When Government Pays Us to Be Parents

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Zach Maher, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, explains how the government-paid-parental-leave-in-Sweden-is-great scales fell from his eyes:

When the girl’s parents refused to subject her to this unnecessary procedure, the hidden machinery of the Swedish welfare state sprang into motion. My brother-in-law and his wife were required to attend multiple interviews with social workers and to submit friends and neighbors in their small town for questioning. Social workers even inspected their home. Suddenly, decisions as benign as what milk to buy seemed potential evidence of parental deficiency. My in-laws feared their two children might be taken from them.

In Sweden, the state reserves for itself ultimate responsibility for children’s well-being. As a parent my job is to give my kids the trygghet necessary to become productive, tax-paying members of Swedish society. This is why I receive financial support and medical benefits. The state is paying me to be a parent. I am, in effect, an employee—and if I do a poor job, my responsibility as a parent might be taken away from me.

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When we give government responsibility for things — even good things, like the well-being of children — we also give it authority over those who provide those things, like parents.  Suddenly, government isn’t just filling in gaps, but seeking out gaps by putting parents under the microscope.

The United States is not immune to such thinking, obviously.  Some 20 years ago, on Matt Allen’s Mental Floss radio show with the more-liberal Jennifer Brien, the latter argued that schools have to teach sex education (liberally tinted, naturally) because parents simply aren’t doing the job adequately.  I called in to ask what gives her or the government the right to make that determination, but she wouldn’t be shaken from the assertion of need.  (And then I was cut off.)

Suggesting that he and his wife “insist… on having their own ideas about raising children,” Maher asks, “Does this mean we can’t accept parental support from the state?”  My guess is that he doesn’t really have a choice — that the government doesn’t actually see it as an exchange or contract.

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  • Rhett Hardwick

    It is a commonplace observation to anyone who thinks about it, that money is a more effective means to control behavior than totalitarianism. Observe how easily the Federal Government has purchased “States Rights” by threatening to withhold “Highway Funds”.

    An aside, just yesterday I had another government official explain to me “I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them”. Oh sure, you are just a “cog in the wheel”, you can’t be blamed. Wasn’t this once known as the “Nuremberg Defense”? I am sure it was a government worker who invented “that’s above my pay grade”. Have they no honor? No, it has been purchased with a salary “I have a family to feed”. Not for the first time, when dealing with a difficult parcel of land, it was suggested to me that I should donate the parcel to the city/town”. Oh sure, fine, we have a little regulatory problem, let’s reduce the tax base. They see this as a “solution”. This is a small parcel that I own, more or less, by happenstance. For exercise, and as a demonstration to a friend in Australia who had never seen trees so close together, I have been clearing it of trees. In the course of that, I was stopped by the police 28 times, with accusations of “stealing town wood”.

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