James Taranto has an outstanding opinion piece up on the Wall Street Journal titled Are Boys Irrational?* Taranto responds to the same quote by MIT economics professor Michael Greenstone that I responded to back in March in my post Why aren’t men responding to economic signals?
I think the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not, and it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation.
– Michael Greenstone, M.I.T. economics professor
Taranto comes to the same obvious conclusion I did, that men are in fact reacting quite rationally to our radical redesign of the family from a marriage based model to a child support based model. Taranto asks why men should strive to become the “reliable husbands and fathers” Kay Hymowitz laments they are no longer striving to be (emphasis mine):
Well, why should men? Except perhaps in very conservative communities, men with sufficient social skills can find sex and companionship without need of a matrimonial commitment (and for those who lack social skills, a willingness to marry is unlikely to provide much compensation). The culture’s unrelenting message–repeated in Hymowitz’s article–is that women are doing fine on their own. If a woman doesn’t need a man, there’s little reason for him to devote his life to her service. Further, in the age of no-fault divorce, “reliable husbands and fathers” not infrequently find themselves impoverished by child support and restricted by court order from spending time with their children.
Taranto closes the piece with:
Boys and young men are no less rational, or capable of adapting to incentives, than girls and young women are. They are, in fact, adapting very well to the incentives for female power and independence–which inevitably also serve as disincentives to male reliability and self-sacrifice.
As simple and obvious as all of this is, it is uncommon to see this kind of clarity in the mainstream media. However, while Taranto lays the basic problem out with clarity, he doesn’t make the next logical step and tie this back to the larger economic implications of men rationally responding to the new incentives. My guess is he is already thinking this, but understands that his audience and his peers in the media aren’t ready to take the next step. However, as the reality of the incentives to men under the new social and family structure become accepted sooner or later the question will inevitably turn to:
Then whom shall we tax?
This is when the penny will really drop, and the full cost of our radical experiment will start to become obvious. The tax question is critical, because the elites see tax revenues as their funds to spend to better our society and the world at large. Given our welfare state and progressive tax structure we need high earners to pay for the system, but women (married or otherwise) and unmarried men aren’t going to replace the tax base we are forfeiting by destroying marriage:
As our elites begin to understand this they will eventually have to rethink their love of child support over marriage and their commitment to the threatpoint as a way to improve marriage. We are probably many years if not several decades off from the day that this is fully accepted by our elites, but once they accept this reality I’m convinced we will start to see low profile efforts to slowly roll back the worst excesses of the family courts and a higher profile push in the media and entertainment industry selling marriage and fatherhood to men. However, in the meantime the cultural impact of our husband/father hostile society will continue to greatly harm the institution of marriage and the economic and human costs will continue to add up.
*H/T Don Riefstahl (see a summary of Riefstahl’s book here)