I'm not married. My partner and I have been together since late 1998 and living together since late 1999 and parents together since 2003. We've not got married because, well, I've never asked her, we've never had the money, there's been something better to do (buying a house, fixing it up, going to other peoples' weddings) and there's thankfully not the cloying social pressure of 50-60 years ago - my 1960s-reared parents aren't the sort who ring up with veiled suggestions that we might like to get hitched so they can boast to their friends. In fact, we've been together so long she's routinely referred to as my wife and no one we know appears to give much of a toss about the presence or absence of rings. So far, so liberal.
So when David Cameron's marriage bribe scheme was revealed as offering us a bonus of £150 a year if we got married and my partner gave up work the reaction was a synchronised snort of dismay. In her case this was because she felt it was insulting - we're both working, both paying tax, not sponging to any massive extent off the state and thus to be told that in Mr. Duncan Smith's considered opinion our domestic arrangements weren't to his liking sticks in the throat somewhat. In my case I remembered something Chris Dillow had written, which as usual makes a good point incisively and with the twist that he was making it to show that New Labour's attempts to please the tabloids were nonsensical at the time.
The policy also looks misguided in the light of this Dillow piece on the economics of marriage and inequality, which suggests that if you want to increase marriage, you might try and reduce inequality.
The result is that rising inequality leads to a mass of poor unmarried men on the one hand and a mass of richer unmarried Bridget Joneses on the other.
In this sense, if the Tories are serious about wanting to promote marriage, they should promise to increase equality. But, hey, maybe marriage isn’t such a good thing after all.
Amen. That one didn't make the cut down at the DWP, I suspect. I'd add that increasing job insecurity doesn't help people get married, either, and that seems to be Coalition policy. While an extreme case, I can't help thinking of the disastrous effects slavery had on long term family stability in the USA (on which note you should *really* read this Dan Davies classic on the subject). This is the consequence of inequality of power rather than money, but to an extent they're the same thing, of course. It's instructive that Iain Duncan Smith is already talking about work making you free and bribing people to move for jobs, a plan already skewered by the indefatigable Dillow who points out that this trades social happiness and cohesion for the dubious benefit of unstable and insecure low-wage employment.
Finally we have the report from the IFS today that seems to suggest little in the way of actual evidence for a policy of promoting marriage as a way to promote stability:
Our analysis suggests, therefore, that if more cohabiting parents decide to get married, it is very unlikely that a significant number would become more likely to stay together.
It also means that it is highly unlikely that the increasing rate of childbearing among cohabiting couples has caused an increased likelihood of break-up among parents.
The facts still have a liberal bias, in other words. Talking of liberals, what of the marriage bribe and the Coalition? I recall this well-judged comment from the man literally one person has confused with me this year:
David Cameron's idea to bribe people with £3 a week to stay or get married is archaic. Not everybody lives in couples where one partner goes out to work and the other stays at home. People are outraged at a man who has the audacity to use the tax system to judge their decisions about their personal lives. Or worse, decisions that have been made for them.
Dr. Evan Harris there. He's supporting the Coalition, but frankly he looks bloody uncomfortable doing it. I can understand why. I'm hoping the Lib Dem opposition to the measure dooms it to failure, it would be a small victory in the general sea of failure and gloom, but it would be a great deal more useful if there was more actual opposition to the Coalition fixation on policies that have no evidential basis beyond Daily Mail editorials.