by Bradley Doucet*
Le Québécois Libre, February 15, 2009, No 264.


With Valentine's Day on the brain this past week, it occurred to me that it is unfair for some people to have so much love in their lives while others have so little. Some people get love and affection from spouses, from family, and from a surplus of loving friends to boot, while others get only grief and neglect from their so-called loved ones, or simply have no loved ones to speak of.

This is a problem, and like every other problem under the sun, it quite obviously requires a government solution. Left unregulated for far too long now, the market for love has failed to fulfill everyone's needs. Clearly, a government agency must be set up forthwith to correct the large and, what the hell, probably growing affection gap between the loved and the unloved. I propose that this government agency be called the Department of Enforced Affection and Total Happiness―or DEATH for short.

A Top-Down "Solution"

Instead of the present haphazard distribution of love, DEATH would undertake a more socially just redistribution of love, for the good of all. Off the top of my head, the motto of this new agency could be something like, "From each according to his ability to love, to each according to his need for love." Those who now receive more than their fair share of love would have some of this love taxed away, and redirected toward those who have up until now been unable to afford enough love. Of course, we wouldn't call it a tax―people dislike taxes―we'd call it a "contribution." Similarly, those who have a lot of love to give would be "encouraged" to spread it around.

Now, for DEATH to be able to do its job, another, subservient agency would be required to collect data on everyone's incoming and outgoing love―their love revenue and love expenses, so to speak. This agency could be called the Affection Registry and Selective Enforcement, or ARSE. ARSE would be tasked with keeping track of all incoming and outgoing payments of love between individuals, spot checking for filing errors, and auditing the love accounts of those whose affection forms look suspicious. It would, in short, be responsible for patrolling the black market in love that would surely develop as certain unscrupulous individuals sought to continue giving and receiving love as they saw fit, without the benefit of the watchful eye of the state.

This total redistribution of love would, of course, spell the end of monogamy. Many people seem to favour this type of monopolistic arrangement, but we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by such petty concerns when it is clearly unfair for some people to have a steady diet of love and affection while others' needs go unmet. Not that polygamy is any better; it is even more exclusive than monogamy, with one man monopolizing several wives. Indeed, it is exclusivity that is the problem, and so henceforth, all love relationships will be non-exclusive by government decree. Anyone caught carrying on an exclusive relationship will be sentenced to DEATH―I mean, will be sentenced by DEATH―to no less than six months of enforced relief work bringing affection to the most needy. (Bring us your ugly, your smelly, your ill-mannered masses.)

Kiss My ARSE

Some will undoubtedly balk at these constraints. They will argue that those who receive more love than others might in fact deserve more love, that through their behaviour they may have actually earned it, while those who receive less might by and large deserve their lot as well. For instance, they might say, a faithful, adoring, supportive spouse rightly tends to receive more love than a cheating, negligent, abusive one. A parent who nurtures and properly prepares his child for the trials and tribulations of life naturally gets more heartfelt reciprocation in his old age than one who endeavours to keep his child dependent and insecure.

Some will also argue that those who have more love to give should be free to decide to whom they want to give it. After all, it belongs to them, they will say, and possession is nine-tenths of the law. By what conceivable right would other people, or their representatives in government, take what is theirs and redistribute it against their will? These people might even argue that love cannot be forced, that love by its very nature must be freely given.

Those who raise these kinds of objections obviously have no compassion for people living below the hostility line. Life without sufficient love is a cruel affair. It is merely the most basic humanity to want to guarantee to everyone a basic minimum of love. And what about those gluttons for punishment who heap their affections on abusive partners who reinforce their negative self-images? Clearly, these people must be saved from themselves, and if the rest of us must lose a little freedom in order to save them, well then, so be it.

Until DEATH Do Us Part

The more sophisticated market extremists will undoubtedly argue that while the free market for love might not distribute rewards in a perfectly fair manner, DEATH can only make matters worse. Government agencies, these extremists will say, are inefficient at correcting market failures, often exacerbating the very problems they were meant to address. Part of the reason for this, they will argue, is that these regulatory agencies are often captured by powerful lobby groups representing those exact areas they were meant to oversee.

Market extremists will go on to claim that unlike government, the invisible hand of the market by and large guides love to its most efficient uses. In fact, by punishing failure and rewarding success, it actually discourages the kinds of behaviours that repel love and encourages the kinds of behaviours that naturally attract it, resulting in the creation of more love than existed before. Love, they will argue, is not a zero-sum game. They will further assert that since arranged marriages fell out of favour and women won equality before the law in much of the world, the resulting free market in love has brought about a vast increase in the amount of love in circulation, just as the Industrial Revolution brought about a vast increase in material wealth for those countries that participated in it.

Again, I say, in response to these objections: have a heart. Sure, some people may not really deserve love, and I'll admit, the free market may encourage some to try harder to earn more love. But market incentives are not all-powerful. Some people may lack love at certain times through no fault of their own. Others may temporarily have an excess supply of love to give and no one to give it to, a kind of rotating, structural underemployment of love. And some people will remain undeserving of love no matter how cruelly reality punishes them for their errors. What about those people? Don't the undeserving deserve love too?

In closing, let me reiterate my proposal: the unequal distribution of love is a problem, and it is a problem that requires the loving hand of government. Left to its own devices, the market has failed to meet the impossibly high standards I have set for it. And to those market extremists prone to shout, "Give me liberty or give me death," I say, DEATH it is. In DEATH, we will all be equal at last.

* Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is QL's English Editor.