Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Anne Alstott has posted a new paper, Private Tragedies? Family Law as Social Insurance, that may be of interest to MoJ readers. From the abstract:
In this essay, I suggest that family law constitutes a form of social insurance, supplementing public programs that address life risks including poverty, unemployment, and disability. Both family law and social insurance recognize some relationships (and not others) and protect against some risks (and not others). Further, both systems of law can be understood as distributing risks ex ante - rather than simply addressing failure ex post.
To make the discussion concrete, I focus on two cases, one involving spousal support and disability, and the other involving child support for multiple families. The cases illustrate the interdependence of financial entitlements in family law and in social welfare and demonstrate that a range of changes in family law, social insurance rules, or other elements of law could alter the distribution of life’s risks - and thus the likelihood and consequences of apparently “private” tragedies.
The essay also builds on these examples to outline a larger project. Today, large-scale social insurance programs shield individuals against disruptions in working life, including retirement, disability, and unemployment. And yet disruptions in affective life - a divorce, a breakup, a parent’s exit, even living without a family - can impose equally severe shocks on individual lives. While at first it may seem uncomfortable to consider personal relationships a matter for state concern, I suggest that the normative theories and analytical tools used in structuring conventional social insurance can also be brought to bear in considering the possibility of insurance for disruptions in affective life.
The thesis has some potentially disturbing statist implications for how we understand "family," but I won't comment further until I actually read the paper.