You Can’t Fix the Collapse of the Family with “Programs”


David Brooks makes a good point and then a bad point in his take on the so-called reform conservative agenda.

Today, millions of Americans are behaving in ways that make no economic sense: dropping out of school, having children out of wedlock. They do so because the social guardrails that used to guide behavior have dissolved. Giving people in these circumstances tax credits is not going to lead to long-term thinking. Putting more risk into vulnerable people’s lives may not make them happier.

The nanny state may have drained civil society, but simply removing the nanny state will not restore it. There have to be programs that encourage local paternalism: early education programs with wraparound services to reinforce parenting skills, social entrepreneurship funds to reweave community, paternalistic welfare rules to encourage work.

There’s a good point and a bad point here.

Taking off the shackles of the nanny state will mostly help the functional. It won’t do nearly as much for the dysfunctional. In the past we have seen signs that these reforms help more Americans than they hurt, but there is no doubt that they will hurt.

Imagine America after another eight years of Democratic rule and the recovery process will be a lot harder. Giving people economic tools works for the aspirational who have some faith in the system. It just angers those who don’t.

Post-USSR Russia is badly broken. Despite a new generation, the legacy of Communism has never really left. It’s been overlaid with a corrupt materialism. That’s already true in most of the places in America hardest hit by the nanny state. And deregulation often ends up looking like the feeding frenzy that began after the fall of the USSR.

To change all that you have to rebuild families and religious institutions. You can’t fix all this with “wraparound services to encourage parenting skills.” That’s Michelle Obamaspeak.

The nanny state has been encouraging parenting skills forever. It doesn’t work.

To parent, you have to have a sense of responsibility. If you’re an adult, trying to teach you a sense of responsibility by giving you courses doesn’t work. Treating someone like a child to make them act like an adult is a dead end.

You can’t use the nanny state to heal people who are morally and socially crippled by it.

And the nanny state was not the whole problem. It was a paired social disability. It went side by side with other factors, often cultural, that destroyed the family. It worked in tandem with drugs and the entertainment industry.

Removing it won’t leave a libertarian paradise. In some places it will be Somalia. In other places people will pick themselves up and move forward. And often it won’t be the people you expect.

Treating people like a single equation is the great central planning fallacy. We can’t make people do anything. All we can do is change what other people make us do. And that’s the moral center of the Tea Party.

An end to compulsion is a solid universal principle. When we start trying to plan out how to make people do what we want, we end up right back where the liberals started.

  • Wolfthatknowsall

    The collapse of the family has been greatly aided by programs. For example, the welfare system systematically punishes the nuclear family … mom, dad, and kids … and rewards “single-parent” families. But this isn’t where the problem ends …

    However, it is the culture that is the worst culprit. How do you change a culture? How do you get Hollywood and television to encourage family values, when both reject producers and directors who espouse these values?

    Also, you’re completely correct about the fallacy that the Left operates on.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      The values and the programs have a single source in the left. This is a culture war. Bureaucracy and entertainment are two fronts in the left’s war on America.

  • CowboyUp

    Life in a free country teaches people to be responsible and think and do for themselves. When the government, or a parent for that matter, removes or mitigates the consequences of irresponsibility and bad decisions too much, the learning process doesn’t occur and the irresponsibility and bad decisions continue and usually get worse. When irresponsibility is rewarded and responsibility is punished, as it often is in this country, we get diminishing responsible behavior and more irresponsible behavior. This is intentional, because people who can and will think and do for themselves have little use for politicians and bureaucrats and prefer to be governed rather than ruled.

    As the Russian experience shows, after a while people not only lose the mental ability to think and do for themselves, but the desire as well. The same dynamic can be seen when wild animals are kept too long and they lose the ability to survive in the wild. That ability comes with constant practice from an early age, and was part of our culture. It can’t be taught in a class or program. Now we have the absurdity of government programs and academic seminars trying and failing to teach “competitiveness” and “innovation,” things that used to come naturally to Americans.