September 5, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Noam Chomsky famously declared years ago that one of the primary functions of the mainstream news media is to “manufacture consent” for elite policies. That is, the media serve to anoint certain opinion-makers considered amenable to mainstream policy, marginalize ideas considered dangerous to the status quo, cast doubt on those who too cogently criticize elite policies, etc. So, when our invasion of Iraq became policy, the MSM fell all over itself supporting same and failing to question certain quite obviously fallacious arguments of the regime of George II.
But the MSM does the job Chomsky outlined regarding issues that are far less prominent than those of war and peace, as this article makes clear (Time Magazine, 9/1/14). The topic is alimony and the writer is one Lili Vasileff, a “financial adviser” which probably explains why she avoids mention of any of the legal niceties of alimony or even the fact that alimony is an anachronism in all but the rarest of cases.
It’s not that Vasileff thinks the system of alimony is hunky-dory, she doesn’t. In fact she thinks it’s “a mess” and “broken,” but for her, for some reason, those facts indicate we should simply stay the course. She apparently misunderstands the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” To her that means “if it is broke, don’t fix it.” Indeed, the headline of her piece says almost exactly that.
What should be obvious to anyone who’s taken even a cursory glance at alimony law is that, in an age in which both men and women, husbands and wives can and do work for a living, and there’s no impediment to either doing so, there is simply no reason why one spouse should continue to support the other even after they’ve divorced. Now when I say “no reason,” I admit to overstating the case. In rare instances I’ve detailed before, I can see the point to continuing support. When one spouse is very old and can’t realistically be expected to train for or obtain a job, or when one spouse is disabled in some way, alimony can be appropriate. And if one spouse has, by mutual agreement, stayed home with the kids for several years, I can see permitting a year or so of alimony to allow that spouse to get back into the workplace.
But it is far past time when one spouse should be permitted to stay home indefinitely, long after the kids are out of the nest, never lifting a finger to bring in a buck, divorce the responsible parent and continue living off of his/her largess. That’s not only unfair to the parent who’s been generous enough to support the family for years or even decades, it has a number of other effects that we shouldn’t be encouraging.
For one, alimony obviously encourages divorce. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if a wife has no earnings but is married to a high-earner, the prospect of alimony makes divorce a lot more appealing if hubby fails to meet her needs in some way. And of course alimony discourages paid work for both spouses. The more the payer earned, the more he pays; the less the recipient earned, the more she gets. So alimony incentivizes goldbricking.
And whatever happened to the notion that adults should be responsible for the choices they freely make? A wife is free to refrain from training for work, working, earning, saving, contributing to the family’s finances, etc. But if she chooses that path, it seems only right and reasonable that, in the event of divorce, she should bear the consequences of her own actions. I know that currently, such a concept is anathema to many, but it has a lot to recommend it. Principally, holding people responsible for their own decisions encourages them to make choices they can live with. With no alimony, the aforementioned wife could look ahead, notice that her husband won’t continue to support her if they divorce, and probably decide to look out for her own interests. In short, she’ll opt for a course of action that’s healthy for her and good for the economy – a win-win, if you please.
And of course alimony directly contradicts everything we say about women’s equality, empowerment, agency, etc. This supposedly is the Brave New World of relations between the sexes in which women not only can but do support themselves and their dependents. But the history of alimony is that it’s always been intended as a safety net for women. Well, they don’t need it anymore, so, with the exceptions listed above, alimony should be scrapped altogether. It’s a vestige of days long gone by.
Vasileff knows nothing of any of this. To her, the only thing wrong with alimony is that it’s unpredictable. Apparently, wives wanting to cash in can’t be certain what the pay-off will be and that’s the only thing Vasileff can come up with to complain about. She illustrates with a couple of pseudonymous examples.
The judge in the Smith case reduced alimony only slightly, and kept it in force for her lifetime. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones’s alimony was cut more than 90%, to $25,000 annually. She ended up having to sell her home, cut lifestyle expenses, and re-enter the workforce.
Gasp! She had to cut back on expenses and get a job! The horror, the horror. Notice that Mrs. Smith’s ex-husband being required to keep her in the style to which she’d become accustomed for as long as he or she lives doesn’t get Vasileff’s attention at all. The idea that a husband can be prevented from retiring, and required to literally work till he drops is so unquestionable to her she doesn’t even notice it.
And let’s not overlook the fact that, in her first example, Mrs. Smith spent her entire life as a “homemaker,” i.e. living off her husband’s earnings. His reward for 32 years of doing so? He gets to continue supporting her until he or she dies. Sound like fun? I doubt it, but to Vasileff, the only thing amiss is that Mrs. Jones was unable to manage the same legal tour de force. Did the court or Vasileff think to hold Mrs. Jones responsible for her own adult decision to contribute not a cent to pay the mortgage, the insurance, the electric bill? No, for some reason her choice to treat her husband like an ATM is simply a given, not to be questioned.
Vasileff’s oversights are understandable. After all, she’s plumping for a system that overwhelmingly benefits women at the expense of men, and that’s just the way she likes it. By the end of her article, her message looks less like a quibble about the unpredictability of alimony judgments and more like a naked assertion of continuing female power over male earnings. After all, as Vasileff admits, 97% of alimony recipients are women. Although no person or organization tracks the transfer of alimony from men to women, I tried to figure it out a couple of years ago using Census Bureau data. I came up with a figure of about $30 billion a year transferred from men to women in alimony.
So it’s no surprise that Vasileff scrapes pretty low for justifications for continuing a system that’s frankly indefensible any way you look at it.
If alimony duration is predetermined by length of marriage, women who are victims of domestic abuse will face an impossible choice. They will be pressured out of fear of homelessness to stay in an abusive relationship until they meet a target cutoff date for lengthening their support.
Yes, or they can have a job, support themselves and in the process enjoy the autonomy that confers. Vasileff shows herself to be squarely in the “woman as perpetual victim” camp. According to her women in abusive relationships would, in the absence of alimony, have but two choices – continuing abuse or homelessness. About that, all I can say is that it’s astonishing that such ideas find a place in major national publications. I mean seriously, here’s a woman (who works for a living by the way) claiming those to be women’s only choices. No, actually they can support themselves as well as any man can and should be expected to. Will we never leave off pretending that women are children? Will we never admit that, if women are to be considered the equals of men, Time Magazine writers should at least act like they’re minimally competent adults? Vasileff and her ilk desperately want to maintain the idea of women as delicate flowers blown this way and that by every breeze. It’s a point of view that’s radically at odds with the truth and subversive of the legitimate desires of both sexes.
So it’s interesting that hers and countless others find expression in large-circulation magazines, newspapers, etc. If Chomsky is correct, and I think he is, that must mean that elites tend to find such framing of women to be conducive to their policies and, when looked at in that way, it’s hard to argue. Not only do Democrats routinely play the “gender card” in policies like VAWA, but the notion of male irresponsibility and female helplessness make up virtually the whole of their policies on families. And Republicans strongly embrace the idea that, if men voice any complaint about their prescribed role as paymaster to women and cannon fodder for the military, they’re just wimps who need to “man up” and do their duty. The corollary of course being that women can do none of that themselves.
So Vasileff takes her place in the ranks of soldiers fighting for a status quo that’s agreeable to policy elites but few others. The simple fact is that, barring old age or disability that affect both sexes, women are fully capable of taking care of themselves. Much as Vasileff hates the notion, we should expect them to.
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