The Commons hosts commentary from contributing writers across the political spectrum, advancing American Compass’s mission through discussion that combines intellectual combat and personal civility.
There are highs and lows in everything, and many of us experience both. We are all just one decision or one missed paycheck away from seeing a different side of life. That should be humbling for us all. But too often people assume the worst about people in difficult circumstances.
I’ve been faced with an abundance of challenges throughout my life. Depending on the circumstances, being in one of those “lows” can be scary. When you’re faced with a scarcity of resources, or lack of support, it can be a real challenge. My own experience has taught me that when people fall on hard times, some are blessed enough to recover quickly, while others might struggle a bit to rebound.
Coming to terms with the importance of free speech means coming to terms with the reality that free speech will sometimes be used for abhorrent purposes. We protect bad speech on the grounds that the alternative—censorship—is even worse. But the rise of social media as both a powerful distribution framework and disseminator of content has created the problem of misinformation and led to questions about whether we’ve found the right balance—or if charges of “misinformation” actually provide cover for outright censorship.
There is also the critical question of who makes the call: Silicon Valley-based social media giants have rarely had to face consequences for the dissemination of misinformation—or outright distortion in the form of fake news—and have profited mightily from it. But with Trump now ousted, the likes of Facebook and Twitter (both of whom were happy to monetize the former president’s words when he was in the White House) are increasingly taking on the role of judge, jury, and executioner.
When I was in my 20s, I was confident I’d be a stay-at-home parent if I had children—I simply didn’t give the alternatives much thought. But sometimes life goes in different ways than you expect.
I got married in November 2019 at age 33. Three months later, in February 2020, we had a surprise positive pregnancy test. It was quicker than we had expected, and, of course, the world shut down just a few weeks later. In addition to all the usual concerns of first-time parents, we had the added stress of a pandemic whose effects were largely unknown at that time. Spring 2020 was a roller coaster of stress, dreams, doctor visits, and crushing isolation.
While all of that was going on, and the due date drew closer, I was the primary breadwinner in our family. I felt that I’d worked very hard to get to where I was, and that quitting my job outright in seven months would leave our family in a financially unstable position.
Cash payments to families with children will begin this month, thanks to the Biden administration’s stimulus that significantly enlarges and extends child benefits. This won’t end the debate over the best way to reduce poverty—it will only become more pressing as the benefit’s one-year expiration date approaches. Is this the best way to help struggling families? Some argue we are repeating mistakes of the 1960s–1990s AFDC (“welfare”) program that left many dependent on government aid, with little incentive to find work, while even some conservatives favor generous child allowances. As both sides look for a clear answer, European countries with strong welfare states provide some unexpected lessons that can point us toward bipartisan solutions.
Although I know that some of my opinions are solid and will not be changed, I usually keep them to myself—and wish a lot of other people would as well sometimes. This is a personal topic to me, but since we just celebrated Pride month, it’s important for me to be honest: I have a gay daughter. Yes, I am proud of her, I support and love her, and support other marginalized members of that community. We need politicians to help make sure families can take care of each other. But I am getting ahead of myself.
If there is one thing that libertarians, free-market conservatives, and even many center-left neoliberals agree on, it is the logic of paying for highways and other forms of infrastructure out of user fees rather than general taxes. This approach, they argue, is both fairer and more efficient: fair because it ensures those who use the infrastructure pay for its costs, including long-term maintenance and repair; efficient because the amount spent on infrastructure will correspond to users’ willingness to pay.
This same logic should apply to ensuring that workers earn a family-supporting wage. Wages are to workers’ output what user fees are to highways and toll bridges. The benefits from the labor of most workers in the private sector go entirely to the customers who purchase the private, excludable goods or services that the workers provide, not to the general public.
Markets do not naturally tend toward “equilibrium.” They are wrecking balls if not properly harnessed. High levels of debt, which can be a source of strength (by enabling higher levels of investment than could be financed otherwise), can also be a source of vulnerability if the government fails to coordinate investment, curb excess capacity, and maintain the economy’s external liabilities within its capacity to repay.
East Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and China understand that. We do not. Or at least not until a once-in-a-generation pandemic upended all of our assumptions about national development.
Lots of people have been talking about “family policy.” Let’s not forget that family policy starts with mothers.
More than half of new mothers experience the “baby blues,” but for some, it becomes even more serious. I know firsthand. In 2014, I had my first daughter. I managed to stay upbeat, though worn out from life with a newborn. As time went on, it got harder. I remember crying the morning my husband went back to work. How was I supposed to function after only an hour of sleep? Less than 23 months later, we welcomed our second daughter.
The high school movement, an early 20th century American grassroots shift in secondary education, produced “a spectacular educational transformation,” according to Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. Between 1910 and 1940, 18-year-old enrollment grew from 19% to 71%, and graduation rates rose from 9% to more than 50%, boosting the country to the forefront of educational achievement in the world. This unparalleled expansion of publicly funded, broadly accessible secondary schools was provoked by the transformation of American society resulting from turn-of-the-century urbanization and industrialization.
Today, America is again experiencing rapid economic, social, and cultural change. It’s time to respond to these challenges by embracing a 21st century high school movement, led by what I call evasive civic entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are using local organizations, enterprises, and other resources to create a new opportunity program for young people that prepares them to live, work, and compete as responsible citizens in today’s economy. This “career pathways” approach integrates schools and students with local employers and work, going far beyond the current K–12 system that is disconnected from employers, work, and careers.
Operation Warp Speed (OWS) was a nearly miraculous COVID-19 vaccine success story. What is less widely recognized is that it has also unlocked a biotech revolution. The mRNA technologies that OWS helped bring to market have numerous potential applications, ranging from cancer treatments to hormone replacement therapies to radical new ways to treat infectious disease. But it is far from clear if the industry’s future growth, particularly in manufacturing and biodefense, will primarily occur in the U.S. or if it will migrate to countries with explicit industrial policy support—namely China.