March 1st, 2013
WARNING: This one’s for the analysis and policy wonks.
The National Organization for Marriage has an impressive history of incompetent economic analysis. For instance, they love to show that states banning same-sex marriage have the best rankings for income growth, or the best conditions for business, as if…as if this proves something, as if there were no difference between correlation and causation, as if there weren’t other state rankings that turn their conclusions completely around.
NOM continually pretends to be rigorous and ends up digging into data with the all the power of a teaspoon. Remember that page put up by NOM’s Rhode Island branch which lied about the Regnerus study? It also tries to minimize the potential impact of same-sex marriage to the state’s economy. And it…stumbles:
There were 1,050,646 people in Rhode Island in 2011, which means that 1.26% of the population, got married.
If same-sex ‘marriage’ was legal in 2011, and the same percentage of the estimated 23,106 gays and lesbians (bisexuals removed from stat according to national averages) in Rhode Island got married, the potential contribution to the overall Rhode Island economy would have been 0.0077%. The same “economic boost” would have been generated if everybody in Rhode Island had bought a hotdog at 7-11 or if every employed person had worked for just 5 more minutes during that year.
First, look those numbers. Many small problems with that: Why did they link to some data sources and not to others? Why did they remove all bisexuals? Why are they calculating marriage rates based on the entire population rather than just on adults?
But put all that aside and consider the big problem: For NOM to apply that 1.26% marriage rate to gays and lesbians, they have to pretend there’s no backlog of stable, same-sex couples who have been waiting for years to marry. Which is hilarious. Which means we have every reason to expect the marriage rate for same-sex couples to exceed 1.26% in the first year or two.
“Oh, but that’s just a one-time bump,” our opponents might respond. “Its effect will vanish quickly.”
Not exactly. What happens when same-sex couples spend all that wedding money? Income goes up for other Rhode Islanders, too: waiters, bartenders, wedding hall owners, caterers, grocers, bed and breakfast owners, and so on. These people spend their new income, boosting the economy further. The recipients of that income will spend it in turn, and so on — continuing, amplifying, multiplying the initial bump. In fact, economists call this the multiplier effect. The effect is stronger when the economy has a lot of unemployed labor and resources. And guess what? Rhode Island has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
So in all likelihood, NOM is vastly understating the immediate impact of marriage equality on Rhode Island’s struggling economy. I wouldn’t accuse them of dishonesty, though. NOM simply isn’t good at rigorous analysis — of any sort. For instance, NOM continues:
The economic benefit of encouraging families and marriage as it is currently defined would be $206,000,000 or 0.4% of the total Rhode Island domestic product that’s about 54 times the effect same-sex ‘marriage’ stands to have, or $31 million more than the entire Rhode island wedding industry.
By this time, I’m sure you know the drill:
1. Follow NOM’s link.
2. Read the data.
3. Wonder whether NOM is being dishonest or just incompetent.
That $206 million figure is the estimated annual cost of “family fragmentation” in Rhode Island. In order to achieve those full savings, you’d have to institute programs that brought unmarried childbearing, divorce, and widowhood(!) down to — wait for it — zero.
Yes, zero. That’s a much bigger project than merely “encouraging families and marriage as it is currently defined.” Which brings us to NOM’s next failing: It’s useless to analyze a policy’s benefits if you don’t analyze the costs as well. I don’t know know how much it would cost Rhode Island to recognize same-sex marriage, but at the very least they’d gain some revenue in licensing fees. And I don’t know how much it would cost to bring unmarried childbearing, divorce, and widowhood down to zero because it remains difficult to quantify the dollar cost of magic.
Is it even worth pointing out other mistakes, like the false dilemma of pretending you can’t both legalize same-sex marriage and battle family fragmentation? Or NOM’s fierce blindness to the idea that marriage equality could reduce fragmentation of same-sex families?
It’s just sad. Granted, a lot of this might not be obvious to the average person — someone with no training, or who lacks the time to focus on the issue, or who isn’t being paid to write this crap — but NOM takes money from its donors and channels that cash into a very good living for its staff. And I may be alone in this, but the more we win, the worse I feel for the poor folk that NOM casually and routinely dupes.
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