Friday, March 31, 2006


If its consensual...

Is the minimum age standard an appropriate regulatory policy for young people? Are minimum driving ages appropriate? Are minimum age requirements appropriate for consensual sexual relationships? What about contracts?

In Massachusetts they are talking about raising the minimum driving age from 16 1/2 to 17 1/2. I wonder what this is actually supposed to solve. It seems like this would do little to increase road safety (and safety of individuals within car) or reduce roadway speeds. Currently, there is no built in mechanism (read incentive) for safety or maturity other than when you get caught. It is just an age requirement. DMV licensing requirements are practically a joke as well. They serve little purpose other than to provide a false safety net for all individuals involved. Here is more on the issue at CSG.

Now for consensual relationships: As most folks have heard there was a couple (15 and 17) where the young man got sentenced to seven years of prison for being involved in a sexual act with the young woman. Apparently if they had done more, it would not have been as strict of a sentence. Instead of focusing on the hypocrisy and the pretentiousness of those laws, I will focus on the logic behind the minimum standard. I believe there are a couple of problems at hand: asymmetric information and coercion, and expectation of risks.

The issue of asymmetric information may very well be a valid argument -- that one individual has more information than the other and can influence the other's behavior. In this case it is then intimately tied to coercion. Because one individual is over an arbitrary age, they have the ability to influence the behavior of another (without that individual explicitly stating their dissenting opinion). However, true coercion means rape and the minimum age law is simply an act of protecting someone from themselves and their potentially risky behavior.

I suppose another argument is that since rape charges are not effectively enforced (according to some) and sentenced, that minimum age laws might limit particular activity below that arbitrarily set age. I wouldn't think so, but I haven't seen any studies on the subject.

Now for risk: I think sexual activities are likely the most risky behavior there is. It's like going skydiving, except you won't die right away. I think if we really took sexual activities into account, then most people really are 'risk loving' rather than 'risk averse'. Okay, now for the expectations of risk. An individual at a young age, is likely not to be as aware of the risks (and rewards) associated with their activities. Does that however, make it good policy to limit the choice of an individual because they don't take into account the full risks? I am of the opinion that this 'command and control' style of regulation can't possibly help individuals realize the true risks associated with that behavior. An alternative is to make the outcomes of that behavior more visible and make individuals more liable for inappropriate and risky activities. Cut subsidies to these socially undesirable after-effects. Although this might not be that popular to some, the subsidies to AIDs research (and others) distort the real risk associated with sexual activity.

Lastly, contracts for minors: Regulation and discrimination based on age is, additionally, unlikely to solve the problems that were stated above. This is pretty much an issue of protecting ourselves from ourselves. It is like a get out of jail free card if you screw up. Now, for a society at large that doesn't seem like a bad idea, but it limits choice and distorts the reality of the situation. It also makes it more difficult for minors to appropriately take on those real responsibilities when they have passed that arbitrarily set age. It makes entering the ‘real world’ much more difficult.

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