The Economics of Coming Out of the Closet
By Bryan Caplan
Suppose you have a secret that the world will hold against you, but it’s sure to leak out one day regardless of what you do. What’s the best way to come out of the closet?
I started thinking about this question while watching Big Love, HBO’s new show about a family of polygamists. The husband, Bill, runs a successful home improvement store, but the public doesn’t realize he’s a polygamist. He hides his alternative lifestyle because he thinks it will hurt business if his customers find out. Bill even sends his first wife over to the neighbors with a cover story.
My suspicion, though, is that this was a strategic error. Word of Bill’s polygamy is going to leak out eventually. But if the first person to find out is a journalist or activist, the world will have a focal point to rally around: “Shocking news – Bill Henrickson’s a polygamist!” In contrast, if word spreads very gradually – a few neighbors find out, and they slowly tell their friends, and so on until “everyone knows” – Bill might safely transition from covert polygamist to “that guy with three wives” without ever facing the media spotlight.
What do you think? What’s the safest way for a polygamist to come out of the closet?
P.S. I’ve noticed that more people are offended by Big Love than the Sopranos. What gives?