The Law and Economics of Family Management

By webadmin on 10:51 am Apr 13, 2012
Category Archive

Pramudya A Oktavinanda

I wonder how many people are aware of this, but our Legislative Board (DPR) is currently in the process of drafting a law on gender equality. I take this news as a positive, development and I hope that the law can be soon promulgated.

What concerns me are the various critiques made against such laws based on the notion that women’s and men’s rights and obligations are not the same, especially in the family. Thus, these critics urge that the state should instead maintain a division of tasks between men and women in a family, which of course has been stipulated under the marriage law.   

This is indeed a pity since there are two major misconceptions relating to the above notion. First, people may believe what they want to believe, but it’s outrageous to ask the state to regulate how people should manage their family matters.

While Islam provides certain guidelines on how husbands and wives should interact and how they should manage their family, from a legal perspective, Islamic law does not provide any penal sanctions to a couple who chooses to use a different method of family management.

This is in line with my thesis that Islamic law is efficient (research that I currently pursue). That is, while Islamic law provides moral guidance, it will only provide penal sanctions when there are clear net social losses caused by an act.

A good example is this: There is a penal sanction for being drunk, but there is no sanction for eating pork, even though both are prohibited under Islamic law. Being drunk can produce a net loss to the society — even the United States acknowledges their drinking problem.

But eating pork? While some might argue that the prohibition is related to health problems, in general, it’s a personal choice to either eat it or not. In short, it is your own responsibility to assess the costs and benefits of eating pork, including its effect on your own health. But that’s it,  there are no clear social losses caused by eating pork.

I think the same view is also adapted by the current marriage law. While the law still tries to make a division of labor in the family, there is no sanction for those who do not comply with such a rule, meaning that people are generally free to choose what they want to do with their family management.

This brings us to the second argument. From an economics perspective, it would be more efficient for a couple to decide by themselves on how they will manage family matters, simply because they know best about their own affairs. You can’t expect the state to be an all-knowing entity that can determine what is best for a person.

I am not against women being housewives, but I am also not against women having a career outside the house. What really matters to me is that whatever the choice is, it should be made consensually between the husband and the wife. And to achieve such purpose, of course, they should have equal position.

Imagine this, suppose you think that you want to become an engineer, and you are currently pursuing an engineering education. Suddenly, the government tells you that after further deliberation, they’ve determined that you are not suited to become an engineer, and that you should be a singer instead. Even worse, the government forces you to be a singer. Would you agree to be treated like that?

I will say this: If the government has the capacity of God, is able to know everything up to the sub-atomic level and can predict the future with 100 percent certainty, I will support the idea that the government should determine what we should become — it should select only the best of the best, and those untalented people should just work as blue-collar laborers.

Fortunately, the government does not have such capacity, and even we know that God does not force a person to follow certain paths simply because God respects human individuality. Various Islamic sources confirm this, such as the case of Noah’s son who refused to hear his father’s plea, and died during the great flood.
Even a prophet cannot bring his own son to follow him. How come? Because each man is responsible for his own deeds, and God lets people decide how they will assess the costs and benefits of their own actions. That’s further evidence of the notions of efficiency in Islamic law. So let the family decide by themselves. Remember, you can preach, but you can’t force. It’s as simple as that.