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Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work Hardcover – April 23, 2001
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"A brilliant piece of intellectual exploration." -- Michael Novak
"A magnificent defense of marriage and family." -- First Things
"Economists, theologians, philosophers, and business people will do well to meditate deeply on her insights." -- Rev. Robert A. Sirico
"This book will reward all readers who care about economic theory and want to understand its limitations as well as its uses." -- Richard A. Epstein, James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law
"This important and persuasive book may itself be part of the solution." -- National Review
"You can read it in a day, but what it says may stay with you for a lifetime." -- Thomas Sowell, The Hoover Institution
From the Publisher
JENNIFER ROBACK MORSE taught economics for fifteen years at Yale and George Mason University before moving to California, where she combines her vocation as wife and home-schooling mother with writing and lecturing. A research fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford and the author of numerous articles in scholarly and popular journals, Dr. Morse contributes regular columns to Forbes magazine and the National Catholic Register.
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Those opposed to libertarian principles will of course answer these questions differently from those in favour. But Jennifer Roback Morse offers an interesting third proposal. She notes that attacks on the family have not just come from welfare statism on the left. It has also come from radical individualism on the right. Interestingly, while she is a political and economic libertarian, she is aware of the shortcomings of moral and social libertarianism.
Thus she is far from hostile to libertarianism. She is, in fact, a free-market economist. But she is not blind to the short-comings of laissez-faire social policy. Indeed, she believes it to be unworkable. Says Dr Morse, "We cannot afford to take a completely laissez-faire attitude toward the family and the issues that surround it."
So how does a libertarian defend marriage and family? Well, that is what this book is all about. She attempts to show that a genuine libertarianism must be one stripped of its "bankrupt materialism" and must be open in fact to the supernatural. That is, a secular, atheistic society does not contain within itself the ability to long sustain a free people. A free society requires three legs to stand on, as Michael Novak long ago pointed out. It needs economic liberty, political liberty, and moral-cultural liberty. The last, which includes the importance of religion, has too often been ignored in this discussion.
A minimalist state is one that depends on a substantial component of its citizenry exercising self-control and self-constraint. People making sacrifices for others, foregoing instant gratification, controlling anti-social desires are what make for a free society. And these kinds of virtues are basically learned and developed in the home, and buttressed by religion.
The internalised ethic of love, self-control and cooperation can nowhere better come into being than in the home, where mothers and fathers model such virtues to their children. The cooperation and restraint needed for a society to last is first and foremost found in the home.
It is in the home that a naturally selfish and me-centered child learns the rules of social harmony and cooperation. All of these virtues can be subsumed under the word love. And love, as the author reminds us, is not an emotion or a feeling, but is in fact willing the highest good of another. "Love is the force that moderates self-interest and makes it possible for self-interested people to live together without causing each other too much trouble."
If it is rare for an economists to talk about love, it is even more rare to hear one talk about God. As a Catholic, she knows that in God we have an infinite supply of love accessible to us. "A society of free people requires more human connections, more generosity, and more love than almost any other kind of society we can imagine. Surely the existence of an inexhaustible supply of love, available to anyone for the asking, is of more than passing importance for a society like ours."
But I have so far spoken in generalities. Also found in this book are detailed chapters of the importance of marriage, family and the problems of day care, and other related topics, all backed up with thorough documentation. For example, her chapters on the importance of fathers, or the dilemma of daycare, or the shortcomings of cohabitation, offer good assessments of recent research on those questions.
Taken together, here we have major social, economic and philosophical themes addressed with an eye to detail on the public policy connections. And we have a rare blend of a mother's concern for family coupled with the tough analysis of an economist. The result is an informative and an incisive look at some of the most pressing social issues of the day. A welcome volume for all concerned about families and society.
This way of thinking - which has now spread to many economists well outside Chicago -- provoked strong objections from the beginning. Among other problems, the critics argued that such an economic approach failed to take account of trust, loyalty and moral conviction in human affairs.
Chicago and other economists, however, dismissed these critics as simple minded moralists who were opposed to the advance of "economic science." They cannot make that claim, however, with respect to a new critic, Jennifer Roback Morse. Morse is a well respected member of the economics profession who nevertheless thinks that there is much more to the world than self interest.
In the commercial market place, as Morse describes herself, she remains a libertarian in her convictions. Within the family, however, Morse has concluded that the pursuit of self interest alone would mean the end of the family as we have known it. The experience of being a mother with two children (one adopted) taught Morse lessons more powerful than any she had learned in her education as an economic professional. As a devout Catholic, she also found that her own religious convictions could not easily be squared in the domain of the family with the standard economic ways of thought.
As Morse describes it, a marriage based on self interest by itself would be almost pathological. It would be impossible to live with a husband, or a wife, who was seen as loyal to the marriage only as long as it gave them "more utility." The old fashioned idea of love may not have any clear meaning within the framework of economic analysis but it remains for Morse an essential element of a successful marriage and the raising of children.
Morse is part of a wider current questioning of the methods of economics. The idea of "social capital" became fashionable throughout the social sciences in the 1990s as an essential element in economic growth. A "new institutional economics" is challenging many of the basic conclusions previously derived from economic models. Even some leading economists are now finally acknowledging that culture and belief are important factors in economic outcomes.
Most of this writing, however, is turgid and directed to other social scientists. Morse has rejected not only some of the foundational assumptions but also the heavy handed jargon and mathematical formulations characteristic of economists. Instead, she writes in a clear prose that aims to be accessible to a wide public. This may serve to discredit her with her fellow economists but it will win her high praise from many others.
Much of what Morse says will not be news to people who are already living lives committed to marriage partners, neighbors, and community. A focus on self interest, however, has become an accurate description of more and more people in contemporary society. When marriage is increasingly seen in such individualistic terms, it should not be surprising that half of new marriages today are expected to end in divorce.
Economists at Chicago and elsewhere did not create the "me generation" but they have tended to legitimize its preoccupation with self in the guise of "science." Not only economics but the field of psychology as well offers a social science grounded in "whatever works for me."
Morse's work should be read as a powerful plea for a return to the old fashioned verities in family life. However, she does not simply assert the necessity of moral behavior but argues logically and carefully for this conclusion. Her book is for the thinking person who understands intuitively the meaning of love but has found it difficult to give this an adequate expression in the contemporary vocabulary of the social sciences. Adam Smith regarded himself as a moral philosopher and Morse is trying to reassert this older tradition.
Economists should read this book but they probably will not. It might force some of them to rethink some of their fundamental assumptions. Rather than confront the necessity of basic change in the approach of economics, it is easier to continue with the familiar. Moreover, the approach of economics for many members of the profession is not only a method of analysing the world but an article of their own religious faith.
Morse offers a new and sophisticated voice for people who simply want to understand the world better and are not worried about the formal method. By distaining the formalisms of the social sciences, she is able to articulate in plain English a set of essential ideas for the workings of family and other non-commercial areas of the life of any society. It is a brave effort and Morse deserves high praise for taking on the pervasive cynicism of our "modern" age.