This essay is about the family as an institution. As background I will provide a brief summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature. I will be concise so this review won’t take long.
All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill. Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort. Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money. This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money even though it is the most important truth about money. The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated. What follows are some of the consequences of that physical object nature.
First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against that owner’s will; by force, fraud, or stealth and it can also be lost or destroyed. This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.
Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral. Even animals are amoral, in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money. You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.
Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.
Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties. Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense. It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.
Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control. In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.
Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions. Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gets an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages. This is particularly true of money. The old saying “them as has, gets” is true. Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier. Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction. Thus the relationship is unstable.
Keeping that review in mind, let’s consider the family as a social institution.
We have already discussed government and education as institutions, and how they are affected by the nature of money. We found that government, itself, is a product of and a consequence of physical object money or POM. With a non-POM economy, government would almost cease to exist… and if all nations adopted such a system, there would be no government. With education we found that the functions which formal education was to perform would be far less formal, top down, rigid, autocratic, and would not be based on the prison/factory model. In other words, the educational institution would be basically changed. That pattern should give one pause about the family.
Will the family cease to exist? Will the institution be fundamentally changed? Will there be some “Brave New World” kind of society in which there is no family as we know it or in which the bonds of affection and caring which we most value in family life are destroyed? The short answer is “No!”
We’ll get into how the family will change in a while but first let’s get some perspective on the family as an institution. To start at the beginning, the family was the first institution. The family was present before the first human being was born. Females gave birth to and cared for their babies. This basic unit always attracted males for two fundamental reasons. The first reason is actually not sex but food. Babies are fed by females. Women prepare most of the food eaten in almost all hunting-and-gathering economies. The only exceptions are those societies of the far north which depend largely upon hunting on the ice and fishing. There is little plant life to gather in those regions. The domestic animal is the dog, not the goat or the sheep or the cow. But other than such extreme situations, women are the most dependable and predominant source of food. So (believe it or not) men were first attracted to a woman because she was a good provider. Thus the family, right from the start, was an economic institution. Being the only institution, it pretty much had to be economic to some degree. The family was also the first educational institution because children learned from their elders within the family.
So we can see why man and women stayed together in family units of varying sizes. The men remained for the food and the women accepted them for the sex.
But let’s press on to the development of money, commodity money, of course, such as those baskets of grain or cows mentioned in a previous lecture. The family was the basic economic unit of production. Men hunted and women gathered until women invented agriculture and then men hunted, sometimes, and women farmed and herded with the help of their children. Almost everyone was living on a farm or its nomadic herding equivalent. Money changed things as we also observed in a previous talk. Trade increased and women were the primary producers of products that constituted money. Therefore, women were economic assets. If you gave up your daughter at age 14 to marry into some other family and live with them you were losing her production. You were also losing her fertility, her ability to give birth to children some of whom would probably become women. Thus in most agricultural economies, the bride price was common. This bride price was paid in commodity money, partly because that allowed an expression of the value due to the standard unit of account function of money, but also because of the function of medium of exchange the money could be traded for whatever the bride’s family might need. Thus POM was used to tie families together. If the groom’s family mistreated the bride she could go back to her parents who could keep the bride price money. If the bride simply went home without a sufficient reason, her family would have to return the bride price. Thus, the bride price not only kept the economic balance among families, it also helped to assure that the contracts between families were upheld. In other words, POM did help stabilize families: That was a good thing.
Another common practice among the families of higher social status and wealth was the dowry. In that case, the family of the bride was expected to give gifts to the bride to take into her marriage. Naturally, her husband’s family would have control of the dowry. This dowry would allow the bride’s family to be assured that their daughter would continue to live in the style to which she was accustomed. It also removed an economic liability from her family. Daughters of wealthy, high status families consume far more than they produce. This is to show the family’s wealth. “We are so rich.” “How rich are you?” “We are so rich our daughter does not have to work around the house or farm.” The Chinese practice of binding the feet of the daughters of the rich, keeping them small and very painful to walk upon indicated that the daughter did no work. The practice of wearing bonnets to prevent the young lady’s skin from developing a tan was to show that she did not work outside in the fields as the poor women did. As the industrial revolution increased production per person, the proportion of people with enough resources and assets to have a daughter that did not work increased. Wanting to show their high class status, families aspiring to high status began to provide dowries and the dowry became the accepted arrangement. In fact, in some nations, a woman with no dowry would have difficulty getting married.
