Americans are Polygamists

This is from my recent reading of the book Elsewhere USA.  In the book it describes that similar to the African areas of Mali and Malawi, America also practices a form of polygamy.  All thanks to the laws of economics and biology.

A the book describes, one of the best predictors of polygamy in a society is income inequality.  While America doesn’t approach at all those of some African villages, we are certainly number one in the Western world in income inequality.

As Elpolygamysewhere describes:

The linkage between economic inequality and polygamy is two-way – that is, polygamy both causes and is caused by inequality.  Let’s start with the basic fact that a man can produce thousands of offspring by spreading his seed while a woman is limited to around twelve or so.  But when women choose their mates, they are not just after who can provide good sperm; they also want to make sure that a would-be father both has enough resources to support a child and will, in fact, invest time and money in that child.

Confronted with a distribution of income in which the distinctions across potential suitors is not terribly great, a woman will still try to land the best catch, but she probably will not be willing to share her man.  If there are a thousand fish in the sea; it’s not worth it to take one half (or 1/3, or 1/4) of the resources of any given man.  Better to go down a notch and enjoy the complete attention, time and money of the next richest fellow.  However, sometimes the distinctions between men are so great as to alter the calculations.  If a few men control almost all of the wealth while the vast majority have very little to offer in terms of a stable source of income, then it may be worth it to be the 4th wife of the very rich man rather than the first and only of a very poor one.  At least you can guarantee your babies will eat well.

Now that the US income is becoming increasingly unequal, we’re becoming polygamists as well. Our version however are different than the African versions in these ways:

  1. Ours is not a static, mormon-type of polygamy but rather a dynamic version.  It’s better suited for a society with fluid status and class positions like ours
  2. Ours is a polyandrous society – meaning multiple husbands
  3. America’s polygamy is both a result and a cause of inequality

The first point called “dynamic polygamy” can also be called “serial monogamy”  It’s a semantic difference.  As the author says,

If “being married” means producing offspring and/or having ongoing mutual responsibilities, then when you get a divorce, you are not really pressing the erase button, you are just building another thatched hut across town where you may set up with another wife while still paying child support, alimony, or plain old respects to the first.  It doesn’t matter if the 2nd marriage started as an affair during the first, the end result from the point of view of family responsibilities is more or less the same: you have two wives (or husbands).

Our tendency to divorce is in many ways extremely similar to the form of polygamy that’s occurring in Africa.  This results in something interesting things in America.  For instance, many women today don’t get married at all as not all men have the means to support a family. It’s been calculated that there are now 60 eligible men for every 100 women.

Over the past 20 years, other things are happening in society.  According to the book, the concept of a “starter wife” is becoming more and more uncommon whereas dual-earner mairrages (both people earn high wages) dual-poor marraiges are rapidly increasing.  The rich are getting more rich and the poor are getting more poor (two low earning folks).

It’s interesting to think of divorce as a form of polygamy.  When you hear that – how does that make you feel?  Is it fair?

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We Now Live in Obama Nation

Last night we elected Barack Hussein Obama to be president of United States.  I’m incredible excited about this – much more so than i thought i would be.  I find that i’m constantly wedged between people who are overly optimisitic about the political situation in American and people who are consistenly negative and pessemistic.  Listening to Obama last night, i couldn’t help but caught up in the hope and optimism that is reverbirating through the country.  Some things i feel:

