by National Review.
to the State
by Stephen Baskerville, PhD
recently in National
Review Online, Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary of Health and
Human Services (HHS), describes the huge social costs of family
breakdown and the benefits to children and society of marriage.
He also points out that his agency spends $46 billion each year
on programs "the need for [which] is either created or exacerbated
by the breakup of families and marriages." He rightly argues
that we need to address this costly "family breakdown"
fact, one could look beyond his Administration for Children and
Families (ACF) and even HHS and make a similar point about virtually
all programs for law enforcement, substance abuse, and school performance.
his argument demonstrates more than that the runaway growth in domestic
government spending is attributable to family breakdown. It is also
an acknowledgement that the federal government and its hangers-on
have a clear self-interest in broken families. ACF and the half-trillion
dollar HHS generally constitute a massive in-house lobby of social
workers, psychotherapists, lawyers and others who are not so candid
as Dr. Horn about how they depend upon a steady supply of fatherless
and troubled children to justify their huge consumption of tax dollars
– dollars that in turn subsidize and increase the number of such
fact that Dr. Horn has a tiger by the tail may explain why, as remedy,
he can offer only palliatives in the form of yet another government
program, this time state-sponsored psychotherapy: "Through marriage
education, healthy conflict-resolution skills can be taught." In
what Christina Sommers and Sally Satel have called in their book
Nation Under Therapy, does anyone really believe that our
multi-billion dollar family crisis is due to a lack of communication
workshops and anger-management classes? And do we really want the
federal government defining (and potentially re-defining) the terms
smorgasbord of programs Dr. Horn lists is more than a response to
broken families; it is a major cause of broken families. Before
we initiate new federal programs, we ought to remember the first
rule of public policy intervention, which is to first examine the
effect of existing programs to see if adjusting them may correct
the problem. Could our current public programs and policies be contributing
to the family breakdown problem, and, if so, how can we alter them
to yield better results?
Horn provides a good example of how a federal program can be altered
to become much more socially productive. Our welfare system used
to be a major direct cause of family breakdown or non-formation.
We used to pay poor mothers not to marry or work. With welfare reform,
we changed that system to allow them to marry and no longer pay
them not to work. As he notes, this change in the system has been
a huge success. Our welfare rolls have decreased, and child poverty
political courage will be needed to address the other known public
programs and policies that are undermining marriage. These include:
The states have failed, since the 1960's, to treat marriage as a
anyone who wants out of a marriage can unilaterally end it without
penalty. This is not what was intended when marriage laws were changed
in the 1970's. "No fault" divorce was to be allowed only
when both parties agreed to it. This would have made marriage more
like a real contract, with less interference by the state in the
matter of its ending. Instead, marriage has become a non-contract,
with no protection for those who invest in it.
Paternalistic "family" courts and new laws have seriously
has long been a huge bias in divorce courts to grant custody of
children to mothers. As this bias threatened to diminish, feminists
pushed through the Violence
Against Women Act, which makes it easy for any mother considering
divorce to toss the father out of his own home and claim the family
assets, including the children, simply by accusing him of domestic
violence. No evidence or formal charge is required, and domestic
"violence" need not even be violent. Shared parenting
provisions would end this winner-take-all lottery.
Federally funded state child support systems set excessive awards
and penalize non-payment harshly, even when the circumstances for
non-payment are clearly outside the control of the payer.
support awards are so high that the children have become a profit
center for middle class divorcing moms – an additional financial
incentive for them to divorce. As Kimberly Folse and Hugo Varela-Alvarez
write in the Journal of Socio-Economics, "Strong enforcement…may…
lead to the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood
of divorce." Yet in a striking slight-of-hand, disbursements under
the "healthy marriage" mantra have actually gone less
to counseling than to child support enforcement.
it any surprise that divorce in families with children is almost
entirely instituted by the moms? But young men have gotten the message
and are increasingly avoiding marriage and avoiding having children
inside or outside of marriage. These men are scolded for their lack
of "commitment" by the National Marriage Project, whose
interpretation Dr. Horn is using to formulate policy. But no man
in his right mind would start a family today if he understood how
the federal government subsidizes the stealing of his children and
his own incarceration for an assortment of newfangled gender "crimes"
they make it impossible for him not to commit.
people to marry is pointless so long as marriage is a bate-and-switch
carrying financial rewards for those who break it. People will simply
not invest in a worthless investment, no matter how much you preach
at them. If marriage was a worthwhile investment, we would see more
[send him mail]
is a political scientist and president of the American Coalition
for Fathers and Children. The views expressed are his own.
© 2005 Stephen Baskerville