The Commons

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.

Government Spending Is Already Too Burdensome Share This

| Mar 02, 2021 | Family

[Note: This comment was co-authored by Dan Mitchell of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. It is from a series of responses to the proposal for a Family Income Supplemental Credit.]

At the risk of being caricatured as drown-government-in-the-bathtub libertarians, we think the proposal for a Family Income Supplemental Credit (Fisc) from Oren Cass and Wells King is misguided, mostly because it would raise tax rates and expand the burden of government spending.

Supporters estimate the Fisc would cost $200 billion annually. A majority of that cost — $120 billion per year — would be financed by eliminating the existing child tax credit. This change presumably would not have a significant economic effect, either positive or negative. And it arguably would not represent an increase in the size and scope of government.

But the rest of the Fisc, $80 billion per year, would be financed with tax increases. Since the federal government presently is far too large — and since it is expected to become an even bigger burden in the future — this fact alone should make the Fisc a non-starter as a matter of fiscal policy. Read More

Let Them Eat Daycare Share This

| Mar 01, 2021 | Family

Our policy debates center on helping working families, but they routinely fail to capture those families’ preferences for their own lives or for policies that would help them most. Proposals most useful to households with all adults in the workforce, like subsidized childcare or paid leave, often receive far more attention from policymakers and pundits than policies that would benefit households with a stay-at-home parent.

In his essay for our Home Building collection, Michael Lind argues that this dynamic is a feature of the new class war, in which the ideals and material interests of working-class families are at odds with those of higher classes and lead to different policy preferences. The interests of the professional managerial class are then catered to at the expense of the working class.

The American Compass Home Building Survey (see Part I, on family structure, and Part II, on policy preferences) paints this picture starkly. Not only do attitudes and preferences about family structure, paid work, fertility, and policy vary markedly by class, they reveal a striking mirror-image effect as one travels up or down the class ladder. Read More

1980 All Over Again? In Search of the Right Analogy for the 2020 Election Share This

| Mar 01, 2021 | Democrats

To make sense of the unprecedented presidential election we’ve just been through, pundits have analogized it to past elections: 1896, because of conflict between agrarian (Bryan) and urban (McKinley) interests; 1908, because of the historic rate of turnout; 1920, with Warren Harding promising a return to normalcy; 1968, because of the violent demonstrations; and many others.

But with a reinvigorated and increasingly liberal Democratic Party now in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, however tenuously, it appears that the 2020 election bears the most resemblance to 1980, which ushered a transformed Republican Party into the White House and Senate for the first time since 1954. Read More

Don’t Federalize Family Policy Share This

| Mar 01, 2021 | Family

[Note: This comment is from a series of responses to the proposal for a Family Income Supplemental Credit.]

Although this is a response to the interesting and compelling Family Income Supplemental Credit (Fisc) proposal by Oren Cass and Wells King, it is meant, more broadly, to engage with those on the political right who argue for more forcefully using public policy, especially federal policy, to support the family. I appreciate how American Compass and other conservatives are thinking anew about the role of the government. That work is enlivening the debate.

But I think the Fisc and other similar proposals err by too eagerly enlisting Uncle Sam in their cause. While I certainly agree that families play an essential role in society and that our policy agenda should reflect that fact, there is sound reasoning behind American conservatives’ traditional hesitation to use the federal government too prominently in this area. Read More

Single Mothers’ Attitudes About Work and Motherhood Share This

| Feb 28, 2021 | Family

Gina, a single mother of three in southwestern Ohio, recently told me that being a mom saved her from despair and addiction. “It’s my life. It’s everything to me. It’s the reason I wake up every day.”  Other poor and working class women I’ve interviewed hold a similarly high view of motherhood connecting it closely to their identity and saying things like, “Being a mother to [my kids] makes me feel like I’m here for a reason,” and, “That’s kind of the biggest point in life. More than falling in love, more than your house, more than your money, more than anything is keeping your family alive, keeping the world going. That’s what you’re put on this earth to do.”

But what is less discussed is how many of these women also value work outside of the home, even though they are less likely to have “careers” and more likely to work service jobs at restaurants or retail stores. It’s true that the work preferences of women are diverse, and that most women with children say they prefer to not work full-time. But according to the New York Times, from 2015 to 2019 the share of young single mothers in the workforce jumped about four percentage points, a trend driven by those without college degrees. While the share of married and cohabiting mothers who are employed has fallen since the late 1990s to less than 65 percent, the share of single mothers in the labor force is at the same level as it was then, at 80 percent. Read More

When Farmers Are Not Farmers And Shepherds Are Not Shepherds Share This

| Feb 28, 2021 | Culture

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And there have been ranchers, and there have been farmers, ever since. And whatever you think of pastoralism, or of the consequences of the agricultural revolution, there have been both good keepers of herds and good tillers of the earth, and are still. 

