A Masters in Mating Administration

Free market worshippers never miss an opportunity to propose their “trickle-down” economics of unfettered greed as the panacea solution to a complicated problem, viz., preserving the environment, improving education, providing healthcare, ending poverty. Now, though, they’re heading boldly where no debunked economic theory has gone before: proposing their brand of “entrepreneurialism” as the solution to the declining marriage rate.  

In a recent NY Times op-ed piece “Taking Risks in Love,” Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI, a Koch-funded, Heritage Foundation “lite”), does an MIT Sloan School of Business case study of marriage based on his own experience. Seems that, in his 20s, working in Barcelona, he spied a woman for whom, as to mating, “the market pressure was intense” owing to her being so beautiful that “men [in passing cars] would shout wedding proposals.” Eschewing being “a risk-averse wimp,” Brooks engaged in “hot pursuit” of this awe-inspiringly trophy, applying “romantic entrepreneurship,” initiating a hostile takeover that “took two years to close.” His takeaway is that we should all apply “the most distinguishing characteristic of entrepreneurs” — “taking personal risk for the chance at explosive rewards”– to mating as he did. Marriage rates are declining, this Adam Smith of love tells us, because we lack his entrepreneurial “courage” or, put differently, have too much of the opposite: “fear.”

What Mr. Brooks lacks in entrepreneurial experience (with gigs with an orchestra, a non-profit, and as a professor, the acquisition of his wife seems his most risky venture), he also apparently lacks in appreciation for how life goes. What lessons about “courage” and “fear” would he be espousing if, for example, after two years pursuing his eye candy, his now wife had turned him down (or sought a restraining order)? Or worse, what if, upon marriage, she turned out to be a far cry from his “hot pursuit” fantasy? Like much in life, because his risk-taking happened to turn out okay, it’s “courageous.” Had it failed, wearing the dunce cap of stupidity, he’d be lecturing us about not pursuing ill-conceived projects or taking on undue risk.

More generally, what of those of us who don’t want to be pursued like takeover attempts? Who see the self-promotional puffery and pandering by people promoting themselves like IPOs as emblematic of the selfishness and hubris that makes life unpleasant? Are we just cowards condemned to bachelor/spinster lives? (Suggested Brooks’ reading: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Just Can’t Stop Talking.) And would the logical extension of Brooks’ entrepreneurial prescriptions be for unhappy spouses to sell off their marriages as nonperforming assets so they can seek better ones? It took me about a decade to overcome fear — mainly for the effect on my children — and summon the courage to leave my wife for possible “explosive rewards.” Point is, there’s a lot more to mating decisions than Brooks’ facile, voodoo, socioeconomic theory allows for.

Though Brooks purports to espouse economic theory, he ignores the actual economic cause of the declining marriage rate, something AEI is partly responsible for. Brooks calls the “81 percent of people who have never married [but say] they want to,” chicken hearts afraid to hunt down mates like undervalued stocks. But what about the fact that people are less likely to consider marriage when they lack financial security, like jobs with family-supporting salaries. Brooks probably would characterize these people as lacking the courage and ingenuity to leverage themselves with debt. But having grown up in a two professor (presumably tenured) household, in a Seattle neighborhood that’s 83% white, with 98% having graduated high school and 67% college, what would he know about operating without a financial safety net? Ironically, AEI, which he heads, devotes itself to removing economic protections like Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps, and to promoting policies that undermine job security and good wages. How disingenuous for him to now mock — as lacking “courage” — those reluctant to embark on marriage due in part to the economic insecurity that he works to create.

I don’t know where Brooks got his Masters of Mating Administration, but someone should check the school’s accreditation.

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