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When Government Pays Us to Be Parents

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.


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.


Universal Basic Income and Our Aspirations

Once upon a time, folks actually hoped that a universal basic education plus a prosperity-driven increase in free time would draw people toward intellectual pursuits and self improvement.  I’m sure there’s data on such things, but for my purposes, here, let’s just speculate that most folks’ general sense would be that it hasn’t quite worked that way.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Dan Nidess asks why we would expect a universal basic income to have a different effect.  Indeed, he suggests that the policy “addresses the material needs of citizens while undermining their aspirations”:

At the heart of a functioning democratic society is a social contract built on the independence and equality of individuals. Casually accepting the mass unemployment of a large part of the country and viewing those people as burdens would undermine this social contract, as millions of Americans become dependent on the government and the taxpaying elite. It would also create a structural division of society that would destroy any pretense of equality.

UBI supporters would counter that their system would free people to pursue self-improvement and to take risks. America’s experience over the past couple of decades suggests that the opposite is more likely. Labor Department data show that at the end of June the U.S. had 6.2 million vacant jobs. Millions of skilled manufacturing and cybersecurity jobs will go unfilled in the coming years.

Notably, Nidess uses the term “productive class,” which I’ve been using for years in attempting to describe what populations have been leaving Rhode Island.  Basically, the Ocean State has been attracting the poor and (largely) holding on to the wealthy while driving out those who are looking for some way to transform their smarts, brawn, and effort into wealth.

Put in those terms, it’s clear that Nidess fears the UBI would bring about a national version of what I’ve called the “government plantation” or “company state,” whereby the government draws in dependents in order to provide services billed to somebody else.  Whatever arguments and motivations may underly such policies, they certainly don’t have the feel of being healthy for our society.


Kudos to Rickman

In all of the grandstanding and political jockeying over events in Charlottesville, local activist and philanthropist Ray Rickman stands out for his notably mature and reasoned position.  To Steph Machado of WPRI:

“I suggested to him that he give Robert E. Lee, the statue, to the people organizing the rally,” Rickman said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “That, or put it in a museum where people can see it.”

Many of us on the right are constitutionally wary of any intention to scrub a country of its past, as by destroying such statues, but Rickman is right that moving them can transform them from being “honorific.”  (That makes the museum option much preferable to the “give it to them” option.)  Discussing the reason there are such statues in places of honor can create a rich discussion that would include not only the horrors of slavery and the Civil War, but also the intention of reconciliation that followed.

And to Kate Bramson of the Providence Journal:

Considering the needs of the community, Rickman emphasized numerous traditionally black organizations that are struggling financially. Helping fund the NAACP, the John Hope Settlement House and a fund at the Rhode Island Foundation that grants small amounts to Latino organizations would go a long way toward helping move the community forward, he said[, in contrast to candlelight vigils].

Another Rickman idea, instead of a vigil: “I’d rather have a potluck dinner where everybody donates $5 to help bury the woman who was killed in Charlottesville.”

One could debate the specific causes for which Rickman advocates, but his impulse is exactly right.  Rather than indulge in ideologically pleasant symbolism that can actually discourage action and further divisions, resolve to do something good for actual people in need.

Over the weekend, a phrase that popped up multiple times among those who were criticizing President Trump’s initial remarks on the events was “this isn’t hard.”  Indeed it isn’t.  The question, though, is what we want to accomplish.


Two Thoughts on the Group Home Incidents

We can all agree that the sorts of things that Tom Mooney and Jennifer Bogdan report in the Providence Journal shouldn’t be happening:

At least four times in the last five months, workers at state-regulated group homes took actions that left young people in their care hospitalized, endangered or exploited, a Providence Journal investigation has found.

In two cases, group-home employees attempted to cover up slack supervision and management with forged log books or falsified statements, investigators reported.

In one Pawtucket home, an employee used the agency van to help run a teenage sex-trafficking operation, prosecutors allege.

The report raises two thoughts, which are in some respects conflicting.  The first is that our reactions should be appropriately tempered by the scope of the apparent problems:

Across the state, 194 children of all ages and up to 21, currently reside in 41 state-regulated group homes. Many have complex behavioral and mental-health challenges. Many are traumatized.

In my view, this paragraph should have come much earlier than 19th in the story because it conveys the information that the reported incidents involve fewer than 10% of group homes and an even smaller percentage of the children in the system, as well as the sorts of children with which the homes are dealing.  That doesn’t excuse the adults who are supposed to be in charge, but it does give some perspective.  One suspects such perspective is why the online headline changed almost immediately from “Chaos in R.I. group homes” to “Danger in R.I. group homes.”

Being lackadaisical about such matters is not an option, but overreacting can do more harm than good.

