Gregg Easterbrook

What Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz could tell gay couples

Jun 29, 2011 20:48 UTC

New York is about to become the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage, doing so by decision of its legislature, not judicial fiat. Gay marriage is gaining in social acceptance. Two generations ago, interracial marriage was viewed as scandalous, and often proscribed by law. Today it’s legal everywhere in the United States, unremarkable, and endorsed even by most religious conservatives. Same-sex marriage is likely to follow the same progression.

But as the saying goes — be careful what you wish for.

Advocates of gay matrimony speak entirely of the privileges received by those whose unions are recognized by the state. Human Rights Watch phrases same-sex marriage as a “right to equality.” The New York Times editorialized that New York’s new law expands the chance to “enjoy the legal rights of marriage.”

Marriage indeed brings privileges — community respect, health care benefits for spouses, improved credit ratings, the presumption of fitness for parenthood. I’ve been married for 23 years and am glad of that fact every day. (You’d have to check with my wife for her side of the story.)

But advocates of same-sex marriage speak as if wedded bliss were all wine and roses. There are many negatives attached to matrimony:

    Married people accept significant restrictions on personal freedom. (In theory there can be open marriages, but my guess is that about 15 people in world history have achieved an open marriage with two happy partners). Even in successful marriages, the restriction on freedom can be a source of stress.
    For a not inconsiderable number, marriage becomes a cause of misery. It can be sad to be alone; to be married to the wrong person can cause wretchedness. On “I Love Lucy,” marriage was a laugh a minute. Many wedded people experience marriage quite differently.
    You’re not just marrying a person, you are marrying his or her family. Two single people in a romance are motivated primarily by attraction to each other. Once marriage happens, families on both sides may invite themselves in. Gays and lesbians beware, marriage can mean lifelong close connection to people you have not chosen and perhaps haven’t even met.
    Raising children is far harder than your worst-case analysis. Spouses have two-way obligations to each other; parents have one-way obligations to children. My wife and I raised three children, all wonderful. But Lord almighty there was a lot of work, expense and obligation involved.
    Children may be romanticized by the unwed, including by unwed gays, as an exciting delight. The reality is that kids take over your life, even if all goes well. If things go poorly, children can bring unhappiness, and the ethical parent cannot under any circumstances walk away. This is also true legally. A spouse may be divorced. A child is your responsibility till age 18, regardless of what happens in the marriage.
    Married people have financial obligations that single persons are spared. In most states, spouses are responsible for each other’s debts — even debts of which they are unaware. Your spouse buys a Rolex watch without consulting you? Has a gambling debt you were never told about? You are liable. Same-sex marriage advocates speak often of money-related benefits of matrimony, such as that married people in most transactions are viewed as better credit risks than single persons. But if your spouse makes financial mistakes, they become your mistakes. Marriage, legally, is a contract. Part of the contract is liability for each other’s debts. There’s no out clause.

Concerns like these should not faze advocates of same-sex marriage. A fair guess is that men who marry men, and women who marry women, will end up either happy or miserable in about the same proportion as men and women who marry each other.

Unemployment is the real price of war

Jun 22, 2011 20:29 UTC

The cost of ongoing U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya is up to at least $1.2 trillion. What would the economic recovery look like if that money hadn’t been spent?

The GDP was about $10.1 trillion when U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan, and is $14.7 trillion now, an annualized growth rate at around 2 percent. That the U.S. economy still was able to grow despite war cost — every penny of it borrowed — other runaway borrowing, and the 2008 revelation of systemic perfidy on Wall Street, at the big banks and at Fannie Mae is testimony to America’s vibrancy.

But imagine if $1.2 trillion had been added to the economy, rather than spent on war. Of course lower military spending does not translate one-for-one into increased economic growth — the two aren’t directly correlated. But they are related, and as Harvard economist Martin Feldstein said last week, “each dollar of extra deficit adds much less than a dollar to GDP.”

Make Puerto Rico a state: it’s good for business

Jun 14, 2011 18:54 UTC

As Barack Obama makes the first presidential visit to Puerto Rico in half a century, let’s cut to the chase: this island will be the 51st state, and the sooner the better.

Fifty is a nice round number for states, but prepare to kiss it goodbye. Puerto Rico will be 51st, and not necessarily the last. Alberta and British Columbia may join the United States someday; U.S. states named Sonora and Baja California are not out of the question. There will be more stars on the flag.

The United States has always been about the open door: arrivals make the country stronger. The boundaries of our great nation have always been in flux: until 1912, it was far from clear that Arizona belonged.

Why can’t politicians admit they’re wrong?

Jun 7, 2011 13:36 UTC

Rep. Andrew Weiner, after elaborately denying posting a controversial picture on Twitter — Hollywood beauties are described as posing “semi-nude,” Weiner posed semi-lewd — just admitted that he did. Sarah Palin refuses to admit she was wrong about Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride — though she claimed Revere’s purpose was to warn “the British”. John Edwards, now facing criminal charges, is in jeopardy of going to jail owing to a chain of events that began when he refused to admit having an affair — after boasting of being a family-values vice-presidential candidate. Presidential contender Newt Gingrich first refused to admit a dumb remark about Medicare reform, then claimed quotation of his own remark is “a falsehood.” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey at first refused to admit using a state helicopter for personal travel — though it was on film! — then denounced those who complained.

These are merely the last week’s examples of a troubling tendency among public figures — refusal to admit being wrong. Just as lying about what you did may be worse than what you did, refusing to admit an error may be worse than the error itself.

All human beings occasionally are wrong — trust me, I’ve had plenty of experience! Honest admission of error makes a person upright and sympathetic. Refusing to admit error, by contrast, suggests deviousness or even megalomania. The sort of person who huffs and puffs and refuses to admit a mistake does not belong in a leadership position.

The Post Office — return to sender

Jun 1, 2011 18:01 UTC

Suppose a company that was losing customers to other firms responded by increasing prices, cutting service, granting raises to workers and overpaying management. If the company then demanded a lavish government bailout, the public would laugh.

The company I have just described is the United States Postal Service.

A USPS bailout is not the solution. Blowing up the Post Office — its monopoly, its customer-be-damned attitude, its system of lifetime job guarantees regardless of performance — is the solution. After the dust from the explosion settles, the mails will continue to exist, in a leaner, sustainable and more customer-conscious form.

The USPS just reported a $2.2 billion first-quarter loss, despite having a federal monopoly that exempts the Post Office from competition for its core business. Exemption from competition is the core of the USPS problem, allowing the agency to drag its heels against the modern age, while clinging to bad business practices.