Weighing Down the Ship with Overworked Parents and Government Programs


Economist Robert Stein made a strong case for valuing homemakers in the February 6 National Review.  This bit of wisdom addresses a common trick for which Rhode Islanders too often fall:

… most of the benefits of subsidies for commercial child care would go to the producers of that child care, not to the parents.

If the government pays people to buy a product — any product, whether a good or a service — those who make that product are going to capture a large share of the benefit.  By contrast, a policy to cut taxes for parents, regardless of whether a couple includes a homemaker, will go to the parents themselves.  Tax relief associated with raising kids, whether it comes through deductions or credits, should therefore not hinge on the parents’ use of commercial child care.

This goes for free college tuition, too, by the way.

And, no, Stein’s expression of the value of homemakers isn’t about getting women back in the kitchen, as the cliché goes.  Economically, it doesn’t matter which parent stays home or even, frankly, whether a couple finds some way to split one full-time job for one of them into two part-time jobs, one for each. (That last assumes that pay and benefits would amount to the same amount, which is another argument for high-deductible health insurance plans with catastrophic coverage and other free-market reforms, to help families adjust to reality and meet their own dreams and needs.)

And the argument isn’t just economic.  This part resonates, especially, for me, given my involvement in non-profits and local politics:

… homemakers are often the backbones of the civic organizations on which ongoing communities depend. Homemakers in this sense are the ultimate leaders of the “little platoons” — volunteering in schools and running car pools, the PTA, swim teams, Scouts, and religious education.  Sure, there are also plenty of working parents (including the author) who do such things, but many of these activities would be almost impossible without homemakers.

What I see locally is that time-strapped parents unable to maintain this level of activity become susceptible to the government’s promises to fill the gaps, which leads them to elect people to office who then use that authority for their own ends and to shuffle money away from services and toward lavish pay and benefits for employees and pet projects.  This growth in government takes away much of the income gained by having a second working spouse and also removes the basic services (like trash pickup) that once freed parents up.

This brings to mind a scene in Moby Dick in which ship hoists up a whale head on either side in order to ride evenly:

As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe.  So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight.  Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat.  Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.