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Why "Marriage Makes You Rich" is coming back
… rich people are better at staying married than poor people, which proves (as veteran followers of the schtick will have already guessed) that marriage causes wealth, and it's a pity more paupers don't realize that just popping by City Hall for a license will substantially increase their earning power.
College improves your earning prospects. So does marriage. Education makes you more likely to live longer. So does marriage.
So the poors, who we don’t want to send to college because they’ll just get above themselves, should instead be getting married, which is just as good outcomes-wise. (As I’ve said before about this reasoning, you might as well say marriage makes you white.)
Their usual follow-on to this is even weirder: liberals know marriage makes you rich, conservatives say, and that’s why they get married in large numbers, but they are hiding this information from the poors because they want to see the poor play out their utopian anti-marriage dreams while being happily connubial themselves. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, for example, said it’s the libs’ “cosmopolitan perspective” that “makes them not feel good at the idea of public policy that would interfere with personal choices (allowing for a second that getting married is a ‘personal choice’ in a way that going to college isn’t).” Thus whatever slum-dwelling singletons are reading Paul Krugman and David Graeber are getting a bum steer.
(Ha ha j/k I know McArdle and Gobry and the rest of these guys don’t imagine the poors read economists — they think these anti-marriage ideas are being transmitted to them via “culture,” which to most people means arts and entertainment but to conservatives always means a nefarious plot by people with humanities degrees to make everything sexed-up and awful.)
Marriage Makes You Rich has been a popular favorite for a few reasons. One is that it’s easy and fun — look, they’re pushing a good thing, marriage; everyone loves weddings! And it’s also an answer to all the liberals who think conservatives should be doing better by our poorer citizens — without costing their donors a cent (except in marriage promotion boondoggles, but those are cheap and help keep the less talented wingnut welfare cases off the street).
Now, I hadn’t been seeing the shtick employed so much in recent years. I assumed this was because, as I have said elsewhere, the Trump years led to a wholesale rejection of policy as such among conservatives — the poor aren’t supposed to be uplifted by any particular program or anything boring like that, they’re to be elevated by the will of Tubby and the killing of Mexicans.
But lately I’ve seen the trope revived. Melissa Kearney has a new book about it (called “The Two-Parent Privilege” — you liberals love to talk about ‘privilege,’ don’t you, ha ha) and it has led to a flare-up of articles like “Why marriage makes you and your children wealthier” (Telegraph). And of course the Times is on it! David Brooks, for example, plugged it into one of his recent whines:
…there used to be a norm that discouraged people from having children outside marriage, but that got washed away during our period of cultural dominance, as we eroded norms that seemed judgmental or that might inhibit individual freedom.
After this social norm was eroded, a funny thing happened. Members of our class still overwhelmingly married and had children within wedlock…
Right out of the playbook! And I find Nick Kristof pulled it recently, too. Lots of cohabitating, child-rearing poor people are unmarried, he notes — the problem is obvious, give ‘em a marriage certificate they can take to employers! Thereafter comes oh-no-not-this-again “Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a prescient report about the decline of marriage among Black Americans” and — perhaps because Kristof senses he’s losing the crowd — the utilitarian pitch: “Two parents can earn two incomes, meaning less poverty.” (Kristof, being a “liberal,” says they can even be gay!)
Inevitably Kristof laments the bad liberals who “remain traditional in their personal behaviors, mostly having children after marriage and raising their own kids in two-parent households” but won’t nag the poors, which “Brad Wilcox, a sociologist and family expert at the University of Virginia, calls this ‘talk left, walk right.’” But Kristof is ready to reach out to these filthy hippies with a liberal-friendly solution to go along with conservative marriage-pimping: “lifting earnings of low-education men. This makes them more ‘marriageable,’ researchers find.”
Ha ha, you don’t say! Something else you don’t say is that no government under any measure of Republican control would ever allow any such program that lifted these men’s earnings to happen. Oh, some of their oilier con artists might pretend they would — just as Republicans who support abortion bans keep telling us they’ll make it up to the little ladies with child-raising subsidies — but those never, ever, ever materialize, either, because conservatives love to nag but hate to devote money to poverty programs when God meant that money to recondition the decks of their donors’ yachts.
And speaking of that: I think Dobbs is part of the reason why I’m seeing a revival of Marriage Makes You Rich.
I don’t mean these guys are conscious of it, but I think the general trend in conservatism concerning Dobbs requires it. They’re getting pasted electorally for Dobbs, but there’s no indication that they’ll back off their campaign to make abortion bans nationwide — they’re like misogynist zombies, stumbling forward into the pitchforks and machetes. (And forget what Trump said about it; we all — including his followers — know the guy’s full of shit.) Having won the right to torture, they’re not about to deprive themselves of the pleasure of the act itself.
In such an environment, conservative pundits who set Marriage Makes You Rich aside when it felt wonkish and unprofitable may have a reason to revive it now: Like the promise of free Pampers for forced broodsows, it suggests there’s a solution besides the obvious ones. We should be codifying Roe in law, rebuilding industry and subsidizing the safety net to employ and protect more Americans, etc. — but these would cost Republican donors money and enrage the holy rollers, so they must be ignored. Marriage Makes You Rich is meaningless gibberish, and for a certain type of intellectual shyster that makes it perfect for our moment.