The First Question Facing Rhode Islanders for 2013
What all Rhode Islanders should be asking themselves — to the extent that they give any thought to governance — is whether they’re optimistic about their state’s near- and long-term prospects. I suspect not, inasmuch as even a modest recovery isn’t expected for the better part of the rest of the decade and all signs point to people leaving and trying to leave.
The next question, of course, is what has to change…
The Proof of a “Top Priority”
Legislators in both chambers of the General Assembly are proclaiming that their central focus this session (fully six years after the state’s employment situation began collapsing)… let me write that outside of parentheses and in italics: fully six years after the state’s employment situation began collapsing… legislators are proclaiming that their central focus is employment and the economy. The Providence Journal political team’s coverage of the GA’s first day back in session even puts it in the lede/subhead: “Economy top priority in new session.”
I won’t bother to go back and check, but I’m pretty sure we’ve heard this all before, and more convincingly. Frankly, reading the article leaves me feeling that the economy is not at all the central focus for either the legislators or the reporters. Some questions not asked: What and where are the specific proposals? What makes the legislators think that this or that will improve the economy? How many jobs do they hope to enable the economy to create? What about alternative proposals — as general as unleashing the private sector or as specific as eliminating the sales tax?
No, a fair reading of the article and the statements around which it is built would clearly leave the average reader with the conclusion that the top priority of the people who operate and who report on the state is same-sex marriage.
Speaking of Marriage…
For the second year in a row, at least, the Providence Journal’s story about the state’s first-born baby makes no mention whatsoever about the child’s having (or not) a father. In this case, a week’s delay from the baby’s due date enabled his mother to turn 18. Now she can return to high school, relying on her aunt, who appears to be a single mother of two young children, herself.
There is one positive note, I guess. Last year, Angel Taveras came within a day of fathering the state’s first baby, although it wouldn’t have changed the trend of first babies born out of wedlock, because he had not yet made the marriage commitment. The positive note is that Taveras married his daughter’s mother in a quiet “surprise” ceremony in some gymnasium somewhere the other day. Stealthily, as if it is something to be hidden.
I’d been wondering how the unmarried fatherhood image would play if the mayor does run for statewide office in the near future.
I’m still wondering, though, why no advocates for same-sex marriage are willing to acknowledge the clear potential social harm of extinguishing the principle that marriage and parenthood should be inextricably linked. As I’ve been answering the “whom does it hurt” question for the last decade of marriage debate, the consequence of redefining marriage falls predominantly on society’s most vulnerable, those for whom cultural expectations provide a guiding structure.
Those like Rhode Island’s first babies.
At the end of the third page of this Washington Times article on the surge of fatherless households, you’ll find a very interesting map. Drag it up to Rhode Island and zoom in until you can see individual neighborhoods.
In most neighborhoods in Providence and Newport, the majority of black and Hispanic children have no father in the home. In some, the fraction of children who live with both of their parents is around a quarter. By contrast, the map shows the most nuclear families in towns that the urban kids often cite as their unreachable competition, such as in Barrington and East Greenwich.
We don’t hear much about this in the local press or from local advocates for disadvantaged Rhode Islanders. It’s difficult not to wonder whether the story conflicts with progressive and big-government objectives.
The Path We’re Not Taking
This is as good a place as any to throw in a note that markets and industries will to a large extent self-regulate even without the domineering hand of big government. As John Stossel writes:
Stringham researched how the first stock exchanges developed in London in the 1700s: “Government refused to enforce all but the most simple contracts. Nevertheless, brokers figured out how to do short sales, futures contracts, options contracts — even though none was enforceable by law.”
They came up with private enforcement.
“They traded in coffeehouses. And after a while, they decided: ‘Let’s enforce rules within this coffeehouse. If you default, you’re going to get kicked out of the coffeehouse, and we’re going to call you a lame duck.’” (Because you had to waddle out of the coffeehouse. That’s actually where the phrase “lame duck” originated.)
Years of consumer reporting have taught me that such private regulation is better for consumers than the piles of rules produced by our bloated government.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether one has faith in ordinary people as individuals or in a handful of special people who claim to be acting in everybody’s best interests out of the good of their hearts.
Hey, We’ll Just Have to Make Due with Less
Think the fiscal cliff solved the problem for non-rich folks? Well, check the Associated Press:
… the legislation did nothing to prevent a temporary reduction in the Social Security payroll tax from expiring. In 2012, that 2-percentage-point cut in the payroll tax was worth about $1,000 to a worker making $50,000 a year.
Households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will face an average tax increase of $579 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center’s analysis. Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will face an average tax increase of $822.
And then check your paycheck. My first one of the year is already down the equivalent of taking the family out for dinner once every two weeks. Unfortunately, we had to cut out that sort of luxury some years ago. And unlike the government, we can’t reduce our projected increases in spending, call it a cut, and claim the rest has to come out of other people’s bank accounts by force of law.
Better get ahead of the curve, Americans and (especially) Rhode Islanders. You’re going to be making even more reductions in your quality of life, thanks to the crew you keep electing to government office. Better to figure out what you can live without before the money suddenly disappears from your take-home pay.
An Agreed-Upon Framework for Working Together
A number of commentators have decried a New York Times op-ed by Harvard-educated Constitutional law professor Louis Michael Seidman suggesting that the United States should “give up on the Constitution.” He apparently means that as a serious suggestion. Two essays worth reading in response are by Michael Walsh and Victor Davis Hanson.
Hanson argues that circumstances should make our current times days of optimism, as we profit from some centuries of the American Way. Some examples are too often unheralded. He notes, for example, that the modern American poor man is “not deprived of a big-screen TV, a Kia, warm water, or an air conditioner.” (Of course, there are people without such things, but when we speak colloquially and politically about “the poor,” we tend to include many people who do.)
Still, he finds our times “scary” because of the direction in which it appears to be headed, and it’s one that Seidman’s argument will advance. Here’s Seidman:
The deep-seated fear that such disobedience would unravel our social fabric is mere superstition. As we have seen, the country has successfully survived numerous examples of constitutional infidelity…What has preserved our political stability is not a poetic piece of parchment, but entrenched institutions and habits of thought and, most important, the sense that we are one nation and must work out our differences. No one can predict in detail what our system of government would look like if we freed ourselves from the shackles of constitutional obligation, and I harbor no illusions that any of this will happen soon. But even if we can’t kick our constitutional-law addiction, we can soften the habit… before abandoning our heritage of self-government, we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.
Two points. The first is that, as with the argument against maintaining traditional marriage, Professor Seidman thinks prior erosion of the Constitution excuses radical change. We continued to thrive under imperfect practice, the reasoning goes, so we will continue to thrive without any notion of what we’re trying to practice in the first place. This is akin to saying that our random victim has survived a severe beating, so a swing of the hatchet wouldn’t be immoral.
The second point, more important by far, is that documents such as the Constitution, with a thoroughly described and easily understood process for changing it, are absolutely critical if a nation is to continue to be a society of equals “working out their differences.” That’s how we work them out; it’s the framework. Without it (as we see every day in Rhode Island) “working together” is an exercise in comparing each participant’s power. The law doesn’t matter; the ability to ignore the law does.
Walsh puts it much more colorfully: “Scratch a leftist, find a fascist inhabiting the skull beneath the smiling skin.”