  1. We have an intelligent president again.  Obama was president of the Law Review at Harvard.  You don’t get there by being competent.  Clinton was this way too.  Bush wasn’t. I like the thought of having a President who can take in lots of inputs and process them intelligently.
  2. I feel that Obama will be more transparent than past Presidents.  This isn’t a rip on Bush but rather a reflection of our times.  With the rise of the Internet, information is everywhere and the world is becoming exposed.  You can no longer protect information. Instead you need to over-communicate and release it.  Angelina Jolie figured this out and releases more press releases than any other celebrity around and i think Obama has too.  One line he spoke yesterday was: But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” makes me think we’ll more information from the Obama camp than we’ve heard from past presidents
  3. The return of Joe Biden.  Biden was a Senator at age 30 and was once thought to be the future of the Democratic party.  Time hasn’t shown that to be true but it’ll be interesting to see how he puts his foreign relation skills to use
  4. Shedding the dillusionment of American Politics.  Most people i know couldn’t care less about what the govement does. “It doesn’t matter to me” is a common response.  But, these same people felt inspired by a candidate for the first time (at leat that i can remember).  The passion i saw the older generation talk about JFK, i saw people talk about Obama and i felt it too.  If Obama would have lost, i think we would have lost the younger voters forever.  Fortunately it’s moving in the other direction

I’m happier than i ever thought i’d be about a President.  Last nigth when the results were announced all the cars in Hollywood started honking their horns for about 30 minutes. It was loud, obnoxious and totally amazing.

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AOL mail crushes Gmail

Not in terms of functionality or ease of use but check this out:

Yahoo dominates e-mail with 88.4 million users in the United States in August, according to comScore. That is far more than Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail at 45.2 million and AOL at 44.8 million, not to mention Gmail at 26.0 million.

When you look at how much time people spend reading their e-mail, Yahoo mail users spend the most time (286 minutes a month), Gmail users the least (82 minutes), with AOL and Microsoft in the middle (229 and 204 minutes, respectively).

Wow. As a Gmail-lover, i would have never thought that was the case. You read the whole article here.

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Swimming Destiny

The relay was incredible and it happened again – another nail-biting, miraculous finish.  This time by Phelps.  This race i just watched of the 100 was incredible (here).  It almost seems as if it’s just Phelps’ destiny to win every gold.  Everything is bouncing his way right now.

I do wonder how he would a view a silver medal – he’d probably be so upset.

Check out this finish:

With zero room to spare Phelps manages to touch first
With zero room to spare Phelps manages to touch first
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Coase's Law: Cost of Collaboration

One of the interesting things i read in Wikinomics is Coase’s Law. I had never heard of it. Here’s the deal:

Ronald Coase was a badass and won the Nobel Prize in 1991
Ronald Coase was a badass and won the Nobel Prize in 1991

Many companies today are turning to collaborative b2B models where consumers, employees, partners, and even competitors co-create value for a company. This is all happening due to the declining cost of collaborating.

It began in 1937 when a English socialist, Ronald Coase, published a paper called “The Nature of the Firm.” Coase was both fascinated and bewildered by american industry. He toured Ford and General Motors and wondered aloud why economists could say that Stalin and communism was mistaken to try to run the Soviet Union like one gigantic company when Henry Ford adn Sloan ran their own gigantic companies (Ford & GM) in similar ways. After all, the marketplace is the best mechanism for matching supply and demand, establishing prices, and getting maximum utility from limited resources.

He studies more the cost of information. Producing things (bread, a car, a hospital ER) involves steps where close cooperation and common purpose is essential. You can only break down day-to-day tasks so much before incurring costs that outweigh the savings of doing in under the same roof. These are called transaction costs:

  1. search costs (finding different suppliers and determining if they are good)
  2. contracting costs (negotiating prices and contracts)
  3. coordination costs of meshing products and processes

Most businesses in 1937 determined it was best to do all of these in-house. All of this encompasses “Coase’s Law” which states: A firm will tend to expand until the costs of organizing an extra transaction within the firm become equal to the costs of carrying out the same transaction on the open market. Basically, as long as it’s cheaper to perform a transaction inside your firm, keep it there.

The internet makes a difference because basically now transaction costs as so low that it has become much more useful to read Coase’s Law backwards: You should shrink a company until it’s harder to do things externally than internally, then bring it in-house.

It’s interesting because Coase’s Law does both a great job of explaining why old-school corporations were so big and powerful and does an equally good job of explaining why traditional companies are on the way out and why new businesses are smaller and more nimble.

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