My second thought is that we risk focusing too much on symptoms in our outrage at these stories.  Clearly processes in the Dept. of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) require immediate review and reform.  With a longer-term view, we should be asking what we need to do as a community to reduce the number of children whom the state sees the need to remove from their homes.

That’s a tough topic, to be sure, but it draws us back to the top priority of helping families and reducing the need for government intervention.


The Success of the Masculine Versus the Masculinity of Success

In a society whose guidance for young men has increasingly been “be less masculine,” Crispin Sartwell’s observations of the different styles of masculinity in the Trump and previous administrations seem almost subversive:

The Scaramucci epoch represented an overcompensation. As a leadership style, some people find the Trump-Mooch manner compelling and some find it intolerable. Many seem to find it both, expressing disgust while unable to avert their gaze. It certainly has a throwback flavor. Although Mr. Trump may be the first man with his particular sort of swagger to make it all the way into the White House, we might consider a few parallels among particularly macho presidents.

The reason this seems subversive is the error on which much modern thinking is premised, supposing that discussing the ways in which different men are successful is evidence that we implicitly believe success to be masculine and therefore unavailable to women.

A moment’s imagine shows this is not so.  Put a character like Scaramucci next to some stoic from the sticks in the latter’s element, and one imagines the bluster of the “swaggering, hypermasculine, foul-mouthed New York hustler,” as Crispin describes it, would look ridiculous or even, let’s say, beta.

That is to say that masculinity and femininity are independent variables from success in some particular arena.  One can be a successful man or woman without being successful by some other measure.  The difficulty our society has — as witnessed in the recent hoopla about a diversity-related Google memo — is that we are unwilling to accept that maybe certain characters will generally fit better in certain roles, and sometimes those characters will be more common to one demographic group or another.

We should always be on the lookout for bias and the bad decision-making that it engenders, but overcompensating in that regard is not only unfair, but also likely to diminish our effectiveness — socially, economically, and politically.


The Government Caregiver Cometh

Editor of a Web site for seniors Carol Marak says she “made a very conscious decision” to remain single and childless.  One might question how conscious that decision could have been if this is accurate:

But today, Marak and her single, childless contemporaries are facing a repercussion of their decision that never crossed their minds as 30-somethings: “How in the world will we take care of ourselves?” she asks.

Having a spouse and children to take care of you is an obvious consideration and ought to be top-of-mind when making these sorts of major life decisions.  If that isn’t the case, our culture must be doing something to suppress this thought and make it seem less consequential.

In that context, it’s astonishing that Anna Medaris Miller’s article never raises one very probable response to Marak’s question:  Aging Baby Boomers will vote themselves massive amounts of government assistance, to be financed by subsequent generations without the help of the children those Boomers never had.

Apart from the direct costs of using government to replace families, if we’re not careful we’ll edge toward a generation that is dependent upon government for its senior-years support and vulnerable to a growing push to give government control of health care and to allow assisted suicide.  (On the bright side, doctors won’t have to rely on family members to hold down people they’re killing if the victims patients don’t have families.)

Miller’s article certainly points to a problem that we need to address, as a society, but we should do so culturally, not through government.


Tech Giants and the Small Print on Your Freedom

University of Toronto Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson has gained some notoriety recently for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns, and he provides the latest bit of evidence that you’re crazy if you rely solely on Google (or any other single provider) for critical services:

A professor in Canada who refuses to use gender-neutral pronouns and criticizes social justice issues was banned from using his Google and YouTube accounts Tuesday, regaining access hours later with no detailed explanation provided. …

The psychology professor has over 350,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, which he uses as a platform to post his lectures, interviews, and Q&As. …

“I’ve had that [Gmail] account for the last, say, 15 years,” said Peterson to TheDCNF. “All of my correspondence is in that account. It’s hundreds of thousands of emails from people all over the world.”

Google reviewed its ban and didn’t restore Peterson’s access.  Only after the above article appeared in the Daily Caller did the company reverse its decision… with no explanation.  What if you’re not sufficiently well known to produce a high-profile article?  We must assume that you are therefore subject to censorship and the loss of 15 years of your records, because if you leave them in their digital state on Google’s servers, you don’t own them; you’re producing them for free for Google as marketing assets and political leverage.

We rightly draw a distinction between government actions and corporate actions, because the latter involve voluntary agreements.  The appropriate response, therefore, is to stop voluntarily giving Google government-like leverage over our lives, businesses, and other activities.  As a society, we should deliberately empower competing services so we aren’t at risk of having our lives erased because some social justice warrior has made himself or herself the judge, jury, and executioner of our online lives under a shadowy corporate board issuing moral edicts.