December 9, 2006


Polygamy: Gary Becker vs. Nicholas Wade: A common theme here at iSteve is how intellectually Aspergery so many economists are. The thinking of a lot of famous economists seems to be vaguely autistic in the sense that they seem disconnected from so many obvious facts about human nature. Here, for example, is Gary Becker, who, oddly enough, won his Nobel for is work on family life, making a case for polygamy:

"While the ferocious opposition to polygamy seemed strange even in the 1970's when I first wrote about this practice, it is much stranger now in light of developments during the past couple of decades. These developments include a successful movement to legalize contracts between gays that allow them to live as married couples, even though there is ongoing emotional debate about whether such couples can legally be considered "married". ... If modern women are at least as capable as men in deciding whom to marry, why does polygyny continue to be dubbed a "barbarous" practice?

In other words, Becker just doesn't get it about why people don't like polygamy, even though the real reason is easily expressed in economics terminology: Monogamy is a cartel formed by males to reduce male vs. male competition for wives to more of a matter of quality than of quantity. The ability of a culture's males to cooperate with each other is correlated with the overall quality of life in that culture. But Becker doesn't seem familiar with that common argument.

Here it's expressed by the NYT's genetic reporter Nicholas Wade in his book Before the Dawn:

"The novel arrangement of pairing off males and females creates a whole new set of social calculations. Most males in the society now have a chance to reproduce since they possess socially endorsed access to at least one female. So each male has a much greater incentive to invest in cooperative activities, such as hunting or defense, that may benefit the society as a whole.

The pair bond takes much of the edge out of male-to-male aggression. It also requires that men trust one another more, and can have some confidence that those who go hunting won't be cuckolded by those to stay to defend the women."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Does commonly practiced bigamy correlate to greater social mobility and miscegnation in the upper classes?

One thing that is striking about Arab society which in many ways is so tribal (cousin marriage, etc) is that the upper classes seem to have quite a cosmopolitan mix of wives (Osama Bin Laden being both Syrian and Yemeni) and the wives aren't necesarily from the very top strata as they mostly would be in Europe.

With the growing acceptance of semi-polygamy in the form of adultery and divorce, could we see upward social mobility among women?

Do Arab countries have a younger son problem in the same way that feudal Europe did?

Steve Sailer said...

Good questions.