When the invisible hand cannot be seen

This is really a human tragedy, but I will for a few moments go abstractly economic.

In India (and in many other parts of Asia) female children are considered only as a liability, as one will have to pay a dowry to get them married and will not have any perceived benefit from them once they are married. Yet married they have to be. So, in order to improve family finances, female fœtuses are being aborted and grown women killed to the point that there is a serious skewing of the (numerical) gender balance in India. Now, according to the laws of demand and supply that I were taught in high school, this should mean that women as going down in supply would appreciate and thus be more appreciated, but the opposite seems to be the case. So when parents attempt to pay smaller dowries or not at all, the men instead kill off their wives so they can remarry and get more dowry (doughry?).

This is an example of non-linear economics: the underlying traditions and assumptions about the value of women are stronger than (what used to be considered) economic logic. We can see similar examples in South Africa where funerals traditionally are very opulent affairs that have important social functions. However, with the current AIDS epidemic funerals happen so frequently that families do not manage to recover economically between them.

I'd like to draw a parallel to, say, the Western economic disaster of relying on endless growth of the population and the economy, where however, the consequences have always managed to be pushed far enough beyond the horizon that the connection can denied.

And how will India fare? My imagination is not quite sufficient to visualise a future India bereft of women, starting acquisition raids over the border of Pakistan (or all the way to Sabina). Indeed many things can be done. From the standpoint of women, supporting education and financing for women so that they do not necessarily have to marry to support themselves; from the standpoint of their parents, social security would lessen the need for parents to rely on their children (sons) for old age support. Married high-status men, however, may not necessarily see any benefits in a change of the status quo and are also the ones in the best position to block any reforms. So, can the rest of us use soft power to affect Indian traditions and opinions? Maybe. Where should we start?

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