Commentary: The Right Needs to Use Public Policies That Promote Family Values

Family of Four
by Christopher Roach


It is a tale as old as time. Older generations criticize the young, usually following a particular formula. The seniors say that the young are wimpier, lazier, less ambitious, overly entitled, and have weaker characters. Examples are now easier to come by because of social media, which allows one to encounter different types of people without having to enter their social circles.

While there are many issues of concern among the young, last week a TikTok rant by a young lady about the difficulty of working and paying her bills went viral. She seemed sad and overwhelmed. Her income apparently could barely cover the rent. Of course, she probably needed a smaller place and a roommate, but her complaints are universal, even among those who are more frugal.

If you do the math for nearly every city in America, it is tough to survive, let alone get ahead, for young people making an average income. And, I hate to tell all the “creatives” out there, but most jobs are not fulfilling to the vast majority of people; rather, they’re draining and sometimes outright abusive.

Sticking to the script, lots of Gen X and Boomer conservatives mocked the young lady. The masochistic right-wingers never seem to notice a massive contradiction in their core beliefs. On the one hand, they acknowledge a lot of bad policies have suppressed job creation and wages, increased the cost of living, and generally made life more grim, but at the same time, they want to pretend it’s 1962, the world is everyone’s oyster, and a healthy dose of social Darwinism is the best medicine to encourage young people to do their best. Ridiculous.

Is the Economy Great or Not?

First, the bad economy is not this girl’s fault. For the last two years, everyone has noticed and complained about inflation because everything is more expensive: food, rent, health care, car repairs, etc. So if this is a worthy reason for lambasting Biden, isn’t it also going to make life harder for struggling young people trying to get a foothold in life?

It was never particularly easy to be young and starting out, but it was certainly easier when people could get a factory job making the equivalent of $70,000 a year at the age of 20 or so. Run those old wages through the inflation calculator. But this has not been true for most people for a long time.

Second, American conservatives have always been the witting and unwitting allies of feminists. In a battle between the rough-and-tumble market and the refined ideals of motherhood and matriarchy, they prefer to see the GDP grow rather than encourage more two-parent families.

It is noteworthy that the Generation Z representative in the video is a young lady. She’s been fed a relentless diet of propaganda since the age of five that her purpose in life is to pursue her future career, that this career would make her feel empowered, and that striving instead to be a good wife and mother would be an unworthy and unrealistic goal, the opposite of a “strong, independent woman.”

The mass introduction of women to the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s proved to be a pretty neat trick. Just as no-fault divorces were devastating childhoods across the country, finance capital convinced millions of women to enter the labor force en massesuppressing male wages in the process and soon making it impossible for all but the very wealthy to raise a family on a single income. At the same time, these developments that helped corporate bottom lines were sold as the advance of progressive and liberating values!

The trendlines are clear. The system, broadly understood, delays marriage, increases debt, reduces the number of marriages and children, and generally operates to turn one into an economic commodity. This may have always been a bigger part of the American character than, say, continental Europe. As Calvin Coolidge—no feminist, he—opined, “The business of America is business.” But the old America also had a privileged place for motherhood, for community, and for Christianity, all of which combined to act as buffers against the rough edges of a free market system.

Even before the modern wage-earning economy, neither men nor women could afford to be idle. Women worked, whether in the much-more-demanding requirements of homemaking before modern appliances or on family farms. Of course, working in a home for one’s family has different, intangible benefits compared to preparing PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets.

The Burden of Employment Varies By Sex

This is another way that so-called conservatives aid and abet feminists. For the former, men and women are completely interchangeable, mere economic units easily switched with one another. For the feminists, these differences are mostly artificial social constructs designed to keep women down and easily discarded through an act of will.

I’m sure it seemed this way to the early feminists, owing to their backgrounds. Feminism grew in an urban, academic milieu. Think Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem. Blue-collar work, the factory or the battlefield, and tackle football were all anathema to people like them, and their perspective was skewed accordingly. They wanted a world where people like them would have more power and influence and be happier, and they succeeded.