The dowry, though, rather than protecting the bride as intended, actually endangered her. If she died, the groom could marry again and collect another dowry. Even if the groom mistreated her, going home to her parents would not save her since they had paid a lot of money to get her married off and did not want her back as a liability. Marrying for money, however, by both men and women has a long and noble tradition.
The result of the importance of the woman’s labor in the fields and kitchen and her labor in bearing children was to create norms for a successful marriage which had nothing at all to do with love, romance, or tender feelings. The very idea that a woman and man might romantically love one another was considered by many to be not just outlandish but outrageous. It was an attack on the very foundations of the family. It would lead to children disobeying and dishonoring their parents by resisting the marriages those parents might arrange. You will note that this attitude is based upon – though not always justified by – economic and profit motives.
Marriage was an alliance between families as is illustrated by the marriages of royal children. So marriage celebrations usually included a marriage contract setting out the obligations and rights of each of the two parties. Women, as a consequence of their invention of agriculture, in an effort to better feed their families, had reduced their status to that of chattel. They were mere possessions, an item of property. Again, POM played a major role. The exchange of a bride for money indicated that each party was engaged in a trade. Therefore, the exchange was of property for property so women must be property in much the same sense that money was property. The larger the bride price or the dowry the more commercial was the transaction between families. Did her feelings matter? Yes… sometimes, and in some cases. After all, it was possible for a father to have some affection for his daughter even though he would rarely see her. And his own status was affected by how people dealt with his daughter. If she could be slighted, abused, insulted, and treated with contempt, her father must have low status and be weak. But for the most part, her feelings were a minor concern. The work she could do and the children she might bear were the basis for her worth in the family.
The family also is and has been the basis of education for children. The sociological jargon term for education of children is “socialization.” This has nothing whatsoever to do with government or socialism. Women do the early socialization of children in almost every society we know about. One reason is that only women can provide breast milk for babies. This most nearly perfect food for infants allows and requires the participation of women. Women also tend to emotionally bond with babies they nurse, especially if the nursing begins shortly after the woman has given birth. So it is quite natural that women provide a substantial portion of the social environment in which children first learn to speak, walk, and manipulate their physical environment. This gives mothers a powerful emotional tool in dealing with their children. Being human, mothers use this tool for both selfish and generous reasons.
Marriage and the family come about in many forms. The marriage of one man and one woman is acceptable in every society in the world that I know about. But it is also very common for marriages of one man and more than one woman called polygyny or one woman and more than one man called polyandry, to also be acceptable or even, preferred. Families with multiple spouses tend to be better off economically and more long-lasting in part because they are larger. It should also be noted that richer families can also attract or pay for additional spouses more easily. Women in polygynous societies also find that sharing the women’s work makes things easier all around.
With the coming of industrialization, things have changed greatly for the family. The two great forces driving this change are the movement of the location of production from the family to the factory and the high rates of migration of labor. In other words, when production is outside the home and when only the husband can leave the home to work, the work of the woman becomes far less valuable in monetary terms. Naturally, the motherhood and housekeeping functions remain essential but those do not generate income from other families or businesses for the family. The freedom lost with the coming of agriculture could be regained with the coming of the factory. Later it was discovered that women could also work outside the home in the mills and factories. I’m sure you’ve all heard of “Rosie the Riveter.”
Now the family was completely dependent on a money income rather than producing most of the goods they needed to consume on the family’s farm. The great division of labor greatly increased the importance of money transactions in the family. Whereas at one time a woman might work her adult lifetime on a farm and almost never have, hold, or spend any money at all, with industrialization the women of the family would be spending quite a lot of the family’s money and making many important spending decisions. That increase in the division of labor also made moving from the home in which one grew up to a place of education and from there to one’s career location quite common. In other words, children grew up and left home, even the boys. In fact, people were changing jobs quite often. The locations in which people might work were all over the place.
At this point high rates of migration became common and even necessary for a nation’s economy to thrive. This meant that people would move away from their friends and families. They would be psychologically alone. This is extremely bad for people. Homesickness is just one of the milder symptoms of being psychologically alone. Socially-induced insanity is another consequence: People who move from one place to another need to take at least one other person with them for psychological and moral support. Therefore, the tradition of marrying for money or having one’s family select their spouse rapidly eroded and was no more. One had to select one’s own spouse, because only you can tell what you feel about that spouse. Love was now the fundamental basis of a good marriage and successful nuclear family. The extended family of several generations and lots of resident cousins was no longer practical.
