An Interview with Jennifer Roback Morse

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Marvin Olasky has a helpful audio interview with Jennifer Roback Morse, an economist of marriage, family, and sex.

World Magazine carries an edited version. Some excerpts below:

Has having two children changed the way you approach economic questions?

It made me realize how much economists take for granted: we assume that people are adults, that they can manage on their own, make contracts, pursue their own self-interests, defend themselves, respect property rights. . . . But I can tell you, 2-year-olds do not respect property rights.

They want what they want?

Unless you get children from the stage where they’re little bundles of impulses and somehow make them adults who can keep promises and contracts and respect other people’s rights, you don’t have a society. So the business of creating a society is actually taking place in the home and being done by mothers and fathers. The whole economics profession was overlooking that part of life.

What happens if we assume this basic teaching will inevitably happen?

Without some basic structure to function in, it becomes every person out for himself. Forget gay marriage: That’s a sideshow. The main show is the deinstitutionalization of marriage. By making it so we’re free of attachments and obligations and responsibilities, we don’t have the ability to cooperate with each other or the structure that allows us to invest together over a long period of time.

No-fault divorce has certainly been freeing for the person who wants to abandon a marriage . . .

To be crude and economics-y, when a man and a woman have a child together, you’re asking that they invest a long period of time cooperating in order to bring that child up into adulthood. Right now, with no-fault divorce, you have less contractual protection for the activity of bringing up a child than you have to build a house together. You couldn’t get out of a mortgage contract as easily as people get out of their marriages. There’s less investment in child-raising because there’s no basic structure for cooperation over a long period of time.

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In addition to the audio interview and print excerpts, you can also watch this 45-minute lecture by Dr. Morse at Houston Baptist University on “What Happened to the Marriage Culture in the West?”

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