The time value of marriage

February 1, 2015 § 17 Comments

Man is terrified of himself, because of the awesome fact that his free choices have consequences. Every concrete choice has consequences: every concrete choice results in the world being one way rather than another.  But man, especially modern man, does not want to take ownership of the consequences of his own irrevocable choices.

I’ve compared usury to slavery, but it also has similarities to divorce and ‘remarriage’. Like usury, divorce and ‘remarriage’ attempts to reconstruct reality as if we had not made the choices we actually did make.  Insisting that borrowers pay for ‘opportunity cost’ is similar to insisting that Bob’s family and society pay for the fact that Bob married Ginger instead of Mary Ann.

Now, that isn’t to say that there is no utility in thinking abstractly about what it would have been like for Bob to marry Mary Ann rather than Ginger.  But those abstract thoughts don’t translate into an entitlement for Bob to actually sleep with Mary Ann; to recover his “opportunity cost” from the real world as it actually is as a result of his actual choices.

If Bob really did have a better opportunity, he should have taken it. That he did not is something that he and he alone owns as a matter of justice. Other people may – to the extent they can – help Bob recover from his mistakes as a matter of charity.  But their help is not something that he is entitled to in justice, which can be quantified into an interest rate or specific measure of property that specific people owe to Bob.

When I talk about the fact that things like opportunity cost cannot be ontologically real property, many folks do not understand what I am saying. Often some – usually folks with less real world experience than myself – assume that I am just ignorant about money and have never thought about these things.

But these folks are simply failing to get the point.  That Bob could have married Mary Ann rather than Ginger is true enough and might even be helpful in some abstract academic theory of the time value of marriage. But that does not translate into the kind of entitlement in justice that those who support divorce and ‘remarriage’ propose.

It isn’t that I am ignorant of the ‘existence’ in a certain sense of ‘opportunity cost’ and other regrets, and of the utility of those concepts in some kinds of theorizing.  It is just that, like the number four and many other abstract things, regrets are not capable of being property or of giving rise to an economic entitlement resembling property.  If you actually did have a better opportunity and regret the choice you made, you should have actually taken that opportunity and made that different choice; and the fact that you did not is on you and you alone.  Making other people pay for your regrets is intrinsically unjust.

§ 17 Responses to The time value of marriage

  • TMLutas says:

    Keep building that straw man Zippy. I hope it keeps you happy. You’re advocating a system that would pretty inevitably lead to much less debt and much less capital formation. The people who would be hurt by this are at the margin. They are disproportionately poor.

    Opportunity costs, like the time value of money are attempts to standardize and express what is a real human emotion, the pit in your stomach as you let somebody else have your kid’s college money in an investment and the worry that you have tied your fortune to a particular opportunity unwisely when a better one might appear at any moment, unavailable to you.

    The various forms of emotional unpleasantness that accompany being a lender are, in justice, recompensable and such things are usually rolled up in the loan. Borrowers will often go to some lengths to soothe the worries of the lender in order to pay less in recompense. This lulling of the lender can lead to confusion that the upset does not exist at all. It is this confusion that you seem to be taking advantage of with your straw man construction that this recompense is itself property. It is recompense for an irritation, a mild injury. This makes itself clear when the risks are higher. Loan out on a P2P lending site where all the usual 1st world safeguards are off and the irritation and upset become very palpable, even for small amounts, especially when you start accumulating frauds and defaults as well as when you’re fully invested and you have to pass on a rock solid loan opportunity at a more favorable rate than the guy that just defaulted on you.

  • Zippy says:


    … are attempts to standardize and express what is a real human emotion, the pit in your stomach …

    Nobody denies that. What is denied is that it can be property.

    … forms of emotional unpleasantness … are, in justice, recompensable …

    Whether and when emotional distress should be compensated in justice is an interesting question, but it does not follow that emotional distress is or can be property.

  • TMLutas says:

    If you can charge for it legitimately, it is not a sin whether it is property or not. Thus your focus on whether time value of money is property is a straw man.