The extended family could deal rather well with POM in agricultural societies. The dominant persons in the family would control virtually all the money and would make the spending decisions. Others, such as the majority of the women in most cultures, would not deal with money in their day-to-day lives and relationships. The suspicion and competitive rivalries that POM encourages were not a source of ill feeling in daily activities. Of course, inheritance – which of a wife’s sons would take over – and other such matters, were a source of intra-family conflict. With industrialization and the dominance of the nuclear family, POM became a virtual cancer eating away at the good feelings with which most marriages begin. Even with the couple being in love and having community support as well as the blessings and requirements of the Church, POM’s simulation of a zero-sum game relationship creates ill feelings. The two-party interaction of spouses makes control of the family POM a means of exercising dominance over the marriage partner. This is one reason many insecure men don’t want their wives to work. The result is that at least half of the marriages that end in divorce seem to blame money problems of one kind or another. If you discover your mate has spent all the rent money gambling it’s hard to feel good about them; if they buy some luxury for themselves while the children need shoes, it’s a source of contention. POM destroys marriages, it’s that simple.
If a woman can work outside the home and make a good income, what does she need a marriage for? By marrying, women will, on average, make their lives worse. Their age of death becomes lower. Married women have ill health more often, and are more likely to suffer from depression. Just about every measure of well-being is worse for married women. Working outside the home, however, has helped women to gain relatively equal status with men, even with the “glass ceiling.” There still remains considerable gender discrimination in the economies of the world in a number of ways, but the status of women has improved with their productivity outside the home.
One indication of women’s independence is the proportion of births to unmarried women in industrial nations. Assuming that the chart in the Wikipedia article on the family is correct for all the listed nations of the industrialized “Free World”, the percentage of births to unmarried women has dramatically increased between 1980 and 2007. The U.S. increased from 18% to 40%, United Kingdom (England) from 12% to 44%, Netherlands from 4% to 40%, Ireland from 5% to 33%, and Spain from 4% to 28%. Such changes indicate a fundamental change in the family. The change may not have been brought about by law, but it is present nonetheless. Women would be unwilling to bear children without husbands if they were not confident in their ability to care for those children without the protections of the law and custom.
Please note that I do not attribute this change to the use of POM. We can’t blame everything on the nature of the money we use, it just sounds like it from these essays; but we can point out some of the economic risks these women are taking. Obviously, one income is not as secure as the combined income of two partners each with their own job. But to compensate for that, the woman does not risk her husband spending all the family’s income recklessly or selfishly. Being unmarried, the woman does not have an insurance policy on the life of a spouse in the event of the death of that spouse – but to compensate for that, the woman does not risk having to pay high medical bills to support the health of a sick spouse. Clearly, in some cases the woman is depending on her parents for help with the child. This help is likely to be more dependable than the help of a husband mostly because the woman has at least 15 years of experience with her parents and should have a good idea of how dependable they are. Husbands are more of a crap shoot when it comes to dependability.
In the years to come we can expect considerably more changes in the family no matter what we do with respect to money. Technological changes will guarantee that. No matter what the law or religions say, the family will change. Speed of communication, for example, makes it far easier to maintain friendships over distances spanning thousands of miles; thus, there is not as great a need for a long-term life partner as was the case even 20 years ago. Women’s job security is about as good as men’s is these days. The need to move in order to follow one’s career is likely to be reduced due to the information economy. In many fields of work, one can work from home for a job in Nevada while living in Connecticut.
But if we should be so lucky as to adopt a non-POM economy, what would be likely to happen to the family as a result?
Inheritance of wealth would be eliminated, so family fortunes would be a thing of the past; there would be rich individuals, but no rich families. Of course, rich individuals can give rich gifts to others including family members, but one cannot inherit non-POM, it must be earned.
Technological change will be much more rapid with non-POM for reasons we won’t go into here. As a result, social change in a variety of ways will also be more rapid. The rapid change will be less frightening because everyone is on your side, not working against you. And some of the many changes will involve the family. So the typical family relationships of one generation may be quite different from the typical family relationships of the next generation.
But these are changes at the highest level of abstraction. What about the changes soon after a transition to a non-POM economy? What about the changes that we can easily predict?
Obviously, there will be no poverty, so the stresses and strains of poverty will not be a concern to any family. No bills, no rent, no need for insurance of any kind, and no taxes to pay come April or any other time, and no fines. Does his career clash with hers? Is there anywhere they might live that both cannot easily find things to do to earn money? Yes, there can still be structural things which will tend to draw apart two people in love, but such things will be far less common with non-POM.
