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Marriage in America
Rescuing Marriage Debates from the Culture Wars

Discussions about marriage and family often get co-opted by culture war histrionics, but over at the Institute for Family Studies this week there was a compelling interview with Ross Douthat on the challenges facing families, why they matter, and what to do about them. Douthat argues that the family faces a “compounding effect”: economic trends and poor norms related to marriage create a vicious cycle in which each new generation is more skeptical of marriage and childbearing than the generation before.

As Douthat points out, both sides of the political spectrum recognize the negative outcomes he associates with the collapse of the family (for example, that children, especially boys, of single parent families fare worse on a number of economic, social, and educational metrics than children of intact families), but they have different solutions. The Left tends to emphasize the importance of getting more money into people’s pockets to make marriage and childbearing easier and more attractive, whereas the Right often talks about social solutions. But both are important. Here’s Douthat:

There I think that the current hints of a left–right consensus on some of these issues are promising: There’s increasing interest on both sides of the aisle in criminal justice reform, wage supports for unmarried men, and other ideas that might make a difference to couples or would-be couples on the margins. But that consensus won’t hold if the policy drift is just toward a kind of open-ended support for single parents. There has to be a specific focus on making men marriageable, and making it easier to be married to them, and that focus has to cash out (literally) in whatever policy choices we make.

For more on how that program might work, and why it’s so important, read the whole interview. It’s more crucial than ever to have a productive conversation about making marriage and responsible child-raising both attractive and possible for Americans, and this interview is a great place to start.

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  • Corlyss

    As Charles Murray says, “That which we are wiling to do doesn’t work; that which will work we are unwilling to do. ” The curse of Enlightenment’s emphasis on freedom: people forget freedom comes with responsibility. 175 years of elite sneering derision for middle class virtues that made for strong families and strong societies gives us what we have now.

  • azt24

    Your post assumes that the Left shares an interest with the Right in upholding families. Judging from their policies, however, the Left wishes to weaken families, as they wish to weaken any institution, whether family, church, club, or private corporation, that stands between the individual and the power of the State. 50 years of the War on Poverty has certainly been more effective in destroying family structure than in destroying poverty.

    • Bruce

      “But that consensus won’t hold if the policy drift is just toward a kind of open-ended support for single parents.” This poster representing WRM missed the fact that this open-ended support is exactly what the left wants. There is no evidence that they are interested in compromise or in any of the solutions that result in increased personal responsibility. If too many people get elevated from dire situations, the left will lose some reliable Dem votes. You are exactly right, AZT24.

      • FriendlyGoat

        “If too many people get elevated from dire situations”, it will only be BECAUSE of reliable Dem votes. America’s drift to the right isn’t getting it done. For the jobs we need, of the type which can actually support families, you will need a substantial portion of the high-end tax cuts of the past three decades not only repealed, but REVERSED. That will require lots and lots and lots of Dems.

        Meanwhile, my advice to most young single men of “average” means is this: If you cannot flip the politics of your country back to the far, far left—-and soon—-then get a vasectomy. Trying to raise kids while they slap you out of the decent job you need to support them is a recipe for profound sadness.

        • Tom

          Because the far left is going to be sooooooo interested in seeing that young men of average means can support families.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, of course we are. That is our main reason for existence. It always has been.

          • Tom

            If you’d said “the left,” I’d have agreed that there was a historically defensible case to be made that you were correct.
            The far, far left is much more interested in creating heaven on earth, which, no matter whether it is a leftist heaven or rightist heaven, tends to end up creating hell.

          • FriendlyGoat

            There is no such thing as a “moderate” left that will reverse the high-end tax cuts. The “moderate” left has been getting swamped into agreeing with Republicans. If we can debunk the myth that high-end tax cuts create jobs, the whole society will move far to the left.

