Polygamy for libertarians: monogamy = marriage marxism?

Somehow I find this angle hilarious:

MARK HENKEL: And also, that, ah, we are now in an "era of the dumbed down males" with "marriage-phobic baby daddies" that is a consequence of the enforced "one man, one woman" that is "marriage Marxism." That more or less has uh - instead of having an incentive for men to grow up and be real men, and take real responsibility and real nurturing of families in caring, compassionate Christ-like way - as Christians are to be of course - that, uh, "one man, one woman" is a marriage socialism that has prevented that. Instead of a laissez faire free market principle of creating an incentive for excellence, that, uh, men would grow up and be capable.

It's another viewpoint on the old argument that monogamy benefits lower-class men at the expense of lower-class women[*]. Which is obviously true from libertarian principles (given that men have a higher variance in income, and that polygamy tends to be multiple wives rather than multiple husbands).

That is, if you remove the option for men to have multiple wives, that harms those women who would rather be the Nth wife of a high-status guy than the first wife of a low-status guy. It benefits the low-status guys, who now have less competition, and can get better (or any) wives. So it's a redistribution.

Now, it's been argued before (in The Moral Animal, I think), that this is a beneficial redistribution for society. Since most violence and crime comes from low-status single men, redistributing wives towards that group may lower violence overall. As a libertarian I still challenge the morality of disallowing women from marrying better husbands, but I at least am willing to admit that it has benefits.

But then Mark Henkel (a Christian pro-polygamy advocate), makes the great economic point that this is a static analysis. What about the incentives created by monogamy? Well, it lowers the competitive pressure on men to be good husbands! Knowing that there are as many men as women, and that many women want to get married, a man can take less care of himself and do less personal growth, and still get a wife, just by waiting until "all the good ones are taken". In a world where the good ones can be taken by multiple women, men who laze their way through their twenties in the super-extended-adolescence popular nowadays may find themselves with nothing.

What a great argument! Monogamy as marriage marxism, polygamy as competition. Doesn't mean you have to seek multiple partners for yourself - but I buy the case that it's a more libertarian institution.

[*] I've phrased this as multiple wives, b/c that is historically much more common, but the arguments work similarly in the case of multiple husbands, which increases the competitive pressure on lower-status women.

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Against the Libertarian Ban on Fraud

You can only sell yourself into slavery once. Anything else would defraud your first owner. :)

Redistributing... violence

"Since most violence and crime comes from low-status single men, redistributing wives towards that group may lower violence overall."

Wouldn't it just redistribute the low-status men's violence towards those wives instead ? I'd be interested to see if polygamy can reduce violence towards wives, especially since this is a typically under-reported sort of crime.


You seem to be missing the fact that single men engage in much less violence and crime than married men. So increasing the proportion of married men reduces overall violence.

If you don't believe me, look at automobile insurance rates for young men. They go way down when (at least in the US) when you turn 25 - or get married.

Repeat that?

You seem to be missing the fact that single men engage in much less violence and crime than married men.

Don't you mean the reverse?

In a world where the good

In a world where the good ones can be taken by multiple women, men who laze their way through their twenties in the super-extended-adolescence popular nowadays may find themselves with nothing.

In the case that I'm personally acquainted with, the guy lazing his way through his twenties is the one who has managed to father children on 3 different women. He relies on his baby-mamas to support him.

While I support the right of eccentrics to choose polygamy, destroying monogamy as a cultural norm is a disaster in progress. In theory abandoning monogamy means John Galt and Hank Rearden having a nice stable harem of ten happy, well-kept and willing wives. In practice you are talking about thousands of single mothers who get to raise their kids mostly alone and lonely, mostly in poverty, and mostly unhappy.

Hey the argument about

Hey the argument about redistribution from low status men to low status women is great, but calling monogamy marriage-marxism is honestly stupid. Monogamy implies duty towards individual, it is not collective, it does not rely on central coordination, it does not have a class warfare theory, it does not rely on historical materialism, etc, etc. This comparison sucks. Similarly, there's nothing libertarian about competition. Competition is capitalistic. Libertarianism is about voluntary association.

