Sunday, January 02, 2005

Judge Posner, say hello to Reverend Malthus...

... and say goodbye to any chance for that Supreme Court nomination.

Richard Posner, judge (until recently chief judge) of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, leader in the field of law-and-economics, and prolific contributor to discussion on many subjects of public interest, writes on the Becker-Posner blog:

This is my response to the Becker posting on "Disease, Population, and "Wellbeing."...

Becker's posting ... does suggest that HIV-AIDS is a worthy object of "international assistance from philanthropic and other groups."

I disagree on two grounds. First, I do not think that foreign aid is a good use of public or private money. All the problems that foreign aid seeks to alleviate are within the power of the recipient countries to solve if they adopt sensible policies...

Second, I am not as optimistic as Becker is about the positive benefits of increased population in poor countries... on balance HIV-AIDS may, as argued in a recent paper by Alwyn Young,
"The Gift of the Dying" (.pdf), increase per capita incomes in poor countries by causing wage rates to rise, since the epidemic has reduced the supply of labor...
Oh, I do believe that's not politically sensitive enough to curry higher appointment. "The Gift of Dying"?

Now, have I taken words out of context here and edited in ellipses to make them read more starkly than what was actually written? Perhaps I have... But what will those politicians do?

Not that there was ever any chance judge Posner would be appointed to join the Supremes in any event, what with the paper trail as wide as an eight-lane highway that he's left behind him.

Why, he's even written that polygamy not only does not exploit women but actually benefits them -- and serves to "promote economic equality" and the "political stability" of society too.* The cad!

How does he claim this? Well, if several women voluntarily decide to become the wives of one man, it must benefit them compared to the alternatives available to them or they wouldn't voluntarily do it. Which is easy enough to visualize if the man is Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. And splitting up the wealthy man's estate among several wives and all their numerous progeny will break up that estate a lot faster than, say, the estate tax will, thus fostering economic equality.

So with polygamy the winners are the greater number of individual women who choose to marry rich, women in general since they all gain a larger number of potential mates to choose from, the rich men who happily take on more than one mate, and the proponents of economic equality.

Who loses? Well, if the male/female ratio in the population is near 50/50 then after the rich males take multiple wives there will be too few women left to go around for all the other men. So low-status males will end up without a mate, and lose.

It follows that laws against polygamy were not enacted to protect women against exploitation, but rather at the cost of women as part of a deal among men in which the high-status males (who can afford mistresses anyhow) agreed to give up the right to have more than one wife in order to pacify the low-status males who exist in larger numbers, and often with more violent tendencies.

As such laws generally were enacted long before women got the vote, that makes perfect sense. Why would men vote altruistically to stop exploiting women?

Now, have I taken the good judge's words and ideas somewhat out of context here, possibly conveying a not fully accurate impression of them? Perhaps I have...

But is anyone going to send before a Senate confirmation committee a nominee who's going to face questions along the lines of, "You believe polygamy is good for women?", and a hundred others like it that would be pulled from that eight-lane paper trail?

I don't think so, which is why judge Posner will never be a candidate to become Justice Posner. Which is too bad, if you ask me. I'd love to see him before that committee. It would be great fun.

* The Economics of Justice, pp. 164-168