I happened across a set of policy proposals by one Matt Bruenig, whose wife Elizabeth has a fairly well known (at least in Catholic circles) writing gig at the Washington Post.
So, I decided to put up a pithy statement of my own thoughts on it.
It represents the absolute best of intentions thoroughly undermined by its assumptions about society, its diagnosis of the actual problem, and an obsession with a wonky Dungeons & Dragons approach to civilization, characteristic of both left-of-center policy analysts as well as Acton Institute Usury defenders.
If one is not familiar with the advent of the sexual revolution and widespread contraception as it was inflicted upon Western civilization, it is easy to miss the idols of Liberal society all around us, whose express intent is to crush birth rates and implement a permanent revolutionary status which detests a properly ordered society of families.
In this milieu, Bruenig seems to think that the real problem is that children are expensive, and we need not revolt against our oppressors and their strange idols, but cleverly create ways of people being comfortable around those idols such that they have more children.
Early on, Bruenig gives himself away by showing that he does not want to re-enshrine the family unit as the dominant entity within a society; he merely wishes to capture the means of production and existing wealth and channel them from the government to the children.
“Capitalist economies only provide income to those who work and those who own. Since children neither work nor own, they find themselves locked out of the primary mechanisms of resource distribution in a capitalist society. To the extent that children receive resources, they do so indirectly through a family unit. But relying solely on that unit to funnel incomes to children runs into two major problems that generate high levels of inequality, poverty, and financial stress.”
Bruenig observes that children only receive resources through a family unit “in a capitalist society,” though it appears he does not see the absurdity in considering this a bug in the system. He believes that a better solution is that the government is now to funnel income to children directly, which is supposedly to reduce the burden on the parents.
It is difficult to describe how much ignorance is packed into apprehending such a state of affairs – that children should receive resources fully through the family, except in the rare and unfortunate cases of children who do not have parents.
I do not wish to pillory Bruenig too much on a relatively superficial policy proposal meant for common consumption (which obviously is not meant to face intense academic scrutiny, but to begin a discussion at a higher level), but even in the US, a tremendous amount of public resources have been made available for children, and birth rates in the US are comparable to European nations; he honestly mentions European countries as a more positive model for Family Benefits public spending, citing spending as a percentage of GDP (a strange metric for such a purpose to me, an idiot), as a way to supposedly make families more affordable.
This is one of the last stands of the Liberal regime, which has already reached a later stage of evolution in Europe. The argument is that the real problem is one of economic inequality; that we do not make families affordable enough, particularly for the poor.
But, the root problem is not the poor; they seem to be having children at a more civilized rate (in the proper sense of the term); not one that tends to the destruction of civilization, below the replacement rate. The problem is people like Bruenig and others who identify as Catholic yet have made arrangements of peace with idols of feminism and radical egalitarianism which are the support structures of oligarchic rule.
I guarantee that if a big name proposed such policies as Bruenig suggests on a large stage, we would see the whole gamut of woke capital oligarchs lining up to support it – obviously, as long as abortion marches on as “on demand” and contraceptives rain from the sky.
Despite appearances, Bruenig’s proposals are very tangentially concerned with birth rates and families and more concerned with an obsession with the abstraction of making inequality metrics look more pleasant or more like those cultured, better people across the ocean, which is the essential thread and DNA of Liberalism; it does not repent of its horrendous sins of contraception and abortion, accepting them as unconquerable icons of our society. It only seeks to make people comfortable in the circumstances that eat away at the foundation of a civilization and damn it to slow decay followed by sudden death. As he mentions himself, this structure, which would do absolutely nothing to flagging birth rates, which be a third rail, untouchable by politicians:
“The Family Fun Pack would bring the US system of family benefits up to where its top European peers already are and, in some ways, even surpass those peers. This would dramatically reduce poverty and inequality in society, especially child poverty. By relying on universal benefits available to all parents, the Family Fun Pack would also become deeply rooted into the American welfare state and very difficult to roll back.”
Bruenig’s peace agreement with those idols necessitates that he acts in this way; what is left to do if you refuse to wage war on the primary errors of your civilization? Around which edges will you tinker if you accept 80% of the liberal worldview? How many of those “middle class” families making 80k a year (an income which will certainly decline, since governmental capture of family responsibilities always results in massive costs) will actually have more children as a result of this? Very few; indeed, the countries which are most integrally “friendly” to families in their social and economic policies and distribution have even lower birthrates than the US.
