Jun 232018

On any number of occasions, you encounter the first half of a quote from 1 Corinthians 7:1-16 from feminists determined to show that christian marriage is no more than sexual slavery for women :-

For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.

However the full quote makes it sound a little bit different :-

For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again.

Not quite the same. Perhaps not at modern levels of political correctness, but neither is it at quite the level that the feminists will portray it as.

Now there are other bible verses on marriage; some good (from today’s perspective) and some bad. If you take all the bad bits, it makes it sound like women were repressed to the point of being ground into the ground. If you take all the good bits, it makes it sound like early christian marriage was a perfect equal partnership of a type that wouldn’t look totally wrong even to today’s standards.

The truth lies somewhere in between.

If I move onto mediæval marriage, there is often a mistaken belief that an arranged marriage was a forced marriage, and that arranged marriages were always young girls being married to lecherous old men. There is always the assumption that the men were always happy about the arrangement whilst the women were always unhappy.

In other words, it wasn’t just women “persuaded” into an arranged marriage.

As for young girls being married off to old lecherous men, there are a few exceptions :-

  1. Henry II may have been “old enough” when he was married to Eleanor of Aquitane, but she was 11 years his senior.
  2. David II was just under 5 years old when he was married.
  3. Henry IV was probably 14 when he was first married.

Obviously not conclusive, and it is still possible that the overwhelming majority were lecherous old men marrying young girls. But we don’t really know.

As to women being forced into arranged marriages, it certainly happened from time to time, but there were usually plenty of opportunities for the victim (whichever one) to escape :-

  1. The church was opposed to forced marriage, and it is possible that they would assist those forced into a marriage to get an annulment (although a peasant might find this trickier).
  2. There are plenty of cases where women who were opposed to an arranged marriage would run off to a convent for temporary (or permanent) refuge.
  3. The church would recognise any “informal” marriage as a valid marriage blocking any further marriages. So anyone with a problem with a proposed arranged marriage could simply run off and get married to someone else. Which would instantly block any arranged marriage.

One indication that forced marriage wasn’t generally accepted is that the Magna Carta contains a provision to block the king from forcing his wards into arranged marriages. So the barons who forced the king into accepting the Magna Carta were annoyed by the king forcing their female relatives into marriage.

Property rights are a similar area where the law is misunderstood; married women could not own property in their own right. True enough, but there are two aspects that are overlooked :-

  1. Dowry was an arrangement by which a woman’s family or the woman herself could take property into a marriage with the expectation that on the death of the husband that the property would be returned to her. It was an arrangement to ensure that the woman had the resources to maintain herself after the marriage died. And whilst this was open to abuse, there are plenty of legal cases to show that a woman could (and usually succeeded) take a case to court and get the dowry returned.
  2. In some cases women could get a declaration of femme solo to go into business on her own account, own property, and be responsible for her own debts independent of her husband.

Does this mean that everything was equal and fair? Of course not, but equality wasn’t an important concept to the mediæval society – and that applied to men just as much as women. But neither was it quite as bad as portrayed; indeed there are plenty of indications that conditions for women got worse as the mediæval era ended and the modern era began.

One concrete indication of that was the 1834 reform act which for the first time explicitly removed the vote from women; before that date women could and did qualify for a vote under the regulations for their constituency. Although social pressure to not vote increased towards 1834.

Early Morning Seatrip

Nov 302011

First of all, take a look at the following graph …

Of course it will all mean a great deal more if I tell you about it. It’s a graph from the Wikipedia article on the GINI coefficient of income equality. For some reason, the scales are missing on the graph (at least on the browser I’m using) but as I often find myself saying, the numbers themselves don’t matter as much as the trends over time. The GINI coefficient is a measure of how equally income is distributed – how much higher the income of the wealthiest is over that of the poorest. It is a a simple measure of inequality that ranges between 0 (perfectly equal where everyone earns the same) to 1 (perfectly unequal where one person earns everything and everyone else earns nothing), but it only measures income inequality – there are many other aspects to income that can be interesting. However it is a very good  metric for income inequality.

If you look at the lines, there looks to be around 5 countries that have made a dramatic change to income distribution since World War II – France, and Mexico have become much more equal; the US, UK, and China have decided to become much less equal. China is perhaps a special case, but interestingly both the US and the UK have made this change since around about 1980 when the disciples of that poisonous messiah Ayn Rand, Reagan and Thatcher took power.

Not only that but it does not appear to be a one off adjustment but a continuing process – both the UK and the US are getting less and less equal as time goes by. Of course the US is a lot less equal than the UK … and most other places too except for banana republics and the like; it may well be that if we were to look back in time to the period between the two world wars, we would see that the US is a more equal place than the UK.

But I doubt it – the American Dream has always been a bit of a myth (I’ve cheated by linking to an article which claims that the American Dream is now a myth) in the same way that the idea that the old class-based society in the UK prevented upward mobility was a fallacy; whilst class barriers existed, there was still the possibility of upwards mobility with the acquisition of wealth and the willingness to compromise on your roots (i.e. aping the behaviour of the class you aspired to).

The American Dream is such a well-sold myth that a large segment of the American population will defend lower taxes for the wealthy because they feel they might one day with hard work become one of the wealthy. Despite evidence that the overwhelming majority of them will never be rich.

The question is, how did this increase in inequality come about ? Was it a deliberate decision by governments ? Or a natural tendency on the part of a capitalist society to concentrate income and wealth in the hands of the few ? Or more likely a bit of both ?

In the UK it has certainly been the case over the last 30 years that taxation has been moved away from income tax towards direct taxation (such as VAT) – politicians compete on who will bring in the lowest income tax whilst keeping silent about increasing direct taxation. The public laps this up – who likes paying tax – without being aware of the long-term consequences.

Whilst we like paying less income tax, it is also true that the rich benefit most from income tax cuts – they may only pay the basic rate of tax on the first part of their income, but they still gain the most when that basic rate is cut because they pay the most possible at the basic rate.

Of course there is also the issue of different parts of the population being awarded different pay rises. We have all heard of the company directors getting 49% pay rises during the middle of the recession, but that is just one year. If that sort of thing is repeated year after year over a period of 30 years, is it any wonder the rich are getting richer whilst the poor don’t ?

This might all sound like sour grapes – always a problem when you start criticising the excesses of the wealthy, but actually I’m relatively well off in comparison to many. Any big change in income equality is unlikely to make that big a difference to me, and if I end up paying a little more in income tax (and less in direct taxation), then it’s no big deal – indeed making a bigger financial contribution to society is something to be proud of and not shirked!

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