N.B. this does not constitute nor intends to be a defense of monogamy, I for one prefer polygamy in a polygamous society to monogamy in a monogamous society to polygamy in a monogamous society to monogamy in a polygamous society, I just think the comparison is pretty lame.

Monogamy implies duty

Monogamy implies duty towards individual, it is not collective, it does not rely on central coordination

What are you talking about? Monogamy is the only legal option offered by the state. The rest is actively discouraged.

Nobody is saying monogamy could not exists without these priviledges, just like a union could exist in a completely libertarian society, except that it would not have the priviledge to unilaterally break contracts.

The state's holy benediction

The state's holy benediction of matrimony is not a right. So yes, for polygams in the church of statism, it sucks.

Monogamy does not rely on central coordination?

In the USA, not only is polygamy illegal, but the Supreme Court has ruled that *holding the opinion that polygamy is OK* is grounds for losing your citzenship. Society does indeed enforce monogamy as a norm on everyone.

I'm not sure about the incentive part

While it is true that usually polygamy involves a single husband and multiple wives, there is nothing preventing the Nth wife of a guy to marry another guy as well, for whom she might be the first wife (and who will be her second husband).

Of course, present wives and husbands may have a right of veto over their partners future marriages, but even that does not remove the possibility.

Anyway, an interesting proposition. A friend of mine (a girl coming from a country with a large Muslim population) is very strongly opposed to the idea of polygamy. At the same time, she often complains about the shortage of "worthy" men in her country. Actually, if polygamy were legal (it is criminalized at present, though still practiced, of course, much to her disappointment), she had a greater choice of guys for a monogamous relationship, as polygamists would remove some of her competition. Hmmm, stuff to think and talk about...

Do it!

And through this post, my mind has come to a truth so deep and complicated only the most special of mammals could possibly comprehend it. It is so relevant to the pedantry.

You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals
So let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel

Incentive for what?

I think both Henkel's point and the violence argument are correct simultaneously. I don't understand why you set them as contrasts. Yes, polygamy will make men work harder to attract women (which is going on now as we de facto have polygamy in many cases anyway). But while young men are single they are more violent, indeed they might be more violent to other men as part of their competition in pursuit of women. The fact that they need to work harder to attract women, and presumptively be nicer to women they are pursuing, does not mean they are going to be nicer to the rest of society. They are going to be meaner to society because of the difficulty of that hunt, or perhaps as a displacement of aggression when there is no regular sexual outlet in their life (I'm not offering an opinion on psychology here, just suggesting ways that increased competition means increased violence).

I'm not advocating this, but if one wants to play science fiction we could have a federal reserve of female currency. If the natural polygamy rate is 1.5, then we'd need to adjust fertility to create 60% of the population as women, or something like that, so that everyone was satisfied. Of course, that would be another strange transfer of happiness from women to men (since less desirable women still get stuck with less desirable men), just not as severe as polygamy with 50-50 sex ratios. Or maybe that gay (male) pill the military was developing will work. We could use just enough of that to compensate for the natural polygamy rate.

An important distinction

An important distinction between the marriage market and economic markets is that economic markets are strongly positive-sum. Capitalism makes everyone much richer in the long run, and socialism makes everyone much poorer. But it's not clear to me that legitimizing polygamy is going have that kind of positive-sum effect. A high-status man doesn't get 20 wives by creating 200, keeping 20 for himself, and passing the surplus on to consumers; he gets them by marrying 19 women that 19 other men would have married under a system of monogamy.

I'll grant that there are some positive-sum effects that come about by encouraging men to clean up their acts, but they're not nearly as strong as the positive-sum effects we see in economic markets.

You see to be implying a

You see to be implying a disanalogy where I don't see one. True, the high-status man's 20 wives come at the cost of someone else, but that's true of any system of property. Possession by one necessitates lack of possession by another. The arguments for markets being positive sum are a result of the idea of consumer and producer surplus, which allows different possessions to produce more value in different hands. Such surplus is no different from that which, presumably, results when a man ends up with a woman he values more than some other man, and vice versa.

