For all that has been said about Trump’s bad manners, he showed himself a gentleman on Tuesday. He outed himself as a socialist after his supporter Phyllis Schlafly wasn’t around to see it.
News reports about Trump’s child-care plan cite Trump’s need to appeal to women voters, and maybe he will. If he does, though, he won’t be picking up conservative votes. He’ll be gaining populists who have bought into the soft socialism that has been working its way into the American mindset for over a century.
The bottom line is a simple question: whose job is it to pay for an individual’s choices? Because having a child is nearly always a choice.
Hope You Like High Child-Care Costs
Trump’s child-care plan mostly increases the child-care tax deduction and makes it refundable for poorer Americans under the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The most specific funding note comes under Trump’s maternity leave policy. The Family and Medical Leave Act currently holds a job for parents for 12 weeks after the birth of a baby (without pay, and only if the employer is large enough to fall under the mandate). Trump is going to guarantee pay for six of those weeks from Uncle Sam himself if the employer does not provide it.
He’s going to get the money by cleaning up the federal unemployment insurance system, where the maternity benefit will also be housed. Under the EITC, non-working parents are eligible for benefits, so they also get a bigger cut under Trump’s plan. Trump’s maternity benefit applies only to working mothers.
So far, so-so, right? We appear to be cutting taxes for nice people like parents by routes we’re already used to, and eliminating waste. A true conservative might like the waste done away with altogether rather than reallocated to another payout, but whatever.
Yet we’ve seen plans like this before. There are two major services whose costs are growing at a faster rate than inflation: college and health insurance. That’s thanks to Obama and Obama, respectively, making big expansions to existing federal programs.
President Obama’s college and health-care plans were premised on the idea that making more money available would ease the burden on payers. It might have worked if the money had been left under rocks in college students’ and patients’ yards. Instead, people like college and health care administrators also knew about it, and discovered new expenses. People got more money for college and health care, and then they got even higher bills for college and health care.
Make Ourselves Feel Good While Skinning Others
Trump’s plan will add child care to that list of subsidized social services built on established federal frameworks. There is a bit of poetic justice here, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, the median annual wage for child-care workers was $9.77, and their median annual income was $20,320. The call for “more affordable, quality child care” means either that someone else is going to supplement parents’ contribution to the cost of caring for the children they decided to have, or babysitters get paid less. (The “quality” means nothing, since it can be neither measured nor enforced.)
Reducing child-care workers’ pay is pretty much unconscionable. The people caring for other people’s children every day are already earning less money than the people complaining about how much it costs. Trump’s is the first child-care plan that will include an actual pay raise for child-care workers.
That’s because it implements the other option: external supplements to parents’ child-care payments. The money pumped into the child-care economy will inflate the cost of child care when providers understandably cash in on users’ benefit. But where is the Trump money coming from? A tax break for parents can only mean . . . actually, it will all make sense and not cost anything as soon as we make America great again.
Just in case, though, we should remember that it might also mean cutting tax-funded benefits in the status quo. Or even taking money from people without child-care expenses (and a few people who have both child-care expenses and piles of money). Or, let’s be honest: as with every Republican president since Reagan, it will mean the national debt gets in a brawl with a hot air balloon.
Federal child-care money will also certainly occasion the formal invention of equal and opposite child-care-money-gobbling-machines operated by those who see an opportunity to maximize their own benefit from a guaranteed payout.
Trump’s Plan Ignores Coworkers and Consumers
Trump’s fact sheet knows what you’re thinking:
Q: Will The Maternity Leave Policy Cause Employers To View Women As Less Desirable Employees Because Of Paid Leave?
No. The cost to an employer of hiring should not be affected by this fully-offset policy, so the employer should not view hiring women as adding to their costs of Unemployment Insurance.
Well, maybe. This answer suggests that the costs of a pregnancy are calculated only in dollars, which simply isn’t true. An absent worker isn’t getting work done. The choices are for someone else to do it, or for productivity to decrease. If the employer can’t take the hit to productivity, he must invest the time and effort to temporarily replace the worker.
