Photo of the day

Obama came to NCSU yesterday.  I had so many questions from journalists about “why North Carolina” and did my part to aid the speculation (because they asked).  In the end, though, it was all pretty much beside the point.  He came to NC to announce Raleigh and NCSU as a major hub in a Department of Energy program to foster public/private partnerships for high-tech manufacturing.  NCSU and the Triangle area are pretty much perfect for this.  Go us.  But I cannot help being amused at all the quite wrong speculation (including my own) on the purpose of his visit to NC.

Anyway, got a pretty good seat and decided I wanted more than smart phone images, so here’s one I took with my DSLR and telephoto lens



I laughed until I had tears streaming down my cheeks:

Marriage and poverty

Okay, this may only be semi-coherent, but better that (I hope) than nothing.

Last week I read this Yglesias post basically saying that conservative approaches to increasing marriage is basically a lot of hot air.  To conservatives credit, I do think they are right to emphasize the value of marriage.  The empirical evidence that it is good for most people– especially kids being raised in one– is pretty overwhelming.  The hard part is, just what is the government supposed to do about this:

But that gets us to the really curious thing about the conservative marriage agenda—it doesn’t seem to exist.

There is a serious obstacle to my preferred agenda for helping poor people by giving them more money and subsidizing their wages. To do that, you would need to get the funds from somewhere. That would mean some reductions in current spending and some increases in taxes. But people generally don’t like paying higher taxes and the people who benefit from spending programs don’t like to accept cuts. So it’s tough, politically. But conceptually speaking it’s quite clear that the government has the technical capacity to cut checks (Social Security works fine) and dispense wage subsidies (so does the earned income tax credit). One thing I like about this “give people money” agenda is that I think it correctly incorporates some conservative skepticism about the ability of the government to organize large-scale ambitious social engineering schemes.

And yet when it comes to marriage, conservatives seem to forget these lessons. The government can’t run a preschool but it can … reorganize people’s romantic lives on a massive scale? How? …

One answer that Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam sort of walked up to in their bookGrand New Party from several years back is that we ought to return to cruelly shunning single mothers and their children. Treat them really, really, really poorly like we would have 50 years ago. Call them “illegitimate” and rather than try toameliorate the problems of being raised in a one-adult household, go out of our way to exacerbate them. Make life as awful as possible for single parents and their kids, and in the future you probably will see fewer single parents. The big problem with this idea, however, is that it involves deliberate cruelty to innocent people, which is morally wrong. So wrong that you never see conservatives explicitly avow it. Because it’s really obviously wrong to be deliberately cruel to innocent people.

So beyond that, you’re left with … what?

Yglesias was a little hard on Douthat, but basically on point.  The reason that their were so few single parents was massive social stigma.  Kids are better off with two married parents.  But I’d say we’re better off as humans not being incredibly cruel to moms and children due to the mom’s marital status.  Douthat responds with actual policy suggestions:

So to answer his concluding question: No, I don’t think that merely changing the way we subsidize low-income earners will reduce the long-term structural decline of marriage. But with a perfectly straight face, I’ll say that I do think an agenda that wrapped a version of Marco Rubio’s EITC/wage subsidy reform together with the ideas Mike Lee has been pushing on family-friendly tax policyeducation reform, and criminal justice reform — and that also wrapped in other examples of my correct views on everything, like a restrained pace of low-skilled immigration and a universal credit to purchase catastrophic health insurance — could very well have a positive long-term impact on family formation among the poor and working class.

Most of these look like pretty good policies to me.  Click the links, though, and you see that they really have very little to do with marriage and its hard to imagine any of them leading to a significant change in marriage rates.  Like Douthat, I think it would be great if there was a cultural shift placing a more positive value on marriage without necessarily increasing stigma on single parents, but 1) that’s tough; and 2) I just don’t see public policy making a big difference on that.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Parker’s column yesterday shows just how vapid (does that go without saying for a Parker column?) many conservatives can be on the issue.  It’s all rhetoric:

But marriage, besides being the best arrangement for children, has the added benefit of being good for grown-ups. Half the pain, twice the joy. What’s not to love?

More to the point, we know that being unmarried is one of the highest risk factors for poverty. And no, splitting expenses between unmarried people isn’t the same. This is because marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by a magical concoction of love, selflessness and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.

In the absence of marriage, single parents (usually mothers) are left holding the baby and all the commensurate challenges and financial burdens. As a practical matter, how is a woman supposed to care for little ones and/or pay for child care, while working for a minimum wage that is significantly less than what most fair-minded, lucky people would consider paying the house cleaner? Not very well.

Setting aside the issue of choice in reproductive matters, one easily observes that we live in a culture that devalues and mocks marriage, reducing the institution to a buffet item. The lucky can hire a pedigreed baby sitter en route to the next dinner party, dropping a buck in the beggar’s cup, while the unlucky are strapped to a welfare check or low-paying job and a no-hope future.

Obviously, marriage won’t cure all ills. A single mother could marry tomorrow and she still wouldn’t have a job. But in the War on Poverty, rebuilding a culture that encourages marriage should be part of the arsenal. The luck of the draw isn’t nearly enough — and sometimes old ideas are the best new ideas.

Here’s the thing… I think Parker is pretty much right (though if our culture has been devaluing and mocking marriage, I’ve somehow missed that), but what’s the policy?  All we’re left with is “rebuilding a culture that encourages marriage.”  And how exactly is that supposed to happen and what’s the role of government?

And lastly, enjoyed this Emma Green piece in the Atlantic taking on financially well-off liberal feminists who aren’t so sold on marriage for poor women:

“When you say to women, to get out of poverty you should get married, my question to them is how many men you have to marry,” said Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of well-known book on low-wage workers, Nickel and Dimed. “Marrying a 10-dollar-an-hour man gets you nowhere, so you’d really have to marry three or four.”

There was laughter and applause. Clearly, the mostly female audience approved of her sharp-tongued dismissal of the “just get married” approach to solving income inequality.

But income actually has a significant effect on how women can afford to think about marriage. Often, self-described feminists question the merits of marriage and urge their fellow women to remain independent if they choose. As Carol Gilligan, a New York University professor who sat on a panel with Ehrenreich, put it, “Does anybody know the word patriarchy?”

Taking a stand against patriarchy is much easier if you’re well-educated, have a stable income, and live in a community where you could theoretically find an educated, employed man to marry. For poor, uneducated women, especially those who have kids, the question of whether to get married looks a lot different: It’s the choice between raising children on one or two incomes, between having someone to help with household chores and child-rearing alone while working multiple jobs. [emphasis mine]

Please!  Enough with the patriarchy.  You want single moms out of poverty than you should want them to be married moms.  It’s not perfect or a cure-all, but it sure will do more than raising the minimum wage.  Now, I cannot say I have the solution to having more poor single moms get married, but I’m definitely with the conservatives here that this would definitely be a good outcome and something we as a society (and government) should work to encourage.

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