A debate is taking place underneath my recent video On Marriage, and unlike most YouTube debates it's not just a bunch of people hurling insults at each other (there is still a lot of that, obviously - but there's also more to it).
One poster in particular has been very persistent in arguing against the legalisation of same sex marriage on socioeconomic grounds. He (or she – I'm not sure, their YouTube channel is private) urges us to read an academic paper by one Douglas W Allen, a professor of economics at Simon Fraser university. So I read it, and while I'm no academic and certainly no economist, from what I understand his basic hypothesis is this:
The legalisation of same sex marriage would have high costs and low benefits to society, and therefore it is against society's interests to allow it.
He writes at some length about what these high costs might possibly be, but as far as I can see it boils down to "some laws may have to be changed, and that will make marriage a weaker social institution, although it's impossible to really know that until it happens, but best not risk it." I'm oversimplifying, obviously, but if that's not the gist of his argument you're welcome to read the paper yourself and correct me in the comments. I've no idea if what he argues actually has any merit - he seems to imply that marriage laws in their current form are perfectly optimal and any alteration to them must necessarily be bad.
Anyway, what I really want to get onto is a theory I developed while digesting Professor Allen's paper: that the exact same arguments could be proposed in support of slavery.
Slavery was brilliant for society. Enslaving a minority of the population meant that production costs were kept down, and the savings could be passed onto the consumer. The majority could also enjoy a feeling of social superiority, which is always nice. When slavery was abolished, the only people who benefited were the former slaves; everyone else suddenly had to pay more for their cotton and be very slighly less openly racist.
In fact, the only reason slavery was brought to an end was because a growing minority became increasingly uncomfortable about other human beings being denied the rights and privileges granted to the majority. In other words, the values of compassion and egalitarianism triumphed over economic and social self-interest. As they will triumph again.