Marriage

“I love you”, I told her over three years back.

“If you love me so much give me half your assets”, she replied, probably in jest.

“I’ll give you but in exchange for half your assets”.

“You know I’ve just started working so I don’t have too many assets. So I’ll happily exchange half my assets for half yours”.

A few months later we got married. And yes, this is a true and serious story. While it might ┬ábe devoid of all the romance that one associates with love and marriage, it illustrates what marriage is all about – it is a commercial contract where you pledge to share half your assets to the counterparty, and bequeath all your assets to him/her in case of your “unfortunate demise”.

One of the major points in the BJP’s manifesto over the years has been for a Uniform Civil Code. Currently, in India, people belonging to each religion have their own “civil codes” which governs their personal lives. According to the current Indian laws, a Christian girl has to wait until she is 21 years old to get married, while a Muslim girl can get married at 16. A Hindu man can have a maximum of one legally wedded wife, while a Muslim man can have four.

Now you can see why the BJP’s clamour for a Uniform Civil Code appears controversial – Muslims believe that this move will deprive them of the additional three wives that they are currently entitled to. However, I argue that by stripping marriage off all the emotional context and just sticking to its core commercial values, we can have a Uniform Civil Code without any controversy.

The basic argument is this: the Government of India (or any other government) has no business telling people who they should live with, sleep with or have children with. As long as two adults consent to stay together or share a bed , there should be no legal hassles to them doing so. If three adults consent to live with each other and agree on a conjugal arrangement, the government should have no problem with that either. So why do we need a civil code at all?

The only interest a Government has in the institution of marriage is in terms of property rights. Because of the basic principle that a person’s “next of kin” inherits its property, the government needs to know who a person’s next of kin is. For that purpose, you need a legal document – a purpose that is today served by a marriage certificate. Beyond this realm of property rights and inheritance, a secular government has no right to dictate who I’m sleeping with – as long as it’s consensual.

So I propose the following segment of the Uniform Civil Code: “any adult, at a particular point of time, can have exactly one legally wedded spouse” (notice that the gender neutral wording takes care of LGBTs also). Notice also that this code only talks about legally wedded spouses. What it doesn’t mention, or care to mention, that one can have as many “illegal” spouses as they want. With the caveat that because these people are not legally wedded to you they don’t have a claim on your property.

Currently there is too much drama in the courts about the “basic structure of the Indian family” and “family values” and more often than not they are being used to pass rather illiberal judgments. The multiple civil code structure that we have, which is based on a supposedly divine and romantic institution of marriage, is doing more harm than good to the citizens. Once the state (and all its arms) realizes that marriage is at the core a commercial contract a lot of social wrongs can be easily set right.

I didn’t need to marry the person who is now my wife only if I wanted to move in with her. As two consenting adults, no one could have prevented us. It was, however, a measure of mutual trust and love, that we decided that we should share assets also. And hence decided to get married (our marriage was registered according to the “Hindu Marriages Act”, for the record).

 

Uniform Civil Code

I intended to blog this on Sunday, which was the 17th anniversary of the Babri Masjid Demolition (I remember that because it was also my 27th birthday – yes, I’m really old now) . Due to certain other activities, I couldn’t find the time to blog then so doing it today. I also want to apologize to my readers for not being regular enough at blogging of late. I hope to be more regular henceforth, but there are other things which are taking up a lot of my time.

So the other day I was thinking of the concept of the Uniform Civil Code and how the lack of one such is causing “religious arbitrage” (the most famous example being Dharmendra converting to Islam so as to marry Hema Malini). I was thinking of the BJP which is trying to establish one such code, but all parties that have a significant number of Muslim voters being opposed to it since monogamy is against the tenets of Islam. So I was thinking about this issue from a completely libertarian perspective, and this is what I have.I think I best do it in bullet points.

  • Any pair of consenting adults can have sex with each other and the state has no business bothering with it. The only excuse for the state to get involved in this is if one of the “pair” accuses the adults of rape.
  • Children in the backseat can cause accidents and accidents in the backseat cause children. Despite condoms and i-pills, there is a good chance that a random pair of consenting adults might produce kids.
  • Any man or woman can have as many sexual partners (long or short term) as he wishes. The state has no business interfering in this.
  • A pair of sexual partners might choose to live together, and make babies together. Society might impose conditions on them that they be “married” but the state need not know. The state is not supposed to bother about the fact that this pair is living together, apart from recognizing the same postal address for both of them
  • A citizen might choose to live along with several of his/her sexual partners, assuming all of them consent to the arrangement. Again, the state has no business interfering.
  • So when should the state be concerned about this institution called marriage? I argue that the only reason the state should be bothered about “marriage” is because of property inheritance principles
  • From the point of view of property inheritance, multiple “married partners” can be messy stuff. It can lead to extremely complicated cases, especially when the graph involves cycles. Hence, I suggest that without loss of generality, for the sake of easy legal redressal, any person cannot have more than one legally wedded spouse
  • This, mind you, doesn’t stop people from having illegally wedded spouses. For example, it is well known that M Karunanidhi has 3 wives, but I’m sure that he’s legally wedded to only one of them. When he dies, his property will naturally go to only his legally wedded wife and his children with them. The rest will get nothing. Nada.
  • However, clever financial structuring can be used to overcome this discrepancy. For example, a man might offer to pay a woman extra pocket money so that she become his illegally wedded wife rather than his legally wedded wife. I think concepts of CDS (credit default swaps) pricing can be used here in order to figure how much more the illegally wedded spouse and resultant children should get as “illegality premium”.
  • Given this framework, people of no religion need to fear the loss of practice. If Muslim society allows a Muslim to have four wives, he can as well go ahead and marry four women, except that in the eyes of the state, only one of them will be legally wedded to him. The rest will need to negotiate appropriate premia on pocket money
  • This “maximum of one legally wedded spouse person” can be used to legalize gay/lesbian marriages also. All that it takes is for the law to not specificallly mention that the spouses should belong to different genders.
  • Not having a uniform civil code can give room for religious arbitrage which needs to be discouraged
  • Hence, having a uniform civil code makes eminent sense. It wont have much impact on most people’s lives. And it will simplify a lot of laws and just make implementation better.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