The Family Fun Pack is essentially a wish list for middle class left-wing families who want a minor amelioration in cost so they can afford the most upgraded smartphone, or a slightly larger house, or a nicer vehicle. I have heard the vacuous discussions before, about how the US does so little to help families. We may do too little, but pretending that this has any effect on birth rates is obtuse.
As long as families are undermined – and they are indeed undermined when their natural responsibilities as the source of provision for children is replaced by federal laws – birth rates will fall, and western civilization will grow older and more decrepit.
What is “Family”?
Yet, Bruenig’s errors are more fundamental than any of this. His concept of family is as fluid as the modern conception can be; he assumes that a family is a husband/wife/children, no doubt. But to him, women who work is not problematic at all. Certainly, women can and should take on professions. But as he points out, peak childbearing years occur in a woman’s 20s, when their income is at its lowest. If the decision was merely economic and we decided to go on a Fascist tear, we might decree that no woman under the age of 30 is allowed to work, for the good of society.
Or, instead of creating rube goldberg policy machines, we simply give money directly to families who have additional children. That would be a much simpler way, and at least retains the autonomy and internal cohesion of the family.
That would likely have a better outcome than creative socialism, which entrenches the ideas and methods that undermine the family as the essential unit.
But the family is not, ideally, a woman and man in the workforce with mandated paid maternity/paternity leave, paid from the state by taxes levied on industry. It is a man working with a woman who cares for children with the support structures of the extended family all around her, or perhaps a family-owned business where the woman helps with management issues while caring for the children. In some cases, women could work part time or on a freelance basis, or once the children are of a certain age, the woman has been studying and preparing for a career which begins in her 30s.
That is a more ideal scenario that any policy should aim at; not the absurd notion that we need to entrench the “family” of the sexual revolution in the tatters in which it has survived in the western world. Women should be first oriented to their families, then to their careers; men must be oriented to their careers inasmuch as they serve the interests of their family, and perhaps choose to part ways with employers or situations that do not serve those interests.
That orientation is essential for families, and is the only orientation that matters with regard to birth rates. If women are perpetually told they can wait until 30 to have children only to find no prospects on the sexual market as they are competing against fertile women in their 20s; if the workforce is saturated with men and women in their 20s and wages never match what it takes to raise a family (because so few of those workers actually have one or are seeking to support one); and if resulting birth rates continue to fall for middle and upper class families, you can primarily lay the blame at the atomization and equalization of men and women which creates an economic situation where a man cannot solely provide for his family. Bruenig wishes to make this system even less dependent on fathers and the ideal family structure, and somehow believes this will inspire people to sacrifice their time (which is really what is sacrificed with children, not resources, which are a representation of a person’s time) and their pleasure to have more children.
“The Real Problem is Capitalism”
He only mentions the word itself five times, but the lurking hobby horse is that “Capitalism has done this. Capitalism has made our birth rates stagnant and diminished the value of the family.” It indeed has, in ways, but its impact is so utterly small compared to cultural factors and the rise of contraception and abortion.
The traumatic irony of the rise of the oligarchic state-corporatist complex is that the only thing that even permits a behemoth welfare system such as proponents like Bruenig suggest is that complex, and they are happy to acquiesce as long as it entrenches their dominance – and indeed, it does.
What Bruenig wants is to be able to propose a policy solution to a problem so wound up in the societal immorality birthed by past defeats of Catholic culture. Namely, in its preservation of decency in media, leading to the rise of excessive sexualization and control of the population through media; in its destruction of the family unit by luring women into the workforce under the assumption that they would be just as able to have a family after their career is in place; and in its glorification of sexual license in one’s prime followed by “settling down,” only possible via widespread contraception.
What Bruenig wants is to be able to propose a way forward that does not address any of those things. It does not condemn any sin. It does not propose a vision for returning to true, time-tested ideas of the primacy of the family in society. It does not even return us to the status of things before the industrial revolution.
It merely makes the poor more comfortable in their liberalism and entrenches elite interests who need a stable working class who believes they are sticking it to fat cat wall streeters and executives. Those executives know that if they sacrifice a bit of income, support the right “woke” initiatives and be sure to befriend the LGBT political vanguard, they are untouchable politically and their power will remain.
That is why nearly all of them will support ideas like Bruenig’s, or their weak Republican opponents who propose a slightly watered down version whose superficial differences are heavily overstated. Those who accepting the idols of the Liberal revolution as our perennial superiors – not merely those who wish the state to think more of the family in its decisions, which is a good impulse – are making a grave mistake and add to their mistakes if they think of themselves in the vein of Catholic social teaching.