This means that people’s choices do not take place in a vacuum. The patriarchal model has been rendered unavailable by market forces, as well as relentless propaganda and changes to the law. But the results are plain: a lot of people are miserable, and unmarried women in the workforce seem to be the most miserable of all.

These videos should not be the least bit surprising to anyone who has been in the working world over the last 30 years. I have had many close friendships with my male and female colleagues. But in two decades of practicing law, I have not had a single man tell me he is “crying when he gets home” several nights a week or “finishing off a bottle of wine” by himself regularly, but I’ve heard both harrowing accounts from more than one professional woman.

Along the same lines, while I do not shame anyone who is getting help for their mental health, the gendered disparity in depression diagnoses suggests a broader problem. Both in our own lives and when viewing social phenomena, it pays to ask, “Is this problem mostly medical, or is this a normal response to objectively stressful, unhappy, or unnatural circumstances?” It is not the mark of a well-organized or flourishing social and economic system that suicide has been steadily climbing for several decades. And, like Emile Durkheim concluded in his famous study of suicide here too, social factors matter as much as those of individual psychology.

Economic and Social Conditions Do Not Favor the Family

Something is really broken, and at least part of what is broken is economic. Forces have converged—inflation, mass immigration, financialization, and outsourcing—to grind down the middle class by removing the ability of the average family to survive and thrive on a single income. This means the ranks of those who never marry and never will have children are significant and growing.

Getting married, having kids, and supporting those kids on a husband’s single income was a completely ordinary middle-class attainment in the recent past. Now, educational requirements and the rising cost of healthcare, taxes, rent, food, and everything else mean that social outcomes tend to be concentrated at the extremes.

At one end are the rich, who are able to fend for themselves and often, tellingly, adopt a very traditional arrangement with a wife as homemaker, deeply invested in their children and community. On the other end are the idle poor, where single moms choose men not for their ability to provide but because of their charm and status within the broken subcultures they both inhabit. The matriarchs of these families are protected from many of the consequences of their decisions with subsidized health care, food, and housing, and society receives a steady supply of well-fed, fatherless future criminals. Nothing good comes from this, but for those participating in it, it is not as hard or as stressful as pulling one’s own weight in an unforgiving economic milieu, and they do get to have kids, unlike many people struggling in their careers.

This is only partly a political issue. It is a social and cultural phenomenon, but it has been made worse by certain public policies, including high levels of student loan debt, propaganda about careerism, a no-fault divorce regime, and things like inflation and immigration, which both make life more expensive for the middle class.

A Key Part of the MAGA Agenda is Economic Populism

While every Republican claims to love Trump and his MAGA agenda, most of them misunderstand and fail to embrace one of the key differences between him and his Republican predecessors. In spite of his massive wealth and success, Trump understood and expressed sympathy and solidarity with the struggling middle class. He rejected politically suicidal ideas like ending middle-class entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. And he continually emphasized that his agenda was about restoring dignity and respect for the little people, whom the Washington, D.C., managerial class holds in such great contempt.

A system that guarantees the brightest and most productive women spend their best years in a cubicle, miserable and crying on TikTok, while couples that do marry only see each other fleetingly, coming and going from their stressful jobs or picking their children up from daycare, is not a society worth defending. And only the heartless or politically incompetent—in other words, average Republican operatives—respond to a cri de couer from one of the struggling little people with mockery and contempt.

Obviously, in a free society, people should have choices, including the choice to live their lives in a way that suits their personal talents. Freedom means they even have the right to live in ways that turn out to be mistaken and risk failure. That said, not all choices are equally free. The devolution of the family is the outcome of decades of deliberate social engineering; it involves constraining certain choices even as it offers up those preferred by the system, and that social engineering is now undermining the happiness and freedom of men, women, and children.

Part of making America great again requires the restoration of the older patterns of family life. Those on the right should be thinking about how to use public policy to promote sustainable family life, encourage more children within marriage, and make it easier for young people to get established.

In the meantime, the least we can do is not be petty and insult those struggling to survive under increasingly difficult and unnatural conditions.

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Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.





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