  • Zippy says:

    That is just flat incorrect. All sorts of things – theft and injury due to negligence, for example – give rise to an obligation to make restitution as a matter of justice. That compensation is due in a case of negligence or theft does not make it morally licit to make trade in “intentional negligence” or intentional theft.

    It is only morally licit to buy, sell, and rent property for profit, as explained by Aquinas and in my FAQ. Opportunity costs are not property and cannot be property.

    Usurers depend on anti-realist conflation of categories for their rationalizations. Your comments are an effective illustration.

  • TMLutas says:

    Just a little poking in the reality of a modern loan would puncture your pretension. A lending relationship has all sorts of things that are regularly rolled into the loan that are not strictly property. Let’s go through a house purchase and keep it simple with a $0 down 100% loan. There are taxes, fees for all sorts of services from inspections to documentation fees, insurance payments, and payments for services all tied to the loan. It is not, if one is being precise, strictly a loan on property. Just about every modern loan is like this with service components that, for convenience sake, are not broken out and given their own line item and calculated value.

    I am not a medieval property transfer expert so I simply do not know if things have changed since Aquinas’ day or he simply got it wrong. I’m not sure if I care.

    Since the worker is worthy of his hire, a profit for the provision of these services is not out of line. Some people value these things higher than others and thus charge more than others. A few are willing to delay payment for their services to coincide with the payments on the loan. The worry of the lender that it’ll all come crashing down like a house of cards is just part of the process and goes into figuring how much he’s charging for the loan service.

  • Zippy says:


    Just about every modern loan is like this with service components that, for convenience sake, are not broken out and given their own line item and calculated value.

    If your title company didn’t break these charges out and itemize them for you, they should probably go to jail.

    But it isn’t my “pretension” to defend modern lending practices: especially not zero money down usurious mortgages.

  • TMLutas says:

    The day I bought my most recent house, I was told how much I needed to bring to closing for my down payment. Should the banker go to jail because he didn’t break out the cost of that? Some items are broken out, others are not. For the convenience of everybody some services are not even mentioned.

    For example, the prorated cost of finding new depositors to counteract churn so that the money for your loan was there when you need it is not something the bank puts down on a loan document. That doesn’t mean they’re not charging you for it.

  • Zippy says:

    The worry of the lender that it’ll all come crashing down like a house of cards is …

    … not in itself work product or property. Worry may (or may not) accompany business transactions, as emotions accompany many human activities. But laborers are justly paid for activitites — things they make actual by their own powers — not for having emotions. Having emotions does not in itself give rise to titles to property (that is, payment). If it did, then emotionally hysterical people would be entitled to wages for their emotional hysteria.

    “Worry” is not actually existing property or work product any more than future labor, time, or risk.

  • CJ says:

    Yeah, but God knows my heart and wants me to happy.

    I find TML’s idea that one should be compensated for anxiety arising from consensual commercial transactions to be problematic, if not absurd. How far does that go? Does a martial arts instructor owe his students for their fear of getting kicked in the face? How about my co-worker who drives like a maniac? If I ride with him because we’re late for a meeting, does he owe me something (in justice!) when he takes a corner at 60mph?

  • jf12 says:

    re: “Making other people pay for your regrets is intrinsically unjust.”

    Ok, but then I question the moral basis for insurance too. If they really aren’t just selling you “peace of mind”, then they really are selling you the ability to make other people pay you when regretful things happen. Let’s you just don’t expect too much hurricane activity for the next few years so you choose to build your house on sand. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell”, but you had peace of mind because you purchased the ability to make others pay for what you ought to have regretted.

  • Zippy says:


    If they really aren’t just selling you “peace of mind”, then they really are selling you the ability to make other people pay you when regretful things happen.

    I talk about this briefly in question 18, but it is certainly possible to elaborate on it. (The similarity between insurance bonds and other bonds does make the discussion somewhat redundant).

