Life, Liberty, Property #31: Unemployment ticks up, as the Fed slows the economy, and family policy should consider effects of no-fault divorce.
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Labored Logic Day
- The Unhappy Marriage of Politics and Family
- Americans Disappointed in Public Schools
Labored Logic Day
Happy Labor Day, everybody.
Workers have a little less to be happy about today than last month, as The Wall Street Journal reports:
Hiring slowed this summer and unemployment rose in August, signs the labor market is cooling in the face of high interest rates.
U.S. employers added 187,000 jobs last month, while payrolls in June and July were revised down a combined 110,000, the Labor Department said Friday. Over those three months, a modest 150,000 jobs were added monthly on average, down from a 238,000 average gain in March through May.
The unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in August, an increase from July’s 3.5 percent.
While unemployment rose and hiring slowed, those who already have jobs gained a little buying power, as workers’ per-hour pay and hours worked increased:
Workers’ average hourly earnings rose 4.3% in August from a year earlier, down from 4.4% in July, but well above the prepandemic pace. An increase in hours caused weekly earnings to rise the most since February.
As always, bad news for the worker is good news for the Fed, and vice versa. The central bank wants to hear much worse employment news before it will call a halt to its interest rate increases: “The report keeps the Federal Reserve on track to hold rates steady at its meeting this month, but won’t resolve a debate over whether to raise rates again in November or December,” the Journal story notes. “Other data show the broader economy remains strong, with consumer spending surging this summer and inflation easing.”
The Fed is committed to its plan to keep interest rates high until unemployment rises, which it imagines will stop inflation, which has pretty much already stopped.
Perversely, we have to hope for worse employment news before we can get better employment news far down the road. At the Fed, every day is Labored Logic Day.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
The Unhappy Marriage of Politics and Family
One of the starkest lines of division on the political right is family policy. Traditional conservatives have long argued that government should adopt policies intended to strengthen family formation and increase fertility, whereas libertarians have strongly stated that government should generally stay out of the matter.
A new report on family policy from the libertarian Cato Institute and a short review of it by a scholar at the traditionalist Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) nicely summarize the two positions. The Cato Institute report says direct government intervention to raise fertility does not work: “International evidence indicates that expensive efforts to subsidize childbearing have failed to raise countries’ fertility to replacement levels and sustain fertility rates there. They typically fail even to meet policymakers’ more modest fertility objectives.”
The Cato authors argue “a genuinely pro‐family policy means less government, not more.” EPPC fellow Patrick T. Brown agrees in part, writing, “And they are right—in certain areas.” Brown cites pro-market housing policy and opposition to government imposition of “safetyism” on parents as areas of agreement.
However, Brown writes, “an individualistic approach to family policy has predictable blind spots: neglecting the institution that makes future children most likely to thrive; tolerating practices that prey on the vulnerable; and taking a hatchet, rather than a scalpel, to the Chesterton’s fence of kludges and red tape that aim to keep families safe.”
Brown states the case for government action: “For many social conservatives, pro-family policy is necessary—and increased government investments worthwhile—precisely because children are the natural byproduct of the conjugal relationship between husband and wife, and strengthening the bond between the parents themselves should be part of any pro-family agenda.”
Whoa. I am as pro-family as you can get, and I balk at that argument. Modern government distorts, disturbs, and/or destroys everything it touches. Using the government to “[strengthen] the bond between the parents themselves” would invite an even worse disaster than what we already have, and that is saying a lot.
To adapt an old saying, “A government powerful enough and intrusive enough to strengthen the family is a government powerful enough and intrusive enough to destroy the family—and it will do exactly that.”
That would be the inevitable result of any government effort to increase fertility: as soon as the other political party took over, the pro-family policies would be reversed and an open war on the family would ensue. This has happened before, as Katherine Bradley of The Heritage Foundation noted at the end of the first year of the Obama administration:
As Congress wraps up its final business for the year, there are at least a dozen detrimental policies included in the omnibus spending bill recently signed into law by the President. Taken as a whole, these policies devalue human life, weaken civil society, and undermine the family. Unfortunately, these provisions have largely gone unnoticed by the general public.
It is reasonable to argue that the government should reverse such efforts whenever possible. Repeal of the Obama-era policies seen as anti-family is certainly justified. Unfortunately, when in office, self-described conservatives have shrunk from the task of reversing the policies that have been most destructive of the family: the welfare state and no-fault divorce.
The welfare state is an egregious interference in family formation in the United States. As study after study has shown, in the words of the late economist Walter Williams, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do, what Jim Crow couldn’t do, what the harshest racism couldn’t do. And that is to destroy the black family.”