And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. And though it is backbreaking labor by the sweat of the brow, farmers have been, indeed, a picture of Eden in the world, and in their best work gardeners as Adam was a gardener, aware of their own earthly origins and earthy in their calendar, living close to the land, shaped by and shaping it in turn. And Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. There have always been herdsmen, high creatures among the low creatures, shepherds like the Lord, ready to leave the 99 in care in pursuit of the one. Who doesn’t love a cowboy?  

And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. In pursuit of the relief of man’s estate, the farm and the homestead have been sundered. The economy of the Greek household, the Frankish feudal order, the English country squire, the American pioneer—the story of the western world’s political liberties has also been the story of independent agrarianism, citizen farmers, epitomized in Cincinnatus and Washington. But every step towards our industrialized agriculture, with its corporate centralization and chemical-dependent monocultures, has been a turn away from that tradition, each tread a growing echo of the ancient despotisms of the Fertile Crescent and pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.   Read More

Toward a Family Wage (Subsidy) Share This

| Feb 26, 2021 | Family

[Note: This comment is from a series of responses to the proposal for a Family Income Supplemental Credit.]

I could not be happier with the substantive debate over family policy that is now taking shape among conservatives, inspired by Sen. Romney’s proposed “Family Security Act.” It carries me back to the bi-partisan Communitarian movement of the 1990s, whose Position Paper on the Family, published in 1993, sought to articulate a “coherent pro-family agenda.”

In addition to calling for a “culture of familialism” to disrupt the “profound cultural shift toward excessive individualism … careerism … [and] acquisitiveness,” the paper recommended at least six months of publicly funded paid leave (as fiscal circumstances allow), flex-time and home work arrangements, and most importantly perhaps, a generous child allowance. “Parents should be able to choose between working at home and outside the home, but government tax policies should not be used to favor families who earn more because both parents work outside the home when there are young children in the family.” It seemed clear to me then that the Communitarians were right: only a higher viewpoint, one that saw the economy in the service of families and their members, not the other way around, would provide the rationale for a humane family policy. Twenty-five years later, you could say I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Read More

Is A Child Allowance Pro-Work for Poor Parents? Share This

| Feb 25, 2021 | Family

To the current conversation about the merits and demerits of a child allowance, I would like to add another layer of perspective, drawn from the thoughts and experiences of women who are poor and working class. What keeps them from work? What helps them maintain it?

I spent a recent weekend talking with five different mothers, three of them currently living in public housing on the same street in a small town in southwestern Ohio, one who was recently evicted from her unit on that street and is now living with her two children and fiancé at a friend’s house, and one who got married last year and moved away from that street and into a rental unit in a neighboring town. Two of them I met recently, and the other three are women I’ve known for the last ten years as they’ve graciously been willing to share their lives with me as the years go by in our small town.

The women I talked with are not ideologues. (On her Facebook profile one aptly describes her political affiliation as “whatever works.”) But they are observers of life as it plays out in their homes, workplaces and cul-de-sacs, and their expertise is essential to the current debate. Read More

The Social Meaning of Family Benefits Share This

| Feb 25, 2021 | Family

[Note: This comment is from a series of responses to the proposal for a Family Income Supplemental Credit.]

In their thought-provoking essay on policies to better support American families, Oren Cass and Wells King note that child allowances have been justified on a number of grounds – anti-poverty, pro-natal, parenting wage – all of which they find unconvincing. History indicates these political justifications are as old as child allowances themselves. Although interesting from a political perspective, they tell us little about how families themselves perceive various cash-benefit schemes.

We know families support cash benefits but Cass and King worry that unconditional income supplements will commodify parenthood or erase the concept of reciprocity inherent to the social compact. They structure their proposed Family Income Supplemental Credit (Fisc) to avoid these perceived pitfalls. The sociology literature on the social meaning of money suggests this is not the case. No-strings-attached cash through a child allowance does not sever social ties or lead to the commodification of parenthood. It maintains expectations and parents will earmark for their child’s needs. Read More

For Pregnant Mothers, Make Payments Lump-Sum Share This

| Feb 25, 2021 | Family

[Note: This comment is from a series of responses to the proposal for a Family Income Supplemental Credit.]

Oren Cass’s and Wells King’s “Fisc” proposal is an outstanding model of the type of innovative policy thinking that the conservative movement needs more of. Contrary to some moralistic takes from both Left and Right, crafting good policy to support families always involves the difficult balancing of many competing considerations. Cass and King have put impressive thought and effort into getting that balancing act right.

The decisions made by Cass and King in managing any family policy’s unavoidable tradeoffs are all eminently defensible. It is much harder to say whether their proposal represents, on balance, the best option available to us. Rather than try to tackle that enormous question, I will just point out a tweak that should be made to one small but important feature of their proposal: its plan to begin family support payments before a child’s birth. Read More