The disanalogy lies in the

The disanalogy lies in the possibility of producing wealth. If the benefits of markets were limited to static exchange of a fixed amount of wealth, they'd make us all better off, but only so much, and we'd quickly reach a state of Pareto optimality, and that's as good as it would ever get.

But the real power of markets lies in the fact that they provide incentives for people to create wealth. Every day people go out and make stuff worth more than the sum of its parts. The surplus gets divided between them (producer surplus) and the rest of us (consumer surplus), and that's how standards of living are able to keep on rising indefinitely.

But that doesn't happen in the marriage market. You can't just go out and make a bunch of women (well, you can, but you usually end up creating men in roughly equal numbers). While the male:female ratio is to all intents and purposes fixed, the wealth:person ratio has skyrocketed over the past several generations.

I couldnt disagree

I couldnt disagree more.

Every day people go out and make stuff worth more than the sum of its parts

Thats exactly what a relationship is about!

By disallowing certain configurations of people, surely you are inhibiting the creation of wealth just the same as if you would legislate that every car could only have one wheel attached to it.

Wealth isnt an intrinsic property of material goods, but is always a subjective experience.


This is a difference.

The acceptance of shacking up . . .

nullifies the moral question of polygamy. It now boils down to a tax and employee compensation problem.

Why so little polygamous shacking up?

In the US people tend to shack up one man to one woman. Does this pattern of shacking up unconsciously mimic marriage? And if so, is this merely a reflection of a monogamous cultural norm, or is it a reflection of the greater naturalness of monogamy within the human species?

What, if anything, does polygamy depend on? We do find polygamy in societies in which might fairly be described as unfree. In depictions of polygamy such as Raise the Red Lantern and various Arabian Nights tales, the women are imprisoned, owned, and if they misbehave, murdered by their husbands - a fate cleverly escaped by the narrator of the Arabian Nights (though her husband's practice is perhaps better described as serial monogamy in the style of Henry VIII). Muslim society is known for polygamy and is also known for "honor killings" - the murder of female family members who misbehave. So at least some examples easily available of polygamy do not exactly give off the aroma of individual liberty.


In a libertarian society it should go without saying that polygamy, even its disgusting form of polyandry, should not be prohibited among adults acting and contracting voluntarily.
That said, it is unnatural. If God or nature had intended polygyny, He would have created more women than men.
Secondly, the average American male has been so psychologically castrated, for a number of reasons, that he cannot handle one wife. The number of Brigham Youngs is quite minimal in 21st century America.
For those reasons, if I ran for the state legislature, I would not even make repeal of monogamy laws a part of my platform, although, of course, I would answer any questions by acknowledging that I favor repeal.

For life and liberty,
David Macko
Former Libertarian Candidate For Congress

That said, it is unnatural.

That said, it is unnatural. If God or nature had intended polygyny, He would have created more women than men.

There's as many female lion as male lion born, yet lions practice polygyny. Are you suggesting lions act un-naturally ?

If god had intended polygyny

He would have made an asymmetrical investment in children (men contribute much less than women), and a highly unequal distribution of wealth among men.

Oh, wait...


Interesting article... However, it’s best to keep the barn door "closed" in the first place! Ultimately, marriage is a state sanctioned event that will return to haunt.

"Marriage is the gift that a man gives to a woman for which she never fully forgives him. Women want to GET married, they don't want to BE married."

“Never make the same mistake once.”

Capt. A.
Principality of Monaco

monogamy or polygamy, which one is better?

monogamy refers to the state of having one husband and one wife. in my opinion, i think monogamy is appropriate because couples may live faithfully without having any sort of complications amongst them. while on the other hand, polygamy refers to the state of a husband having more than one wives at the same time. this causes unwanted problems amongst their relationship hence it builds up jealousy. the wives will be fighting over one husband. and the husband may as well use them to pleasen his desires. its like as if wives are ment for fulfilling sexual desires of their husband. there is a probability of getting STD's n if the situation gets worse then one may find himself/herself in a hot soup(HIV/AIDS). therefore, i may as well conclude this confussion by advising all men and women to choose their rightfull mate in which they find capable of trusting them, being helpful, supporting the right issues and solving the wrong issues as well.
thank you...