In my previous blog post, I reflected on the fact that a set of policy proposals put forth by a self-identified Catholic (The Family Fun Pack, FFP) ended up further enshrining Liberalism, and represents a sort of fealty to the triumph of the liberal order and its institutions. It makes no effort to roll back new norms that affect the family or support subsidiarity that might require a government to act through families or rather than atomized individuals.
However, I think I overreacted to some philosophical currents in the proposal after a single read-through of the actual paper, rather than properly assessing the practical proposals and philosophy separately. I was wielding the club rather than the scalpel.
The proposal structures are OK and in some cases quite good in not trying to drive Moms into the workforce and in not creating yet another incentive for them to join it on financial grounds. The home child care allowance is provided if a family does not use the free family child care centers; this is not *ideal* to my mind as it does tend to more public rather than private rearing of children, but at least it provides a possibility for the culture to become more traditional rather than incentivizing everyone to put their children in public care and work all day. The proposals are overall well-thought out (from a particular angle), and likely will be very popular.
The Incomplete Picture of Child Expenses and the Mere Addition Problem
It is noted in the FFP paper that additional children increase the resource burden on a family but does not receive income. This is true, but the mismatch is supposed to be offset by the understanding that as parents age, they will need caretakers, and having many kids is much easier on the children (and society) in terms of parental care than having few or none.
There is much talk that kids are too expensive to have, but the reality is that the old are too expensive to care for not to have many children.
Very few individuals will have the dream retirement that is often described in popular media or commonly believed to be possible. I think we can partly lay the blame on culture, since the sexual revolution was necessarily self-sterilization in service of hedonism.
But we can also lay blame to social security and medicare for stripping a familial responsibility of children to enlarge the state – another thing the family did far more efficiently than the state. A better solution would have recognized the family unit as integral, and the income for social security would be given to the children; first to use for retirement/parental care, and secondarily toward the rest of the family where needs arise. This fits the model wherein children become the wards of their parents and providers as they age.
The story of today is Millennials moving in with their parents; the story of tomorrow is parents moving in with their (few) children.
If we are going to talk about the expenses of rearing children, the “Mere Addition Problem” – a stupidly obvious point that has always been true, even in economies that are not “capitalist,” we must also talk about our already deeply diminished social security funds, since having children has always been connected to caring for the elderly.
Another assumption of the FFP is that the phenomenon of very high incomes later in life will continue; it is possible that incomes will peak lower, and relying on those past middle age to pay for caring for an aging, sterile population is a loser’s bargain. The sources of revenue the FFP relies on to pay for a large Welfare State are going to continue to die off.
This is why a more radical approach with regard to birth rates specifically is warranted; if we do not radically change our birth rates, a much larger financial and civilization crisis than mere inequality looms large.
The Role of the Family
I maintain my serious objections to the theory of the family outlined in the paper and think they represent a major flaw in the undergirding principles of the proposals. The family unit should be the sole source of provision for the family, and any wealth transfers should operate through that conduit (in many of the solutions, this is the case), even if it means leaving inequalities in place longer, and efforts should focus on the rehabilitation of that unit. Healthy families are the only thing that prevents the state from taking on far more than it can bear in the burdens of various stages of life. The more the state captures and incentivizes the family to release its responsibilities, it is very likely that the importance of family and extended family will continue to decline.
We can think of it as a person who relies on caffeine rather than a solid night of sleep each night to function at peak; the more one relies on caffeine, the more one needs, and the longer and the deeper the loss of sleep, the more function suffers, and the more caffeine is prescribed to fix it. But the caffeine does not solve the underlying dysfunction. Policies likewise can paper over proper function and prevent appropriate stimulus/response.
The definition of “proper function” includes sufficient sleep; the definition of “family” requires that provision be created and sustained from within the family, and that the members of the family have (except in very important, rare exceptions) no recourse except within the family. If provision is offered from outside it, individuals are even more tempted not to rely on one another, but on the state and its institutions, and they will be tempted to believe that the family unit as it is conceived is not even necessary, and is only a mode of convenience and pleasure, and when that convenience and pleasure ceases, so does the need for the family. Such has been the long march of the past 100 years.
