Dramatic Question: What if the economic crisis made polygamy fashionable?
Premise: Responsibility is the price of Freedom
Story Message: Responsibility is not the price of freedom, but the benefit
The global population is exploding and moving to mega-cities. Soon, there will be more people alive on this earth than have ever existed throughout time. This can lead to a great deal of volatility, requiring strict social controls in order to have a secure environment (i.e Singapore and Japan). With divorce going north of 50%, we are becoming a nation of individuals running around with few strings attached - a recipe for disaster. Most likely, governments will encourage new family structures - and all the responsibilities that come with them - in order to control the population.
Furthermore, the widening poverty gap has put enormous pressure on households by eroding their spending power. If we adjust for inflation, we are all actually worse off than we were a couple of generations ago. The dream of a "middle class" lifestyle has evaporated.
In such a climate, the nuclear family is no longer very efficient. Unless one of the partners makes a great deal of money, both partners end up working, which results in them hiring additional support staff for the household, undermining the benefits of their combined income. Given the high divorce rate, this only compounds the problem - incomes get split in half, yet need to support two households, independently. It seems that we are drifting away from the nuclear family, already, and becoming a nation of individuals with shared custody of one another.
A more efficient structure would be the extended family. However, individuals have enjoyed so many personal freedoms for so long that they are unlikely to want to increase their responsibility to the people they have abandoned.
A more interesting scenario would be a combination of multiple individuals living under one roof. For example, a group of divorcees. Alternatively, it could be several un-related families living together, as if in a commune. This would allow them to pool resources in order to share the burden.
A further scenario involves what happens at the top one percent. As the poverty gap continues to widen, we are creating a class of individuals with enormous spending power - often outstripping the annual GDP of small nations (e.g. Putin). Given that they put personal freedom above all else, it would not be a stretch to see them return to polygamy, which - for all intents and purposes - was an economic (and political) structure to begin with (frequently employed in feudal, royal families, when such a poverty gap was the norm). A super-spouse would support many dependents, who are legally bound to them and thus protected. In some ways, this would be seen as nothing more than a legal extension of our current, "Friends with benefits", except that these "friends" have legal benefits in return.
Polygamy would also resolve many of the problems of the underclass, who cannot even afford to be middle-class anymore.
If the two extreme scenarios described above came to pass, then the society would be split between large, communal extended families and large, polygamous ones. What becomes interesting is how the members of each household view their own group responsibilities vs. individual freedoms.
In this story message, we want to test the premise and reframe it: freedom and responsibility are not mutually exclusive. No matter how 'free' a family structure may appear to be, there are always significant responsibilities. Nevertheless, responsibility can confer benefits and personal satisfaction. And, freedom can be seen as the right to think, act, and speak as one wants. As long as both are balanced and present, an individual can feel harmony and a source of pride from the responsibilities and freedoms that they have. In other words, responsibility isn't a 'price' but a 'benefit'.