David Cameron and Nick Clegg make a sweet couple; smooth suits, sincere accents and policy overlaps. Sadly, this political marriage is currently going through a rocky patch; an argument is brewing.
On this argument depends not only their own marriage, but the marriage of every other couple in the United Kingdom. Cameron intends to encourage marriage in Britain by giving couples who have tied the knot a tax break. Clegg thinks this would be unfair. It's the 'Big Society' against the 'Open Society'.
Firstly I should make one thing very clear: this is not an argument over whether marriage is a good thing or not. Everyone is agreed that married couples are more likely to stay together and their children are more likely to grow up happy and successful. This is statistically irrefutable, a fact that Dave and Nick both agree on, as do newspapers from all over the political spectrum.
So, let us look at the argument Dave puts forward. Basically, given that marriage is statistically proven to be good for children and subsequently the future of the country, it is the duty of the state to encourage it - to give married couples a few extra tenners now and then. Stable families encourage stable kids who have stable families...it's the opposite of a vicious circle, we spiral towards a brave new world of regular bed time stories and educational fun. If we have to inject a bit of cash into marriage to restart the upwards spiral then so be it.
What we have here, is essentially capitalism - let the rich, bright and married enjoy all the benefits of being rich, bright and married so that not only do their kids become rich, bright and married too, but that all those who are not rich, bright and married see the benefits of being so and strive to become rich, bright and married. The justification is that, apparently, in the end, society benefits. Theoretically, the inexorable escalator of progress will lead everyone to a future where they are rich, bright and married.
However, the issue, as Clegg points out, is that Cameron is placing a monetary value on marriage (and a pathetically low one at that). While you might get yourself an education to get a job to get rich, getting married to get rich seems instinctively wrong. If you want successful marriages then turning them into financial activity isn't the right way to go about it.
While Clegg is right that money is a not a healthy way to encourage marriage, he is wrong to conclude we shouldn't encourage marriage at all. Marriage is hugely beneficial and should be encouraged but not with an external incentive like money. Marriage needs to be attractive intrinsically; people need to want to marry because marriage itself is attractive.
I am not yet married, but I speculate that the more perfect the potential spouse, the more likely I would be to marry. If you were utterly infatuated with your girl/boyfriend then you'd want to tie the knot as soon as possible. The problem is that many people can't or don't find there 'perfect partner'.
To this end, my recommendation for intrinsically incentivising marriage is for everyone to spend more time looking for their perfect partner. Perhaps a new government department would be in order, it could be dedicated to finding and recommending the best genetic, emotional, physical and intellectual couples among its citizens.