Why you should vote for the BJP

Ok before you bleeding-heart liberals scream at me pointing out the post-Godhra riots of 2002, or Kandahar, or the Shri Rama Sene, let me clarify that this is a purely economic argument. My argument is that if we want economic reforms to go ahead, we should vote for the BJP. I am not commenting on social aspects, or liberalism, or foreign policy, or defence, or uniform civil code. I must also mention that the only party whose manifesto I’ve read is that of the Samajwadi Party, but I have a decent idea of what the BJP and Congress manifestos look like. Both quite horrible, though they don’t come close to the SP’s.

The main argument here is that no government wants to reform to a situation of lesser government. It is a simple situation of letting go of what you have under your control, without any tangible benefits. After all, reforms have never really won too many votes (though I think if the Congress had campaigned properly, and unitedly, in 1996, they would’ve have spared us from being ruled by Deve Gowda). Yes, the bijli-sadak-paani argument is there, but that is more about infrastructure; not about economic reforms or liberalization.

So why do governments reform? Especially when they are doing so at the cost of their own power? It appears irrational, right? Fact is that control over a particular sector doesn’t benefit all arms of the government equally. There will be a few lobbies, and a few ministries, in a few areas that stand to benefit significantly more from government intervention in the sector,as compared to other parts of the government.

Next, the ruling party doesn’t necessarily control all parts of the government. Yes, they control most of the ministries, but there are several other government posts that may not be underr their control. Some may be under the control of allies. Certain bureaucrats who benefit heavily because of government intervention in the sector may even favour the opposition. I think it should be possible to document the “leanings” of various govenment departments in various states. And which of them will get liberalized when depends on which side is in power.

So the reason people reform (apart from when under severe crisis such as under PVN) is analogous to a sacrifice in chess. You give up something in the hope that in return, the opposition loses much more. So if you look at various reforms carried out by various governments (state and central; maybe even abroad; PVN stands out as an exception) you are likely to see this “chess sacrifice” pattern. Governments are more likely to reform, liberalize and maybe spin off departments that are under the control of parties in the opposition.

The next argument is that the Congress, having been in power for close to 50 years, is likely to be “in control” of a larger number of government departments than the BJP, which has been in power for about 6 years. This is the main reason, apart from left intervention of course, that the incumbent UPA government didn’t carry out too many reforms in the last five years, and even rolled back certain reforms carried out by the NDA (essential commodities act, petrol pricing, etc.). It is also critical that whatever reforms a government wants to carry out should be front-loaded – so as to give the reforms time to “settle down” and for people to adjust, before a new government comes in and perhaps rolls them back.

The BJP by itself is no good when it comes to reform – its ridiculous stance on FDI in retail being a case in point. Yes, they did quite a bit of reforms during their 6 years in power, but one can argue that a large number of them fit the “sacrifice” pattern. However, in general they stand to lose a lot less by reforming than does the Congress (exception is in retail as most traders and small merchants are pro-BJP). And hence, they are likely to carry out more reforms than a Congress-led government would.

You might argue that it might be better to vote for a third front party, since there is very little it has to lose in terms of reforming. However, the problem with most third front parties is that they are all active only in very few states, and thus may not stand to gain much by way of a national-level “sacrifice”. And coming back to a national-party led government, my argument is that you are more likely to see reform in ministries held by the chief ruling party, than those held by the allies.

So ladies and gentlemen, if the Congress comes back to power, they will consolidate power in the departments that they have “captured” over the last five years, and in the earlier years when they were in rule. this number is significantly greater than the number of departments that the BJP controls, and hence the Congress is likely to use the ongoing crisis as an excuse to bring in bigger government. The BJP, on the other hand, with less to lose, is likely to take a more pragmatic approach.

Vote for the BJP. Bring the NDA back to power. Let them re-start on the reforms that were made in 1991-2004. Five years down the line, the Congress can come back and liberalize retail.

Update

I usually have a practice of replying to all comments on my blog. However, you might have noticed that I haven’t replied to most comments on this post. As I had mentioned right up front, I am making an economic argument and have clearly mentioned that I’m not going to entertain any comments wrt social policy (and sadly, most comments have been in that direction). So fight it out among yourselves and don’t get me involved in the discussion. And a couple of days after I wrote this post, I was asked to help out with the Congress’s online campaign.