I think the definition of the word “Family” should also be enshrined. I do not think a family can be a family without children; at least one. This is not to be harsh on women who struggle with fertility or by some accident are unable to have children, whose pain I cannot hope to understand but try to share, but the definition of Family must stand as is. A monogamous couple is not a family, though one flesh they are. This is an important distinction because couples with children – families – should be given precedence over couples. I think the overall proposals actually support this notion because of where the wealth transfers are directed. I also think this fact represents the single greatest roadblock to its full adoption by those on the left.
Fatigue is a signal that the body that it needs to be trained and strengthened, or it needs to sleep more than it is currently sleeping, or it needs to eat in a more healthy way. Likewise, financial stress means the family needs to adjust its decisions. The FFP and similar proposals seek to remove this stressor; stress is not a negative concept from a Physiological standpoint. It is chronic, irresolvable stress which is a negative to the body. Acute stressors – those that arise and are resolved healthily – are a positive. Not all financial stress is positive – much of it can be highly positive if it forces a person to tighten their belt, make better economic decisions, and provides a spark for ambition.
This concept can be taken to an extreme in the bootstrap ideology of a kind of Libertarianism, but it is also an extreme view that everyone in America is industrious and making very good financial decisions when the average person is up to their eyeballs in credit card debt, yet owns 600 dollar smartphones, binges on Netflix or gaming, and pays car payments rather than living and traveling within their means.
So, any prescription for a solution cannot assume – as the FFP appears to, likely for electoral reasons, as it is not popular to say that people need to forgo luxuries – that we need relief from “financial stress”. Those who absolutely cannot resolve that stress do need help. Most do not fit this category. The balance of “financial stress” must recognize that over-anesthetizing financial stress will incentivize a societal weakness similar to the one these proposals seek to fix.
They should respond to that stress positively and be protected from usurers who flood them with credit offers and force them to sign away a large portion of their life at 18 years old with a promissory note to attend a college or University (which, by the way, is giving them a degree that is almost certainly disconnected from workforce needs; see my series on the higher ed crisis for that: https://medium.com/@isaacwmiller/higher-ed-is-headed-for-a-crash-a7e12e320a35). They should be protected from predatory lending and the structure of banking which feeds the insatiable desire for yield by investors where the rich are protected and are quite openly above the law, where they can bypass secured creditors in bankruptcy proceedings or procure lavish bailouts from the Treasury Department/The Federal Reserve. I think on that subject, most Americans agree; elite decision makers do not.
I think this brings us to a place where we ask whether the country is willing to voluntarily endure severe financial hardship to restore the family, the local community, overall economic stability not based in usury-fueled business cycles, etc. I think the people are, but I do not think those para-governmental influencers share that inclination. I think they will support many of the core FFP solutions (with tweaks that make it more individually centered and less family centered). But, ultimately, it will be they who benefit from its implementation. It does not mean we do not try; but we must know the pitfalls we are looking to avoid which will engender a further collapse of the family.
Those on the left consider traditionalists who do not accept that new order of things “reactionaries,” and strictly speaking this is true – there is sort of a “new normal” which traditionalists reject. In my prior post, I pointed out that these proposals have the risk of enshrining certain liberal notions of the sexual revolution and of radical egalitarianism which have unfortunately become institutionalized. I think it is still worth fighting against those institutions.
Catholics now live in a Protestant/Masonic world which has imposed its philosophical categories upon its culture and institutions; how much of it are we to cede, lest we be considered “reactionary”? Reactionary also implies the frame of a progressive timeline; it positions the anti-socialist or the one who rejects such Leftist proposals “backwards” whereas they consider themselves “forwards.”
Obviously, this is a flattering way to frame their position. To propose a better model, think of a straight road, and Western civilization has been veering off course for some time, straying ever further away from the road, with occasional minor corrections which are soon erased by major deviations, haphazardly avoiding the catastrophe of crevasses or crashing into trees by small margins.
I suppose I must embrace the label of “reactionary,” since a dramatic course correction is needed to get back to that line; more dramatic than some are willing to admit, and I consider that the trajectory of the West’s veer is bad enough and our ability to course correct so diminished that our time is running very short. Someone who supports the FFP might consider its ideas fairly radical; I think it is rather milquetoast overall, because it does not address the core dysfunctions of the family and society. It merely makes us slightly more comfortable in our sterility.