          • Tom

            The assumptions you seem to be making are that A. Far-left societies are long-term job creators and B. Tax increases create jobs over the long-term.
            Pardon me if I think both of these assumptions are historically unfounded.
            And if you want to bring up the USA in the 1950s, let me remind you that we had 1/2 of the world’s manufacturing capacity. We couldn’t have helped but to be prosperous.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Many people assume that high income tax rates on high incomes, corporate and otherwise, mean that lots more money has to go to the government. Not necessarily. We want the threat of high taxes to affect the disposition of PRE-TAX income—-with companies having incentive to spend more on deductible people costs, thereby lowering the taxable income and avoiding the tax. They used to do it all the time

            It is much easier to coax companies into hiring and paying in the high-tax environment than in the low tax environment. At 50% taxation, a decision at a profitable company to add a $40,000 worker only costs $20,000.
            At 25% taxation, such a decision costs $30,000.

            All the tax cuts of the last 35 years now leave authors writing articles such as, “Why is the recovery rather jobless?” Or, “Where are the wage increases which should be showing up by now?” The answer is that the low-tax magnet has made companies into stingy-pants.

          • Tom

            Weren’t the 1970s also the era of the much-maligned tax deductible three-martini lunch, stagflation, and the decline of the American auto industry?
            Furthermore, why on earth do you think that a far-left society would only introduce changes to the tax rate? And, even furthermore, why would you think that such a tax code wouldn’t have loopholes you could drive a car through and carveouts that resembled the costs of an explosion?
            Jobs will be created, all right, but mostly for accountants and lawyers.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I will be satisfied if we can just get most ordinary working people to understand that high-end tax cuts do not mean
            “Gee, the companies will have more money left over to hire us with”—-as goes the spin from conservative propaganda houses.

            The companies will have more left over all right—–to amass $3,590,000,000,000 in cash and marketable securities in the S&P 500 alone, to pay dividends which are subject to special-low taxation, to fund ever-increasing executive compensation for the most ruthless lay-off masters, and for companies to buy each other (for the “synergies” which always translate as pink slips).

            Even getting America’s church people, so many of whom inexplicably vote Republican, to understand this, would turn the whole country left. How far left? Who knows. The more the better. The sooner the better.

          • Tom

            And if I could get you to understand that tax rates weren’t the only issue (even assuming that you were correct), and that going to the left is not a panacea for society’s problems, I would be satisfied.
            I guess we’ll both be disappointed.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I happen to believe that the debate of tax cuts and jobs is the single most important issue in the USA. All other group political decisions depend on how that one thing is perceived.

    • lhfry

      Yes. For the left to prosper – that is for a [leftist] totalitarian state to arise – every institution that provides an alternative source of authority to the state must be destroyed. That includes religion, family, civic organizations (think about the attacks on the Boy Scouts), the military, etc. as listed above. The left is well on its way to succeeding right here in the US and a population generally ignorant (thanks to the substitution of examination of attitudes and feelings for standard disciplines at all levels of education) shows no understanding of the history of such movements. Anne Applebaum’s book, Iron Curtain, describes in detail how the Soviets imposed Communism on Eastern Europe. There are many interesting parallels.

  • Anthony

    “A recent Pew report finds a dearth of marriageable men – measured by the ratio of employed, never married men to all never married women.”

    “There has to be a specific focus on making men marriageable. and making it easier to be married to them….”

    What does the above mean? For societal purpose, let us not just ask about marriageable men but also what about marriageable women. At bottom, we have a societal problem that has been more than 50 years in development (see Moynihan Report) and now suffers from cumulative causation (vicious circle). That is, principle of cumulation (which Douthat referenced) has wide application in social relations – culturally via media, expansion of rights, single parenting, no-fault divorce, changing nature of work, etc.- has wittingly or unwittingly compounded Feed’s theme. On the whole, the nature of subject matter has been discussed and researched at length and TAI’s general audience is familiar with basic outlines. So, question ought to be how can America reestablish institution of marriage as integral component to its body politic – not programs, govt. interventions, ideological contretemps, but contributory and sober thought to whether families (All) are essential to nation’s health and well being. And given our diverse society, how to get there if families are (a consideration equally valid for marriageable men and marriageable women with perhaps resultant healthy children).

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