As attorney Willis L. Krumholz notes in an article for the Institute for Family Studies, the welfare state broke down the American family and had its worst effect on blacks:
From 1890 to 1950, black women had a higher marriage rate than white women. And in 1950, just 9% of black children lived without their father. By 1960, the black marriage rate had declined but remained close to the white marriage rate. In other words, despite open racism and widespread poverty, strong black families used to be the norm.
But by the mid-1980s, black fatherlessness skyrocketed. Today, only 44% of black children have a father in the home. In unison, the rate of black out-of-wedlock births went from 24.5% in 1964 to 70.7% by 1994, roughly where it stands today .
This has become a self-perpetuating process, with each fatherless generation resulting in more dependence on government and more fatherlessness: “family breakdown fuels poverty. On average, even high school dropouts who are married have a far lower poverty rate than do single parents with several years of college,” Krumholz wrote.
As a result, “the vast majority of America’s overall marriage decline is concentrated among poor and working-class Americans, leading to a ‘marriage divide’ based on class,” Krumholz notes.
Conservatives and Republicans have often pointed out that the federal government’s extensive welfare system undermines family formation, yet they have never had the nerve to press for outright repeal. They did succeed in passing a sensible reform in 1996, which was signed into law by a Democrat, President Bill Clinton. The centerpiece of that welfare reform, however, was negated just over a decade later by the Obama administration, which allowed states to ignore the law’s provisions limiting how long people could receive benefits.
In addition, other federal welfare programs, notably the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, have grown rapidly, often with Republican support. Farm state members of Congress, for example, have long promoted SNAP as a means of driving up demand for their constituents’ agricultural products.
Attempting to use government policies to strengthen family formation while these programs remain in place would accomplish nothing but a further waste of money.
The other big government incursion against the family has very seldom been discussed: no-fault divorce.
The issue recently came to the fore when conservative broadcaster Steven Crowder announced that he and his wife were divorcing. Crowder had spoken out against no-fault divorce a year ago, saying, “no-fault divorce, … by the way, means that in many of these states if a woman cheats on you, she leaves, she takes half. So it’s not no-fault, it’s the fault of the man.”
In March of last year, conservative pundit Matt Walsh said, “People are scandalized by this opinion but wait until they find out that I also think no fault divorce should be abolished.” Walsh had in fact written critically about no-fault divorce in 2015, stating, “we have made it easier to sever the marital union than it is to sever pretty much any other kind of union. And that’s not good. There are more protections in place to prevent your employer for dumping you for frivolous reasons than there are to prevent your spouse from doing the same.”
No-fault divorce, Crowder notes, has fundamentally undermined marriage: “We live in a society where, gay marriage aside, the marital contract has been reduced to something transitory and impotent. Through divorce, we’ve said that marriage is not, despite our vows, ‘until death.’”
The platform of the Texas Republican Party calls for the state to “rescind unilateral no-fault divorce laws and support covenant marriage.”
These scattered statements and proposals hardly constitute any kind of groundswell against no-fault divorce, though they do indicate that some people are starting to think about the subject. Crowder alludes to a point I made a good deal more forcefully in 2009 in Salvo magazine:[F]ar from reducing the number of unhappy marriages, no-fault divorce actually undermines all marriages, by creating an easy “out” for every married person. All marriages have their ups and downs, but with no-fault divorce, each spouse is always vulnerable to the possibility that the other will simply call it quits during one of the “downs.” It gives all marriages an inherent instability.
It is important to emphasize that no-fault divorce laws undermine all marriages at all times, by weakening each party’s trust of the other. This is true regardless of how strongly the spouses may love each other or be committed to marriage in general and their marriage in particular.
As Crowder suggests, the marriage contract, like all contracts, should receive protection from government. That is in fact one of the few legitimate functions of government.
The problem with no-fault divorce is the premise that the marriage contract should receive less government protection than other contracts. The point of government enforcement of private contracts is to reduce conflict and increase social harmony by mediating disputes. Through no-fault divorce, government shirks its duty to enforce valid contracts. The arguments offered in favor of this neglect of duty are emotionally compelling, but they fail to address the fundamental problem that no-fault divorce is an abandonment of government protection and increases conflict within the society.
As I noted in my Salvo article, the compassion behind no-fault has not been authenticated by the results:
Enacted in state after state beginning in the 1960s, no-fault divorce laws were put in place for a highly compassionate reason (which itself ought immediately to arouse suspicion): to keep people from being trapped in unhappy marriages, especially ones in which children would be exposed to hostility between their parents on a daily basis.