That replacement can be hiring and training some schlep who’s bound to get the boot after 6 to 12 weeks, or distributing the extra work among the employees who are still around. That amounts reinforcing a system in which workers have pretty good reasons for viewing pregnant or potentially pregnant women as less desirable co-workers. As soon as Amanda pops, we’ve either got to do all her work, or spend part of our day training a replacement who will just about have things figured out right when Amanda comes back.
Me-ternity leave is a dumb way of putting it, but the plaintiff has a point, and so do all the other workers annoyed at people who just plain get to leave on the basis of bullying incidents, ball games, and allergic reactions. Parents are indisputably passing on the costs of their choice to have children to co-workers who don’t have children.
Workers without children are taxed numerous times over for child care: by work they have to make up for absent parents, by lower wages from employers making up for the financial costs of both extended and immediate leaves parents take, and by actual government taxation that funds payouts to those collecting for child-care expenses.
Costs to employers always get passed on to employees and consumers. Just like Obama’s college reforms blew up the problems of Pell Grants, Trump’s maternity leave plan locks in the FMLA’s disadvantages to employers, even though wages are not directly involved. This ultimately leaves other employees with decreased wages and consumers with increased costs.
Substituting Government for People Causes Social Problems
But isn’t family a conservative value? Yes, but conservatives haven’t defended it very well even in our own homes. It’s easier to ask the government to finance fixes for the messes we’ve made by personally giving up on everything that made marriage worth anything. This real devaluing of the family has placed it into unnatural competition with other fundamental conservative values, like self-sufficiency and limited government.
Whereas what passes for a family now is often merely a patchwork of historically associated individuals, it’s not conservativism to materially support that association. It’s supererogative sympathy. As such, government should not extort it from anyone.
Valuing self-sufficiency is protecting one’s own freedom, because being a recipient is being beholden. This is why it is conservative to prefer internal or equilateral solutions. If my neighbor is generous enough to bail me out, he has earned the right to preach to me about choices and practices that cause me to take on water.
In contrast, conventional wisdom says the only interaction our neighbors should have with our choices and practices (especially sexual ones) is paying for them. The way to make this all work better is a government so big that every joint in the pipeline is completely impersonal. Then my check doesn’t look like my neighbor’s money, and he doesn’t have any right to criticize me. Only the government can tell me for whom I have to make cupcakes, and how much I owe for somebody else’s abortion.
Kids Don’t Give You a Right to Other People’s Money
Even putting aside the fact that many families who collect tax-funded benefits have failed to carry out the basic duties of families, family as a conservative value does not equal family as entitled beneficiary of other people’s wealth. People who do society the service of raising good and honest citizens might be gratified to receive the thanks of their neighbors. But only under socialism does it follow that a person who has reproduced has a right to her neighbors’ money.
Nearly all parents have voluntarily taken up the task of having children and derive many benefits from parenting, including material ones like reciprocal caregiving. The idea that people earning up to $250,000 need help with child care could only be believed by people who have never lived on an annual income of, say, $20,320.
Most marvelous is that not even two breadwinners are enough anymore. So many two-earner families are struggling that fellow citizens must underwrite their living expenses. It’s almost like costs are somehow being artificially driven up. In “Christianity and Culture,” T. S. Eliot observes, “What is miserable is a system that makes the dual wage necessary.” Old Possum’s head might explode to hear that now we have a system in which it is normal for a family to require two paychecks plus a check from the neighbors.
Schlafly, whose pro-family creds are not really in question, called the EITC “an outright cash handout.” But Trump’s plan to expand the EITC, pay people for having voluntarily become unable to work, and reinforce a socialist model for raising children makes sense in the context of what families have become. Whose job is it to pay for an individual’s choice? Well, as long as there are enough of us, we can keep making the people without kids pay.