Bryan Caplan  

Capitalism, Democracy, and Polygamy

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Sampling Bias on a Plane... Mueller on Iraq...

There's a memorable passage in John Mueller's Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery where he argues that minorities can stop majority oppression by (a) coming out of the closet, and (b) banding together to complain:

For generations (actually, for millenia) homosexuals have been persecuted both in democracies and nondemocracies... This tiny minority is still held in open contempt, even disgust, but many members - probably most - of society. Nevertheless, it has gradually been able to undo a great deal of official persecution in democracies in the space of only a couple of decades.

If is significant that this change took place only after homosexuals came out of the closet and openly organized to advance their interests... [O]nce a minority organizes responsibly to put forward its demands, democratic governments are often remarkably responsive. And it is quite possible to imagine that other contemptuously dismissed groups... like drug addicts and prostitutes, and, increasingly it seems, cigarette smokers - could obtain similar redress if they organized and worked on it.

The political mechanism here is obscure. Do oppressed minorities thwart the majority with single-issue voting, or shame the majority into changing its preferences? Or maybe it's only about shaming the elites?

In any case, Mueller's conclusion has a ring of truth it to. I remembered it during this year's pro-immigrant rallies, and thought "This may be the beginning of the end of immigrant bashing." Middle America hated the rallies, just like it hated the first gay rights protests. But if immigrants keep publicly complaining for twenty years, I bet they'll gain a lot of ground.

Now another persecuted minority has finally started to stand up for itself: polygamists. Historically, they've tried to stay under the radar of the law; as the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Similar gatherings have occurred just twice. In January 1870, some 6,000 women gathered at the Salt Lake Tabernacle for what they dubbed the "Great Indignation Meeting," to protest anti-polygamy laws. In 2001, a mixed group of fundamentalists lobbied the Utah Legislature as it debated marriage laws.

But Saturday, polygamists held a public rally in Salt Lake City itself. Fifteen teens from polygamous families addressed a crowd of 300:

Youth from polygamous communities spoke of family, friendships, faith and their hopes for the future in a historic gathering Saturday in Salt Lake City in defense of the banned life-style.

They offered one another encouragement, provided glimpses into their lives and appealed to the public to stop fearing their families.

"We are not brainwashed, mistreated, neglected, malnourished, illiterate, defective or dysfunctional," said Jessica, 17. "We are useful, responsible, productive members of society."

Well said, Jessica. Let's hope that Mueller's right about the power of public complaining.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Martin Kelly writes:

The polygamists spoke with one voice.

And saw with one eye - the one in the middle of their foreheads.

Steve writes:

I'm fascinated by how often the views of economists are driven utterly by irrational sentiment and abstract moralizing devoid of any empirical content.

Polygamy?

Have you even spent five minutes thinking about the real world correlates of polygamy? This is not a novel issue in human affairs.

ben tillman writes:
The political mechanism here is obscure.

Hardly. The newly empowered minority is empowered as a result of sponsorship by an already powerful group.

Matthew Cromer writes:

Bryan, what does your wife think of the idea?

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