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What To Do About The Great American Divide

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Charles Murray penned a good article on the new America this weekend. It brings together a lot of statistics, but the solution to those statistics probably make most people uncomfortable.

My gut tells me that a lot of Rick Santorum supporters are supporting him because quite frankly they are upset at what has happened to the traditional American family and don’t know what to do about it. Instead of figuring out ways for the market to re-establish traditional core values, they put their faith in government to do it for them. They aren’t that much different than left wing Democrats that put their hopes and dreams into government programs to solve societal problems. Government is never the answer.

We see symptoms of government solutions everywhere. They create nothing. Government remedies create economic distortions. For example, in Chicago we have what’s known as Section 8 housing. It’s a Housing and Urban Development program that is designed to help people. However, what happens is that when a new development in the city is planned, in many cases some of it has to be designated Section 8. Hence, we have new buildings on Lake Shore Drive over looking the lake that include a small percentage of Section 8 housing. The actual buyers of apartments pay more to subsidize the housing, and the developer makes less money. The economics ignore the fact that you are rewarding people with a sweet apartment in one of the best neighborhoods in the nation without them earning it but that is another story. Government causes distortion.

One problem the article cites is out of wedlock birthrates. 50 years ago, the rate was far less than it is today. One difference of course is the availability of birth control, and the availability of abortion to take care of an unwanted pregnancy. However, it doesn’t matter how many government programs we throw at the problem both from the right and left. The problem remains. If we want to correct that problem two things have to happen. First, set the economic incentives up from a government perspective to favor not having kids out of wedlock. That can be done through tax and support policy. Second, society as a whole has to put its foot down and say that out of wedlock birth is wrong. It can’t be an accepted practice. It doesn’t mean we don’t have empathy. Peer pressure will do a lot more to cure the problem than any government program. Plenty of educational resources exist to instruct people on what to do.

Murray makes the point that there is a different set of new upper and lower classes.

Why have these new lower and upper classes emerged? For explaining the formation of the new lower class, the easy explanations from the left don’t withstand scrutiny. It’s not that white working class males can no longer make a “family wage” that enables them to marry. The average male employed in a working-class occupation earned as much in 2010 as he did in 1960. It’s not that a bad job market led discouraged men to drop out of the labor force. Labor-force dropout increased just as fast during the boom years of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s as it did during bad years.

As I’ve argued in much of my previous work, I think that the reforms of the 1960s jump-started the deterioration. Changes in social policy during the 1960s made it economically more feasible to have a child without having a husband if you were a woman or to get along without a job if you were a man; safer to commit crimes without suffering consequences; and easier to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of.

They don’t stratify based on race. They stratify on education and zip code. He is correct when he says,

Once the deterioration was under way, a self-reinforcing loop took hold as traditionally powerful social norms broke down. Because the process has become self-reinforcing, repealing the reforms of the 1960s (something that’s not going to happen) would change the trends slowly at best.

This is why government can never be the solution to the problem. It’s also why Rick Santorum is a hollow, one dimensional candidate. Only the “free market” can be the answer. In this case it’s the free market of families and people to choose their own destiny. Government programs are impeding that choice.

Bill Cosby caught a lot of heat when he pointed out some things that were bugging him. The fact of the matter is he was simply trying to begin applying some peer pressure to things that were totally out of line. Statistically we know for a fact that children born out of wedlock do worse than kids from two parent families. We know that college educated people do better than people that drop out of high school. Sure, there are exceptions but they are statistical outliers that don’t compute for 95% of us. Government isn’t going to change those statistics or affect how many people follow them. Only peer pressure from our immediate family, extending into our neighborhood can change them.

Put your faith in the individual. Create the right economic incentives for them to act. A bunch of individuals will act to create a marketplace. Good things will happen. It’s true in hard, money grubbing capitalistic businesses. But it’s also true when you talk about the social values both the left wing and right wing want to promote.

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