12.5.18

ECONOMICS IS ABOUT SEX, DEATH, AND WHY THE LINES ARE LONGEST AT THE ROLLERCOASTER, ISN'T IT?

That makes for a provocative political economy question, then: is there a positive right to sex?  (Cue John Galt: provided by whom?  Blank-out.  So put a bag over your head and do it for the greater good.)

All wise-cracking aside, that's the fallout from a recent terrorist incident in Toronto, where it was not a devotee of the caliphate running pedestrians down, rather it was somebody who was a flop with chicks, hadn't kissed one since 1966, and couldn't find a bottle of Love Potion No. 9.

Sorry.  I should be serious.  There are guys acting out their aggressions, on the streets of Toronto, on sorority row in Santa Barbara, and probably at every fraternity mixer, or at least Student Affairs would have you think so.  Let's get serious, then, and dig into a lengthy Amia Srinivasan essay, "Does anyone have the right to sex?," in London Review of Books.  I've cherry picked a quote, and it doesn't really do the essay justice, as the author touches on a number of things, but that quote gets to the heart of the positive right question.
The utopian socialist Charles Fourier proposed a guaranteed ‘sexual minimum’, akin to a guaranteed basic income, for every man and woman, regardless of age or infirmity; only with sexual deprivation eliminated, Fourier thought, could romantic relationships be truly free. This social service would be provided by an ‘amorous nobility’ who, Fourier said, ‘know how to subordinate love to the dictates of honour’.
Be sure, dear reader, to provide for sufficient paper bags or rainbow flags in five-year-plan!

After the van-driver's social media rants became public, though, George Mason economist Robin Hanson takes the political economy of the ranting seriously.
One might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income, and might similarly hope to gain from organizing around this identity, to lobby for redistribution along this axis and to at least implicitly threaten violence if their demands are not met. As with income inequality, most folks concerned about sex inequality might explicitly reject violence as a method, at least for now, and yet still be encouraged privately when the possibility of violence helps move others to support their policies. (Sex could be directly redistributed, or cash might be redistributed in compensation.)

Strikingly, there seems to be little overlap between those who express concern about income and sex inequality. Among our cultural elites, the first concern is high status, and the later concern low status. For example, the article above seems not at all sympathetic to sex inequality concerns.
Yes, because there's a tension between the angry guys' perception of feminism, and one of the dynamics of feminism, starting in the second wave, in which women enjoy more freedom to initiate conversation rather than waiting for the guy to make the first move: alas, a creepy guy is also likely to be clueless at maintaining a conversation let alone steering it, thus the appeal of the pickup artists?

Thinking about political economy in those terms, however, led Slate's Jordan Weissmann to ask, "Is Robin Hanson America’s Creepiest Economist?"  (Probably not: economics is inherently creepy to a lot of people, because thinking about trade-offs and recognizing that choices imply and are implied by foregone alternatives precludes unambiguous fixes.)  Thus does Professor Hanson respond, "Why Economics Is, And Should Be, Creepy."
So economists often consider language and policies that violate world norms, which makes them possibly threatening. While many surface indications suggest they have the best of motives, they also have many quirks that make them seem a bit odd. So they are harder to trust. Making economists an ambiguous threat. Which is to say: economics is naturally a bit creepy.

And I say: at least when we are doing it right, economics should be at least a bit creepy. We should continue to use our tool kit to explore all areas of human behavior, and when possible subsume and include concepts and insights from other humans and social sciences. We should seek one integrated view of people and society, crossing as needed borders between official and personal life areas. We should evaluate all possible policies that could plausibly influence key outcomes, even those that violate world norms.

Of course norms and feelings of creepiness are part of the social world, and so we should not neglect them in our analysis. Adopting policies that violate norms may undermine those norms, and our merely suggesting such policies may undermine respect for economists.
In a world, though, where evolution is mutation, selection, and adaptation, sometimes those creepy ideas demonstrate an advantage over received ideas.  Fortunately, sitting down for lunch and civil disagreement is still A Thing, and Messrs. Hanson and Weissmann do so.  "We spent 1 million years or 2 million years as foragers and have only really spent 10,000 years or so after that. And foragers consistently redistributed food and protection. And they did not redistribute sex. So, you could just say that default presumption has remained from a forager ancestry. That’s another plausible hypothesis to explain this difference."

Then comes Ross Douthat, "The Redistribution of Sex," attempting to make sense of the exchanges.
[As] offensive or utopian the redistribution of sex might sound, the idea is entirely responsive to the logic of late-modern sexual life, and its pursuit would be entirely characteristic of a recurring pattern in liberal societies.

First, because like other forms of neoliberal deregulation the sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones, privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration.

Second, because in this new landscape, and amid other economic and technological transformations, the sexes seem to be struggling generally to relate to one another, with social and political chasms opening between them and not only marriage and family but also sexual activity itself in recent decline.

Third, because the culture’s dominant message about sex is still essentially Hefnerian, despite certain revisions attempted by feminists since the heyday of the Playboy philosophy — a message that frequency and variety in sexual experience is as close to a summum bonum as the human condition has to offer, that the greatest possible diversity in sexual desires and tastes and identities should be not only accepted but cultivated, and that virginity and celibacy are at best strange and at worst pitiable states. And this master narrative, inevitably, makes both the new inequalities and the decline of actual relationships that much more difficult to bear …

… which in turn encourages people, as ever under modernity, to place their hope for escape from the costs of one revolution in a further one yet to come, be it political, social or technological, which will supply if not the promised utopia at least some form of redress for the many people that progress has obviously left behind.

There is an alternative, conservative response, of course — namely, that our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate.

But this is not the natural response for a society like ours. Instead we tend to look for fixes that seem to build on previous revolutions, rather than reverse them.
Perhaps "we" search in vain.
One has to wonder how different things would have been if feminism had demanded economic freedom for women and denounced the sexual revolution in the interest of preserving womens' traditional roles as the guardians of chastity. This would have gained for women the equal pay and opportunity they deserved while at the same time ensuring that women who wanted to raise families would find willing husbands-to-be.

Such a situation would also have spread the gains from feminism. Today the only victors in the sexual revolution are those men and women who are good-looking and clever enough to enjoy multiple partners with a minimum of emotional and financial commitment. The dowdy and the not-so-clever (or not-so-unscrupulous) are used by the well-endowed and find loneliness and frustration where, in a previous generation, they would probably have been able to start families.
Thirty years ago, still valid, still no convincing arguments that continuing the revolution, if that's what it is, is somehow better than restoring a state of good repair to conventions of long standing.

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