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.

Making Young Men Marriageable Share This

| Feb 24, 2021 | Family

[Note: This post is from the policy forum 7 Proposals to Make America More Family-Friendly.]

When it comes to the relations between the sexes in America, a lot has changed since the 1960s. But at least one thing has not: the vast majority of women still prefer to marry a man who is a decent breadwinner.

Unfortunately, a growing share of men without college degrees no longer meet this bar. With few “marriageable” men employed in the kinds of decent-paying occupations that make them attractive as potential husbands, marriage has slipped out of reach for far too many poor and working-class Americans.

This problem lies, at least in part, with the “college-for-all” framework that dominates all too many schools. Most young adults—especially young men—do not graduate from college. Only about one-third of Millennial men have a bachelor’s degree. Yet our attention and dollars are overwhelmingly devoted to the college track. Current federal and state funding for higher education totals about $150 billion. But only $1.9 billion in funding is devoted to vocational education in high schools and community colleges. Read More

Taxing Families Like Companies Share This

| Feb 24, 2021 | Family

[Note: This post is from the policy forum 7 Proposals to Make America More Family-Friendly.]

If families are people, and corporations are people, it stands to reason that families should be allowed to incorporate and file their taxes accordingly.

The benefits to incorporating are fairly obvious: corporations are taxed on their net income, and they enjoy a lower tax rate. Families, on the other hand, pay taxes on their revenue. And while families enjoy a few miscellaneous deductions and credits, they largely miss out on the good stuff. Corporations get to deduct nearly all capital expenditures; families receive no direct tax benefit for feeding their kids, purchasing clothes, buying a minivan, filling that minivan with unleaded, homeschooling or other education expenses, fixing a furnace, upgrading technology, or even moving to a safer neighborhood. If a corporation can demonstrate a net loss on the year, even due to its own aggressive spending habits, it doesn’t pay taxes. If a family loses money, the tax code doesn’t care. Read More

Setting a Goal for Family Support Share This

| Feb 24, 2021 | Family

[Note: This post is from the policy forum 7 Proposals to Make America More Family-Friendly.]

The current debate on child benefits, galvanized by Senator Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act, has given conservatives the opportunity to change their approach to pro-family policy—away from old-style reformist tax credits and toward direct payments, away from remedial welfarist approaches and toward affirming the American family.

While much energy has been expended on Senator Romney’s proposal, it is time for conservatives to look beyond discrete proposals and to approach family policy as an orienting goal that can enable other political goals and as an investment in the nation’s long-term prosperity. Long-run economic growth is wholly determined by growth in the labor force as well as technologically induced productivity growth. Read More

Insuring Health Care for Working Families Share This

| Feb 24, 2021 | Family

[Note: This post is from the policy forum 7 Proposals to Make America More Family-Friendly.]

The American health care system is far from family-friendly. One feature stands out: employer-sponsored health insurance (ESHI).

Most Americans (56%) are covered by ESHI plans, which they can receive tax-free. But attaching health insurance to employers creates unnecessary headaches for working families. Read More

Making Room for Families To Live Share This

| Feb 24, 2021 | Family

[Note: This post is from the policy forum 7 Proposals to Make America More Family-Friendly.]

Where do families want to live? Urbanists will point out that the high price of housing in walkable, city neighborhoods indicates that demand is especially high. Suburbanists will note that very few families live in those places, and that most new houses—even during the urban renaissance of the 21st century—are built at the suburban fringe.

What neither group is happy to admit is that families can thrive in all sorts of environments—but only if they can afford to live there. High housing costs can reshape young adults’ lives. In the costliest cities, the price of housing is discouraging marriage, delaying fertility and homeownership, and driving families away. Read More

Creating Flexible, Family-Friendly Schools Share This

| Feb 24, 2021 | Family

[Note: This post is from the policy forum 7 Proposals to Make America More Family-Friendly.]

School choice policy has come a long way since Milton Friedman’s plea for universal vouchers in 1955. Today, 28 states plus DC and Puerto Rico employ a range of vehicles to provide public funds for education, ranging from tax credit scholarships to cash vouchers. Yet the vast majority of such programs are minuscule, and policymakers still see education policy as separate from family policy. This is a huge mistake. K-12 education is the single greatest family policy lever at our disposal. Read More

Building Better Foster Homes Share This

| Feb 24, 2021 | Family

[Note: This post is from the policy forum 7 Proposals to Make America More Family-Friendly.]

Regularly lost in the debate over family policy are those children separated from their families or without a permanent home—namely, the hundreds of thousands of American children in the nation’s child welfare system.

Last year, the federal government reimbursed states $5.2 billion for children staying in foster care. Critics of the system frequently point out that “you get what you pay for”—that is, paying states for nights that kids spend in foster care will only lead to more kids spending more nights in foster care. Instead, they argue, we should focus on preventive services to keep families together or to ensure that they can be reunified as quickly as possible.

