awesome doesn’t belong in there. The singer means that God is “awesome.” Fine. But what he says is that his own “wonder” is “awesome.” Which is dumb.

But why the hell shouldn’t he say it? Can’t awesome be applied to everything?

O Lord my God, it can be. But when you hear that anything-goes awesome, you are hearing the “ave atque vale” of our linguistic heritage. If you don’t know what “ave atque vale” means, go look it up. That will be an awesome experience for you.

Snobbish? I don’t care. Would you rather know something, or not know it?

[I think that "How great thou art" is one of the greatest hymns ever written but that use of "awesome" has always made me cringe. It is obviously a mistake for "awestruck" -- JR]

3. We hear he is a whiz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was

Let’s proceed from the falsely sublime to the truly ridiculous. One reader insisted that I must have been paid not to mention the scandalous misuse of “General” and other honorifics. I wasn’t, unfortunately — but here’s what she meant.

The Attorney General of the United States is not a military officer. Neither is the Surgeon General of the United States. They are not generals. They never lead troops into battle. They are attorneys or surgeons ingeneral service to the nation. Yet when Eric Holder, the current Attorney General, came before Congress to testify about his role in the gunrunning operation known as Fast and Furious, he was repeatedly asked such questions as, “You’re not suggesting, are you, General Holder, that it wasn’t your responsibility to have known about this problem?” The questioning congressmen didn’t understand what Holder’s title meant — any more than congressmen, commentators, and other potentates understand that the Surgeon General should not be addressed as General or appear in the Ruritarian, supposedly military, uniforms in which, beginning with the Reagan administration, they have obtruded themselves on the public attention.

Worries about the Attorney General turned my reader’s attention to worries about political titles ingeneral, and their persistence in particular. “When,” she wondered, “do people stop being this or that which they have been in the past?”

Good question. Receiving it, I had fond memories of R.W. Bradford, founder of Liberty, who often lodged the same complaint.

At the House committee hearing called to investigate Jon Corzine’s behavior as head of the IMF investment outfit, Corzine revealed that he had no idea what had become of $1.2 billion invested with him. That was startling enough; almost as startling to me was the fact that Corzine sat behind a committee-provided sign that read, in big black letters, “The Honorable Jon S. Corzine.” Corzine is “honorable” because he used to be a senator and a state governor. Used to be (thank God).

The poet Wordsworth wrote insightfully of spiritual states that do not cease — that “having been, must ever be.” Apparently it’s the same with Corzine’s “honor.” No matter what happens, he keeps his titles, and even his moral additives, forever. He even keeps his middle initial, as if there were some other Jon Corzine, equally involved in both scandals and congressional investigations, who might otherwise be confused with him.

For God’s sake, isn’t there any statute of limitations for these political functionaries? When Gertrude Smith retires from the DMV, even she (one of the “woiking class”) isn’t addressed as Counter Clerk Smith for the rest of her life. So why is Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, solemnly addressed as “Speaker Gingrich,” 13 years after he stopped being speaker? Is he likely to be mistaken for some other Gingrich, currently running for president?




The horrors of getting approval for an ice cream parlour in San Francisco: "The tragedy of the anti-commons is a useful concept for understanding a prevalent type of government failure in both poor and rich countries–excessive permit and licensing requirements. A pervasive multiple licensing system can create an impenetrable conjunctive permission line that even the most energetic cannot overcome. To start a business, to build, to hire, to sell, you need first to convince bureaucrat A and B and C and D and so on. The longer the conjunctive line, the less frequently entrepreneurs enter the market with new products and services. The transaction costs for dealing with each bureaucrat are very high, as is the likelihood that any single one will say no. The upshot is an impoverished society."

Economics lessons for President Obama: "President Obama keeps telling us that our taxes are too low. Really? But how can that be when all the formerly communist ex-Soviet republics now have lower tax rates than America. Do they know something that we don’t? Obama keeps telling us that we must tax the rich at higher rates, just like our friends in Europe. But there’s a big problem. The tax and spend European system is broken. Not just broken, but broke."

UK: “No negotiations” on Falklands: "Britain on Wednesday dismissed a complaint from Argentina about the 'militarization of the South Atlantic' as tensions rise regarding the Falkland Islands, over which the two countries fought a war 30 years ago. 'The people of the Falkland Islands are British out of choice,' the British Foreign Office said in a statement. 'They are free to determine their own future, and there will be no negotiations with Argentina on sovereignty unless the Islanders wish it.'"

WA: House approves homosexual marriage bill: "Washington’s same-sex marriage bill is on its way to Gov. Chris Gregoire for signing in the next few days. The Democrat-controlled state House voted 55 to 43 this afternoon to approve Senate Bill 6239. ... Republican efforts to attach a referendum clause to the bill died on a 47-to-51 vote. Opponents including the evangelical Faith and Freedom Network have pledged to mount a referendum or initiative to repeal the law, and one activist has already filed Initiative 1192 to limit marriages by law to one man and one woman."



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