Conservatives now face the daunting task of marrying free markets with pro-family policies in a secularized culture. The excesses of corporatism pose as big a threat to the culture as calls for socialism and the rise of social progressivism. With fewer shared principles and foundational beliefs, our markets are guided poorly by consumers, regulators, and executives.
Lawmakers like Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have been trying to strike this difficult balance. The proposal introduced this month by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, however, is instructively terrible.
The what-not-to-do idea proposed by Utah’s “severely conservative” senator involves direct monthly payments to parents’ bank accounts. Here’s how the Washington Post broke it down.
Romney’s proposal would provide $4,200 per year for every child up to the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per year for every child age 6 to 17. Senior Democrats are currently drafting legislation as part of their $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal that would provide $3,600 per year for every child up to the age of 6, as well as $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17.
This is a shockingly stupid attempt to address the problem. There is nothing either smart or conservative about inviting the federal government to play a bigger role in family life, nor is there anything smart or conservative about establishing more regular dependence on the federal government, even if it’s budget neutral.
Conservatives have failed to address a host of issues over the last half-century, but the right’s argument against programs like the Great Society is absolutely essential. We’ve run these experiments. Disincentivizing work is anti-family, overly simplistic, and shortsighted—depositing sizable monthly checks in parents’ bank accounts is a glaring disincentive.
Deficit be damned, furthering government dependency erodes social fabric rather than healing it. Throwing more money at the problem will make things much worse, not better.
Further, while Romney’s proposal is light on any conditions (not even marriage), you can bet Democratic administrations and our active bureaucratic state will tinker with that in the future. The new program is bad enough on its own, but where you may be inclined to excuse this government involvement in private life now, you may be less inclined when the left weaponized the infrastructure you created to further its own cultural goals.
What should have disturbed conservatives about the Obama administration’s creepy Life of Julia was not its implications for the national debt, but its implications for families and communities. The problems afflicting our families and communities are much, much deeper than money (see these discussions with Tim Carney and Mary Eberstadt on Federalist Radio Hour) and largely beyond the federal government’s ability to fix, even with an unlimited budget.
New efforts to address the concerns rightfully and eloquently raised in recent years by nationalists and populists are critical. This is an important, energetic, and heartening conversation.
But the dangers of free-market fundamentalism or Zombie Reganism or whatever you want to call it don’t render every scrap of conservative orthodoxy wrong. You don’t have to work for the Chamber of Commerce to accept that government dependency exacerbates cultural problems federal programs seek to solve. We’ve run this experiment and we know how it ends—not well for families.
Rubio and Lee said it well in a joint statement issued the same day as Romney’s proposal, arguing, “An essential part of being pro-family is being pro-work.”