Monday, October 15, 2012

Polygamy and the 1%

The scientists are still out on whether humans are monogamous or polygamous.  In the meantime, monogamy is pretty common.  More broadly, women are expected to have one husband or boyfriend, though a man may have several wives.  Cultures treat this in many ways.  Some use it almost as a form of a safety net for widows who would have trouble remarrying: men marry the widows of their brothers.  Others just require that men be able to financially support the women they marry.  And at the lowest end are the cultures which give no rules at all to the men while the women are sluts if they look for a second boyfriend or husband when the first cannot support them.  There are better and worse ways to do polygyny (multiple wives), but the end result is bad for men.

Yes, I did say bad for men.  Women may end up in a bad relationship or social structure, but there is at least the possibility for polygyny to be a step up from poverty and a cluster of fatherless children.  For men it means that some men have many wives.  Naturally there will be slightly more women born than men (it gets worse with sex-specific abortion and child abandonment), but not by enough to support much polygyny.  There will be men who are unmarried, not because they are bad people, but because there are not enough women or because they are concentrated with too few husbands.

These unmarried men don't like their situation.  They tend toward extremism and violence.  And why not?  They have no children and no hope, why would they not try something extreme?  Why would they not be jealous and resentful toward those who have all the women?

Concentration of women does society no good.  It isn't likely to help the women and it is guaranteed to harm the men.

Should we believe that money is any different?  I see no reason that excessive concentration of wealth won't deprive a large segment of the population, creating a large group that has no interest in a safe, stable society because it does not benefit from the safe, stable society.  Of course the pie can grow, and it does, but if most of the growth is all consumed by the 1% and the remaining pie is growing slower than population, then the pie is effectively shrinking.

Monogamy might be less fun and have less stature than polygyny, but it is safer.  In the same way, jobs and wealth must have something near an even distribution to avoid instability.  Not perfectly even, but when a falling tide raises some boats, something is not working properly and cannot continue for long.

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