Even the most cursory look at daily news stories will show just how dismally no-fault divorce has fared at achieving its goal of ridding society of all bad marriages and retaining only the good ones. One might, from these stories, even come to suspect that there is a causal connection between no-fault divorce and a rise in domestic violence, which has coincided with the implementation of such policies across the nation.
The solution is simple, though exceedingly controversial, if not almost unmentionable, at this point in history, as I wrote then:
This suggests an urgent need to rethink our divorce laws. The key is to recognize that as far as society is concerned, marriage is a contract between two individuals. Now, one of the central roles of government is to enforce contracts. No-fault divorce, therefore, can be characterized as an abdication by the state of its responsibility to enforce a particularly vital and consequential contract.
Hence, a central aspect of the effort to strengthen marriage in the United States should be for states to repeal their no-fault divorce laws and replace them with laws that would permit divorce only for compelling reasons. As with laws governing any contract, those governing marriage should require any party calling for a divorce to show that the other party has violated the marriage contract so egregiously that the only fair outcome is for the contract to be dissolved and the wronged party to receive just compensation.
There is nothing unsympathetic or hard-hearted in this proposal. On the contrary, the rise of marital disharmony in the United States is a powerful reason for us to consider this reform: if government is undermining marriages and families in this way—as I contend it clearly is doing—our first effort should be directed toward ending this injustice.
Ending no-fault divorce would not make leaving a marriage for legitimate reasons more difficult—or at least it need not do so. Under a properly written fault-based divorce law, no one would be required to remain in a marriage marred by violence, sexual infidelity, or other domestic horrors. If a person can show that his or her spouse has broken the marriage contract in a consequential (meaning nontrivial) way, the government has a bounden duty to ensure redress.
That could involve nullifying the agreement—through a divorce—and imposing sanctions on the guilty party, such as financial compensation and limitation of custody or even visitation of the children of the marriage.
All that the end of no-fault divorce would do would be to require that a person show that the other party has breached the marriage contract in some important way. It would be essential for states to write clear divorce laws highly protective of wronged parties. Perfecting laws enforcing these contracts, however, would certainly be a much more justifiable course than the current government abdication of duty:
Of course, it stands to reason that making divorce more difficult to obtain would result in a lower the number of divorces, but the crucial point to understand here is that the ease or difficulty of divorcing has a synergistic effect through its impact on spousal trust: Government undermines marriages by making the contract easy to dissolve, and it strengthens marriages by making dissolution more difficult.
Far from being “an attack on women” or trapping people in bad relationships, an end of no-fault divorce “would be truly liberating for all marriages because it would remove the instability that undermines trust,” as I wrote in 2009.
As these two examples indicate, there are plenty of things we can do to strengthen the family by removing government impediments to the formation and flourishing of families. The Cato study argues “many other reforms would make family life easier and more affordable,” including “reforms to labor laws, child safety policies, tax and trade policy, and health policies that affect birth and conception, in addition to education, housing, and safety policy changes that would reduce the cost of raising children. Evidence suggests that some of these reforms could boost fertility, for instance, by reducing work‐life tradeoffs or other intensive parenting requirements.” State governments should institute such reforms as well.
Even those feisty libertarians over at Cato did not dare to bring up the welfare state or no-fault divorce. Until conservatives and libertarians discuss the most consequential impediments to marriage and family in our current system, everything they do will be largely window dressing, a waste of money, or actively counterproductive. It will take real courage to tackle what is doing the most harm to America’s families.
Americans Disappointed in Public Schools
More Americans “are dissatisfied than satisfied with the quality of education at their local public school,” a new survey reports.
The poll of 2,500 voters by Noble Predictive Insights for The Center Square news service found “39% were satisfied with the quality of their local public school’s education, and 41% were dissatisfied,” Heartland Daily News reports. The poll surveyed 1,000 Republicans, 1,000 Democrats, and 500 independent voters on the subject.
Among those identified as Republicans, 47 percent said they were dissatisfied with their local public school. Thirty-three percent of Democrat voters expressed dissatisfaction with their local schools.
Independents tended to agree with Republicans that their local schools are inadequate.
“The big thing on education, you got to look at the tie-breaker, which is the independents,” the story quotes Noble Predictive Insights founder and CEO Mike Noble as saying. “Independents are seven points in the dissatisfied realm, so independents are leaning a little bit towards Republicans on this issue.”
Republicans at the recent presidential debate reflected this dissatisfaction, with some calling for the U.S. Department of Education to be abolished and most expressing support for school choice. President Joe Biden, by contrast, has continually exhibited strong support of government-run schools and teachers unions, along with fierce opposition to choice measures such as vouchers and charter schools.
Source: Heartland Daily News