Does the wife want to stay home with her children? That’s easily done regardless of whether the husband has an income or not. She will be earning money caring for her own children anyway. Today it costs tens of thousands of dollars in the U.S. to raise a child at middle class standards. With non-POM it costs nothing at all even if the child attends college and graduate school. All education is free, as is room and board at college. All the preventive medical care for family members is freely available because the medical personnel earn more money by preventing illness than by curing it. The disaster of childhood serious injury or illness is limited to the suffering of the child and emotional suffering of the parents. There is no expense to the family in non-POM. Even daycare for children of working parents costs the family nothing at all.
Christmas has come and the family celebrates with a Christmas tree of modest size decorated modestly. That is free. There are presents for all the children. These were selected by the parents and other adult family members, wrapped or placed in stockings hung by the chimney with care. All are free because most toys are educational. If a person wants to buy a luxury toy, they may certainly do so, and give it to whomever they like. But most toys seen in toy stores would be free. There’s almost no Christmas candy (for free) because that’s bad for health and considered a luxury, so such things would have to be bought. Santa Claus is still popular but the Christmas season is only a couple of weeks long and not advertised. Christmas is becoming less and less of a commercial holiday.
Most teen-aged children work. Babysitting, lawn mowing, and simple manual labor are sample sources of income. The age of the person producing net benefit is irrelevant. Thus there is no sharp transition from dependence to independence in economic terms for a child. Children will experience adolescence quite differently from their experience today as a result. Part of the reason for that will be the difference in the education system as was described in the essay on education. But most of it will be due to the fact that the parent’s relationship to their children will change. Parents will, in most cases, earn a share of whatever money their children earn. Not because they are the biological or adoptive parents but because of the care they provided and the informal education they provided. If the parents provided homeschooling on academic subjects, their share of the child’s earnings increases if the child’s income was supported by that academic knowledge such as being able to read. So children will be seen as a definite, long-term investment. Children generate the most earnings when they are creative, engaged, diligent, thoughtful, and so forth. As we detailed in our lecture on slavery, slaves are quite unproductive because of their situation. Parents who attempt to use coercion to get their children to obey and to be productive will find that it doesn’t work at all well. The children will be able to discover on their own, despite their parents, that they can earn money without their parents’ consent. The context, the situation in which children will find themselves outside the home will make them feel powerful, in control of their own lives, and surrounded by helpful people. So the child will not be trapped in a situation in which rebellion against parents or authority becomes attractive. In fact, the child will find very little authority to rebel against. The non-POM society is not coercive. It does not operate by authority.
Thus adolescence will still be a time of hormonal and brain changes but the context of the child will reduce the stresses and strains and pressures of that time of life even if the parents don’t know what they are doing.
As I write this lecture, there have recently been several incidents in the news concerning domestic violence. One of the main reasons that such incidents are in the headlines and on people’s minds is that video of that violence was available. Our essay on privacy pointed out that as technology improves, everything we say and do will be on video and audio. Not to be made available to the general public but recorded and retained. Such video will make all acts of domestic violence potentially available to the public and the police. No longer will it be possible to physically attack your spouse and get away with it.
Also, no victim of domestic violence will have any economic reason to stay with an abusive spouse. One can always leave to live somewhere else. Therefore I believe that incidents of domestic violence will be greatly reduced.
In the event of divorce, there will be no alimony and no child support required. Each party to the divorce will retain ownership of whatever they own and will not have to give any of their property to the other party. The old economic foundation of marriage in which the woman was supported by the husband’s income will be no more. Thus the need for lawyers to be involved in divorce cases will be eliminated. The ability of the court to review how each parent actually behaves when around the children will make child custody cases much easier and will eliminate cases in which a child is placed in the custody of an abusive parent.
For all families the standard of living will be much improved. The far greater productivity of a non-POM economy will provide at least a 25% boost to families on average within the first couple of years of the transition to non-POM. The corresponding shift to safer and healthier products in consumer goods will also improve the standard of living.
Finally, we come to the end of life. The elderly will not have to be dependent on their children. No one will have to pay for end of life expenses. If one does welcome an aged parent into one’s home, one will thereby earn pay for the care provided. There are no debts to pay for the dying parent. No medical bills and no worries about mentally deficient parents signing fraudulent contracts with confidence men. No need to worry that a parent has saved enough money for their old age.
So from the cradle to the grave non-POM fosters a caring, loving family relationship. The family is supported and encouraged through all stages of life from early infancy through the final stages of death. As changes come about in the circumstances people face, the economy always supports making life as pleasant and comfortable and safe as is technologically possible. In other words, if the family can survive, non-POM will support it.