Jennifer Roback Morse, research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford Univerity, wife, and mother, recently spoke with Marvin Olasky, editor of World Magazine, about why her latest book, 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage (available in paper and e-book editions), “is the most libertarian thing [she has] ever written.” Excerpts follow:
WORLD: Some libertarians claim that easy divorce increases liberty. Why do you believe the opposite?
Jennifer Roback Morse: Two reasons. First, there is a dangerous confusion about what liberty actually means. The lifestyle left has been promoting a vision that defines freedom as being unencumbered by human relationships. This vision underlies the left’s position on easy divorce, unlimited abortion, day care on demand, and many other social issues.
Second, current divorce laws are not consistent with the most basic principle of the free market, namely a respect for contracts. Millions of dollars change hands in real-estate transactions in every city in America, every day of the week. People couldn’t do that if they were permitted to unilaterally violate their contracts without penalty. Yet we expect people to make lifetime investments in children, without any contract protection whatsoever. Establishing a legal system to define and enforce contracts is one of the most basic functions of government.
WORLD: This fits with your economic analysis of the importance to children of what you call a “marriage revolution—one man, one woman, for life.”
JM: We now have a regime of unilateral divorce: One party can end a marriage for any reason or no reason, essentially without legal penalty. But children are one of the most important “products” of marriage, to use economic language. Children require large-scale capital investments over a long period of time. The parenting relationship also has what economists would call “relationship-specific capital.” That means that no other man is a good substitute for the particular man who is the father of my children. Economists know that contract enforcement is extremely important in activities with these properties.
WORLD: In a paper you presented at last month’s Witherspoon Institute conference in Princeton you explained how the child-custody arrangements that grow out of divorce lead to government expansion. Why?
JM: Family courts routinely invade the privacy of families having custody disputes. The courts pass judgments on things like how much money and time each parent spends for their children, what kind of schooling and religious training they should have, whether parents can move out of the state, what language they speak at home, and much else. In a functioning, intact family, people work these things out themselves. People who gasp at the thought of government regulating sexual conduct seem oblivious to the fact that the government engages in egregious invasions of personal privacy when marriage breaks down.
To read the entire interview, click here.