By Suzanne Venker
The summer heat is squelching. Here in the Midwest, things are so bad our A/C won't register below 78. My family hates--really hates--the heat. We'd rather be hiking Mount Tom in Vermont with perfect sixty-eight degree temperatures.
That's what we were doing earlier this summer, when we took our first long vacation--a two-weeker. It began with a drive to see family in Pittsburgh and ended with a house rental in Vermont. From there it was a visit to see friends in the Boston area and then a quick jaunt (okay, detour) to Niagara Falls before heading home.
It was the quintessential American vacation--family travels cross-country by car while younger child asks "Are we there yet?" a gazillion times--taken by an old-fashioned American family: a mom, a dad, and a couple of kids. We felt like the Griswolds from National Lampoon's Vacation. I even called my husband Clark.
We don't talk much about the American family these days; we're more focused on the economy. But according to a new report from the Social Trends Institute, a non-profit, international research center that studies the effects of emerging social trends on society, the wealth of nations depends in large part on the health of the family. They're two sides of the same coin.
The report provides several links between the economy and the nuclear family. Here are just a few: One, children raised in intact families are more likely to develop the social capital they need to become productive citizens. Two, married men work harder and earn more money than their unmarried peers. Three, the industry of household products from insurance to groceries are more likely to profit when families thrive. And four, if a booming economy is the goal--and let's assume it is--reasonable fertility rates must be sustained.
The authors of the report, including W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, suggest that in order to preserve families and strengthen the economy, leaders should encourage policy that supports marriage and responsible parenthood.
Indeed they should. But don't hold your breath--preserving the American family is not on our President's radar. Why would it be? The traditional family (and by "traditional" I don't mean Ward and June Cleaver; I mean two married parents with kids, one of whom takes on the bulk of the childrearing and the other who brings home the bulk of the income, regardless of gender) negates the need for a large-scale government. And if there's one thing Obama and his supporters love, it's a large-scale government. They believe it takes a village, not a family, to make the world go 'round.
But don't confuse the left's village with the kind of tight-knit communities America used to have, the ones where family and neighbors helped each other out. That was a village of a different sort, and it comprised what economists call social capital.
Social capital refers to neighborliness and civic engagement, such as volunteering and philanthropy, religious and school participation, and the like. It's necessary for a number of reasons: growth of the GDP, lower levels of crime, educational attainment, public health, and marketplace production. (In other words, all the things government claims to offer.) In order for social capital to thrive, however, we must have strong families.
But we don't, and here's why. Big government competes with the traditional family, thus undermining social capital. The government wants your hard-earned paycheck so it can decide how your money should be spent.
In other words, your earnings aren't really yours. They belong to a whole group of people. As if the business owner hasn't helped to employ and empower people along the journey. As if he took something that didn't belong to him.
This President's class warfare is shameful. And it's destroying the American family. As Charles Murray, author of the new book Coming Apart, notes in the Wall Street Journal, capitalism has become a bad word--an "accusation." Yet capitalism "is the best thing that has ever happened to the material condition of the human race. Capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty because it gives people a chance to get rich by creating value and reaping the rewards."
And without the chance to create value and reap rewards, there's less incentive for a man to settle down with a wife and kids and work hard on their behalf. Which means the President has engaged in gender warfare as well, by putting a dagger in the institution of marriage. Simply put, big government replaces the nuclear family by providing for women and children in ways that men have historically done. When a man's role is usurped, he has less incentive to marry.
Men are already retreating from marriage. According to the Pew Research Center, the share of men ages 18 to 34 who say having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives has dropped six percentage points since 1997, from 35% to 29%. For women, the opposite has occurred: the share voicing this opinion rose from 28% to 37%.
The American family is disintegrating as we speak. This may worry you and me, but it doesn't worry our President. Indeed, he has a new plan for the women of America.
We'll cover that next time.