Benefits for Families
If you wish to focus on the family, focus on free money.
Obvious? No. But let us look at how the American family broke down during the 20th Century.
It is hard raising a child with only one parent – especially if that parent makes a low income. Decent child care is expensive. And so over the years the government has created various programs to aid single-parent families, from the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children to today’s child care subsidies.
As a result the government has ended up paying people to get divorced, or not get married in the first place. Single parent families are more needy than two-parent families generally, so need-based welfare pays families to be single-parent. Subsidized child care programs pay the poor to have their young children raised by institutions instead of by parents. Financial incentives matter, especially for those desperate for money. The welfare state led to the decline of families, starting mostly with minority families at first, but now extending to white families as Charles Murray documents in his latest book.
But starving to death, living on the street or getting sick without access to medical care aren’t good for families either, whether we are talking single-parent families or poorer two-parent families. The simple solution is to make the welfare money unconditional. Whether you are a struggling single mother or Melinda Gates, you get the same monthly check (or direct deposit) from the government. Since men also get a monthly check, it pays to marry. Two can live cheaper together than separately. (Like it or not, marriage is an economic institution.)
Obviously, the monthly check cannot be huge, else the economy would collapse; somebody needs to work. If the money is enough that a small family can survive on it by living an eco-hippie lifestyle, however, we can get rid of most need-based welfare. But there is still plenty of incentive to work. If you want modern luxuries or status symbols, get a job.
With the unconditional money from the government, however, one job would suffice. When the children are young, Mommy could afford to stay home while Daddy works, just like in 1950s sitcoms.
Free Money for All is truly compassionate conservatism.
The Problem of Big Poor Families
An affordable basic income guarantee could suffice for one or even two children for a frugal unemployed family. But what about larger unemployed poor families? If we grant money based on the number of children, we subsidize having an overpopulation of net tax recipients. Given the strains on the federal budget today, this is not sustainable. Moreover, we could get back to the problem of unmarried welfare moms having out of wedlock children in order to receive more benefits.
How do we ensure that the children are taken care of without encouraging irresponsible family planning?
The standard solution is to have free government services for the children. Public schools are the biggest example. Head Start, public kindergarten, public parks and libraries are other examples. This works, but it is not the only solution. We could grant vouchers redeemable for similar service by private providers in order to have the benefits of diversity and competition. Public parks and libraries are probably optimal, as these work as local monopolies, but school vouchers are an option instead of government run schools, especially in cities dense enough to support multiple schools within walking distance.
We could also have health insurance vouchers for children. As long as the vouchers were applicable to individual plans for each child, there is no incentive to have more children just to receive welfare benefits to apply to the same family plan. But those who want to have extra children could afford to buy those children at least catastrophic health coverage. If such vouchers replace the current tax loophole for employer-provided health coverage, we decouple health coverage from employment. This is very useful for part time and seasonal workers.
A Higher Standard for Sexual Morality
Temptation leads to sin. The more years between puberty and marriage, the greater the temptation to fornicate. Our society keeps pushing the economically (and socially) acceptable marriage age ever later. As a result, getting married while still a virgin has become…weird. Playing around before marriage, or at least having one or more trial marriages before the real commitment has become the norm. The pulpit cannot reverse the trend. Neither can a campaign against legal gay marriage. We need to make puberty later or marriage earlier if we want traditional norms to be normal once again.
We might be able to make puberty a bit later. Estrogen-like chemicals from plastics, pesticides, and hormone-pumped meats might be making girls hit puberty earlier. Conservative Christians might do well to join forces with environmentalists on these issues. But do remember that Romeo and Juliet were just 15 and 13 years old respectively. Shakespeare might have been poking a bit of fun at Italians with those numbers, but there are other records of very early marriage customs from the days long before plastics and hormone-fed dairy cows.
While 15 is certainly younger than optimal for marriage, expecting everyone to wait until 21 or later is a recipe for making premarital sex the norm. For this and other reasons, I think Charles Murray made a mistake calling for the basic income guarantee to begin at age 21. Eighteen years makes more sense. Yes, some will blow the money on fast cars and partying. But others could use the money for college or starting a career – or marriage – without debt. (And with people using unconditional money for college, people will think twice about overpaying for colleges which spend too much on research, grounds keeping, and football teams.)
If we apply the free money idea to schools, we might encourage better morals among the not-so-poor as well. Replace public education with school vouchers and some schools might actually prepare future tradesmen for a career which begins straight out of high school. Academic schools might dispense with the uniform speed for all subjects model of education. The future literary figure could take college level language classes while still struggling with basic algebra. The future physicist could be doing computer science and calculus while struggling with poetry analysis. Today, we demand general studies until one reaches junior year of college or even graduate school. If we allowed earlier specialization, the brainiacs could get graduate level degrees in their specialty years earlier – and get married at a reasonable age if they so choose.
If you wish to focus on the family, focus on free money.