    There is a right way to go about insuring against certain possibilities and a wrong way: as usual when it comes to usury, look for the personal guarantee to uncover the wrong way.

    Suppose a sea voyage is to be undertaken, and it is expected to be very profitable. But there is some risk that the ship may sink or something else may make the venture unsuccessful.

    One investor – call him the ‘insurer’ – puts 80% of the cost of the venture into an escrow vault and is guaranteed a 10% return by the other investor (call this the cost of the insurance bond) as long as the ship makes it back at all. If the ship doesn’t make it back at all, the escrow vault is opened and the other investor gets the 80%, mitigating his losses.

    Another investor – call him the ‘entrepreneur’ – puts up 100% of the cost of the venture, actually pays its associated costs, pays the premium to the ‘insurer’, and reaps all of the actual profits from selling the goods that the ship brings back – if it does make it back.

    As long as the ‘insurance’ terminates in real assets (the money in the escrow vault in this case), this is just a joint venture – a societas – between partners, where each partner has somewhat different investment goals and risk tolerances and makes different commitments based on various business contingencies. (As always it is still possible for this to be done unfairly — just because it is not usury strictly speaking does not mean that it is automatically licit).

    However if either party makes personal guarantees in the contract to make the other whole – to return what was invested ‘in kind’ independent of the specific inventory of real assets pooled in the societas – it becomes usury. Suppose that both the ship and the money in the escrow vault are destroyed: if the insurer is expected (under the contract terms) to pay up anyway, the contract is not licit.

    Notice that this is not at all a matter of ‘regrets’: it is not a matter of roads not taken, deliberately forsaken ‘opportunity costs’ for which another person is expected to personally pay.

  • […] mass global starvation and even dogs and cats living together), who just didn’t get it that money has a time value such that people as a matter of justice owe interest payments on emotional distress and regrets […]

  • jf12 says:

    re: “There is a right way to go about insuring against certain possibilities and a wrong way”

    Ok. I’m not saying insurance is usury (although it may be inherently fraudulent …). And, correct me if I’m wrong, I think you’re right that the only thing that salvages it, partly, are the requirements of (at least some fractional part) of reality to assets. For example, it wouldn’t do for Lloyd’s to insure the Easter Bunny’s ears for a hundred trillion dollars each. Then again, State Farm never really had any significant part of the tens of billions its clients expected were to be liquid to cover Katrina.

    But most of the forms of insurance seem awfully suspiciously usorious to me, at the very least inviting usury. They are selling the *promise* of being able to handle enormous payouts, i.e. the seemingly personal guarantee aspect of “good neighbor”, “the rock”, “the business of caring”, “good hands”.

    And I believe by its very nature the interconnectedness of the “time value of risk” business cheerleadingly promotes (not merely invites) usury. The most definite example is “personal guarantee insurance”, i.e. leveraging the mitigation of the potential of personal losses. And as long as you’re insuring your house, why not lower your house insurance payments by hedging a little elsewhere by insuring your ability to make house insurance payments against the possible loss of your future income?

  • Zippy says:

    I actually agree with you about the mentality that insurance fosters. It is probably a personal fault, but I don’t have much sympathy at this late date for policy holders who expect full coverage even for natural disasters which manifestly far exceed the assets of the insurance company. That is kind of how I feel about bank accounts too: I have probably too little sympathy for people who think of them as money storage where nothing can go wrong.

    How can folks tie up their entire livelihoods in things they understand so poorly, especially in the age of Google?

  • jf12 says:

    @Zippy, re: “How can folks tie up their entire livelihoods in things they understand so poorly, especially in the age of Google?”

    Voodoo apparently has its attractions, but I’ve come to suspect the major draw is its tainted tang of evil.

  • Marissa says:

    How can folks tie up their entire livelihoods in things they understand so poorly, especially in the age of Google?

    Some of us don’t even know what to look for, and what we find, we don’t know if we can trust it. If that works as an excuse.

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