But taking money away from foster care in order to spend it on programs—only a few of which are proven to work—would lead to a decline in the number and quality of foster homes and risk placing children into worse settings. In California, for instance, taking money away from group homes has led to more children being placed unnecessarily in juvenile detention or psychiatric facilities. Putting the squeeze on foster care dollars will only create worse outcomes for children. Read More

Fitting the Fisc to Social Security Share This

| Feb 24, 2021 | Family

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

Oren Cass and Wells King have added their proposal, a parenting supplement they call the Fisc, to a list of ideas designed to reduce the fiscal burden on parents relative to non-parents.

One of the most hotly debated features of the Fisc is a “work requirement,” in that the annual allowance cannot exceed prior year earnings. I’ll let others quibble over the details on the formula. And I’m also sympathetic to the idea that parents need extra resources whether they’re working or not, particularly in the case of a single-mother.

Read More

Magical Thinking on China and Trade Share This

| Feb 23, 2021 | Trade

In the Wall Street Journal today, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson gives a rundown of the generic case for “How American Free Trade Can Outdo China.” Three things jump out:

1. He leads with the point that, “America’s economic prosperity and the effectiveness of our political system and global leadership are rooted in domestic economic strength,” and his first recommendation is “an economic recovery program that invests in core technologies such as telecommunications and advanced computing.” That’s a welcome acknowledgment of the need for policymakers to identify critical industries and develop policies that will channel investment accordingly.

2. Paulson frames the public debate thusly: “Winning over trade skeptics on both left and right will require Mr. Biden to explain how helping companies compete in global markets benefits American workers and families.” I’ve yet to meet a trade skeptic who doesn’t think that helping American companies compete in global markets benefits American workers and families. Winning over trade skeptics will require acknowledging the actual drawbacks of free trade with authoritarian mercantilists and explaining how policy reforms can address this. Which brings us to…

3. Paulson’s suggestion for dealing with China: “We should initiate new bilateral talks that open up China to our export industries, such as environmental goods and precision machinery, without forgetting to strengthen intellectual-property protections and eliminate unfair trade practices.” Let’s also ask for ponies. Flying ponies. We should be thankful for the admission that China is not open to our export industries, that it does not protect our intellectual property, and that its trade practices are unfair. But what is the plan for changing that? Asking nicely?

The thing about trade negotiations is that they are negotiations. Once must have something to offer, or else have a source of leverage to exercise. The U.S. has a great deal of potential leverage over China and it was the Trump administration’s strategy to develop and use it. Whether they did that well or not, we can debate at great length. But while Paulson clearly considers the Trump strategy a failure, he offers none of his own. Unilaterally disarming from trade conflict on behalf of open markets, and then making empty demands, is not a plan.

How to Raise the Minimum Wage, If You Must Share This

| Feb 23, 2021 | Economics

With Democrats pushing for a $15 minimum wage in the forthcoming Covid-19 relief bill, the “Fight for 15” has officially gone national. Budget reconciliation rules allow for a simple majority to pass spending provisions, but forbid regulatory reforms that are extraneous to the budget. The push is happening anyway, Byrd Rule be damned, as indication of how popular a $15 minimum wage is with the general public. It’s a political winner just to fight, even if the fight is ultimately in vain. Yet it may not have to be in vain if the Biden administration is serious about bipartisanship.

In a surprising twist, Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney have announced openness to raising the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour in exchange for greater employer-level immigration enforcement through E-Verify. Immigration policy isn’t my wheelhouse, yet the combination has some internal coherence. Long before a higher federal minimum wage has noticeable dis-employment effects, it would at least give lower skill native workers a competitive edge over their immigrant counterparts. This is why a higher minimum wage has been endorsed by immigration restrictionists like Ron Unz and Ann Coulter.

I am not a big fan of the minimum wage, precisely because it removes the bottom rungs out of the labor force for natives and immigrants alike. The fact that so many lower-skilled immigrants to the United States are self-employed or work as independent contractors is a testament to the barriers to “primary” labor market integration that already exist. The U.S. labor market is nonetheless significantly more flexible than in many European countries, where (not coincidentally) low-skill immigrants often struggle to integrate, face higher rates of unemployment, or become segmented into undesirable occupations. This is not a state of affairs the U.S. should seek emulate. Indeed, low-skill migrants to Southern European countries with rigid labor markets are much more likely to work in the shadow economy or other “secondary” labor markets relative to their counterparts in the UK or Denmark, where labor regulations are comparatively flexible.

A higher federal minimum wage could either ameliorate or worsen the development of a split labor market depending on how its designed and enforced. Recent minimum wage increases in the U.S. have tended to induce in-migration of legal immigrants, for example, while pushing-out undocumented immigrants. City- and state-level minimum wage hikes have thus had less impact on aggregate employment than one might expect, as the lowest skilled workers are induced to either move away or turn to unregulated industries. With a sufficiently high federal minimum wage, there’d be no where for the least skilled workers to move but out of the country, which for some conservatives appears to be the point. Read More