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Small government, strong families

"Small government, strong families" Continued...

Issue: "Abortion: Delta force," Jan. 22, 2005

WORLD: Social conservatives have emphasized the cultural effects of single parenting. Why should we also examine its effects on governmental growth?

JM: The simplest answer is that the government becomes the substitute for the absent parent, either by providing financial assistance through welfare, or by imposing work rules that try to level the playing field among all types of families. But government is a pathetic substitute for parents. Even with extra money, the children of unmarried parents are more likely to drop out of school, do poorly in school, have mental-health issues, and even physical-health issues.

All these problems end up becoming taxpayer problems, whether libertarians like it or not. The sons of unmarried parents are more likely to have trouble with the law, commit crimes, and end up in jail. That costs taxpayer money, even with a libertarian minimal state. Here in California, we have the Three Strikes Law, which requires a three-time felon to be incarcerated for life. Who pays for that? The taxpayers. It would be much cheaper to raise kids properly in the first place than to try to undo a lot of damage created by parental absence.

WORLD: Why is marriage the most basic social institution?

JM: I define marriage as a society's normative institution for both sexual activity and child rearing. Marriage is an organic, pre-political institution that emerges spontaneously from society. People of the opposite sex are naturally attracted to one another, couple with each other, co-create children, and raise those children. The little society of the family replenishes and sustains itself. Humanity's natural sociability expresses itself most vibrantly within the family. A minimum-government libertarian can view this self-sustaining system with unadulterated awe.

I think my little booklet, "101 Tips for a Happier Marriage," is the most libertarian thing I have ever written. It is not political, and it empowers people to build up the most basic nongovernment institution the world has ever known. What could be more libertarian than that?

WORLD: Why are many advocates of sexual laissez faire among the most vociferous opponents of economic laissez faire?

JM: The left instinctively knows that the family competes with the government, both as a source of social support and as a focal point for people's loyalty. Sexual laissez faire undermines the family as a self-governing, self-sustaining unit.

WORLD: How can changes in child-custody rules affect the way people think about the costs and benefits of divorce?

JM: Think of it this way: If you knew for certain that by initiating divorce, you would lose contact with your children, you'd be much less likely to divorce. You'd be more likely to work longer and harder on your marriage. This doesn't tell you exactly what changes to make in custody rules, but it does tell you that those rules make a huge difference.

WORLD: What other public-policy changes would make a difference?

JM: Adoption and foster-care rules need to change. Social workers are among the guardians of a community's standards of proper conduct toward children. We have a standard that says no excessive force against children, for instance. In some places, the child welfare establishment absolutely prohibits any form of corporal punishment, insisting that foster parents never spank their foster kids. The authorities argue, quite appropriately, that foster parents need to be held to a higher standard than ordinary parents, because foster kids have already been harmed and need the best possible care.

The state could, with equal justice, insist on two-parent, married-couple households for the children in its care. We have a mountain of evidence showing that kids do best in married-couple households. I think it is simply justice and common sense to say that children who have already been neglected or abused ought to have the best care we can reasonably arrange for them. Placing a seriously disturbed child into the care of a single mother, or of an unmarried, cohabiting couple, is not a good gamble. The state could go a long way toward nurturing a pro-marriage culture by making the two-parent, married-couple household the norm for foster and adoptive parents.

-Jenny Morse's website is jointhemarriagerevolution.com

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