Thursday, June 8, 2017

Repair the sexual economy, the financial one will fix itself

Mark Citadel remarks that “Myriad facets in our lives revolve around the creation of children.” The first building block of a solid Christian parallel society is repairing our own sexual economy.

Kristor notes,

literally everything human depends upon the successful operation of sex – and so is thereby ordered, and thereto. Any aspect of human life that is not somehow directly or indirectly ordered to the support of that success (as, e.g., with the family, the polis, the thede, and all their appurtenances) is at the very least informed by sex... The connection may sometimes be attenuated, but it is always there. Take – oh, take the art of fireplaces, say (I happen to be facing one as I write). Prima facie, fireplaces would seem to have nothing to do with sex. But fireplaces warm the house where the children are raised; they support the success of sex. So masonry and bricks are partly about successful sex.

Bearing all that in mind, consider now the staggering chutzpah of the social engineers who, in the last 125 years or so, have proposed to fix humanity by breaking sex, and who then went ahead and did it.
They broke the operation by which the human species reproduces itself. Considered in the light of its full meaning, the hubris of this undertaking beggars the imagination. It makes Faust seem prudent.

Look around, and ponder how many ruined bits of our formerly noble civilization have been depraved by the depravation of sex. Not just marriage, but movies, music, literature, education, you name it. Technology keeps getting better, true; but more and more of it is designed for and devoted to the service of depravation; to the bad economy.”

Of course this social engineering is by moneyed elites, the poor are ill disposed to marry at all.

John Milbank comments,

"The populist (as opposed to the well-heeled and ultra-liberal) faction amongst Brexiteers and Trumpists implicitly see all this – and realize that the marginalizing of the family, as of secure labour, coherent community and safe environment, is not in their interests....the poor or relatively poor simply cannot afford the experimentation with sex, drugs and lifestyle that can be afforded by those cushioned by wealth. 

Thus the result of sexual liberalism and the decay of marriage as a norm for working people is too often women left on their own with babies, and young men (shorn of their traditional chivalric and regular breadwinning dignity) driven to suicide."

The National Marriage Project has it mostly right about the intersection of culture, class, and marriage :

Disconnecting normative links among sex, parenthood, and marriage … generally works well enough for highly educated Americans, who tend to focus first on education and work, then marriage, and then children, and who see early parenthood as an obstacle to their bourgeois success sequence … But it does not work out so well for less-educated Americans, who greatly value children, do not have bright educational and professional prospects, and also do not believe their romantic relationships or marriages meet society’s new bar for a capstone marriage.

Those values have spread, in part, because of economic trends that have further weakened marriage: Shifting values, in this sense, are a consequence of instability as well as a cause. (If you grow up with fewer models of a successful 2-parent around you, you’re more likely to simply accept the separation of sex, marriage and family as the Way Things Have To Be.) 

But they have also spread because they work out well for the people who set the tone for the culture, and who therefore don’t see why their values shouldn’t be preached and modeled and embodied —  in sitcoms and movies, reality shows and glossy magazines, and everywhere that mass media works to shape attitudes and aspirations, whether about the proper way to spend your 20s or the kind of money that you need to spend to make your wedding a true capstone moment. (Liberals who scoff at the idea that pop culture has this kind of influence should read Jonathan Chait’s excellent New York essay on Hollywood liberalism, for a start.)

As middle American ideas about marriage have converged with upper class ideas, their outcomes have converged with the destabilized lower class. Middle American divorce rates and out-of-wedlock birth rates tracked with the college-educated until the 1980s; they’ve been converging with high school dropouts ever since. A generation ago, it seemed at least plausible that 21st century America would have two (relatively) stable marriage cultures — one upper middle class and more socially liberal, one lower middle class and more socially conservative. But in the current generation, the upper class’s values have triumphed, and the lower-middle marriage culture has gone into steeper decline.

It’s all connected. In the United States, only about 10% of children raised in a two-parent family live below the poverty line. Approximately 66% of children from single-parent families live below the poverty line. In addition, nearly 50% of adults who have lived on welfare consistently started there after becoming a single parent.

Nicholas Wolfinger notes, “Divorce often takes a dramatic toll on women’s incomes. Partially as a result, rates of poverty for mother-headed households traditionally have been about five times those for two-parent families.” Since the rates of single-parenthood have risen so greatly, the largest proportion of the poor is no longer the elderly, but children."

The argument often seems to go like this:

1. A liberal claims that the economy has been just terrible for low-income Americans since the 1970s

2. A conservative replies that maybe liberals should acknowledge the sexual revolution (and maybe even especially Roe v. Wade) played a big role in the problem they’re discerning, because one of the most important changes in the 1970s was the decline of the two-parent family, which has immediately negative economic impacts for families — household income is lower and child poverty higher when households are more fragmented, etc. — and also probably longer-term effects on the life prospects of children (especially male children, it would seem) raised in fragmenting homes.

3. A liberal says, no, you’re confusing cause and effect: It wasn’t the cultural revolution that really shattered two-parent families; all those broken poor and working class homes were broken by economic stresses brought on by Reaganomics or the lack of welfare provisions.

4. A conservatives says, no,
that causal arrow can’t be right, because if that were the case family breakdown should have been much worse long before Reagan, when people were poorer and the safety net was thinner. But instead, the post-1960s decline of the two-parent family coincided with not-great but still-real income improvements and a huge expansion of the welfare state — not to Scandivanian proportions, but to a level undreamed-of in eras with much more stable families than our own.

To question whether the Sexual Revolution has had something to do with the decline of marriage is like wondering whether the French Revolution had anything to do with regicide.

Given that the family held up comparatively well during the Great Depression, and that today’s lower class, while not doing great, is wealthy beyond the dreams of most people in the 18th century, to suggest that the biggest cultural trend in the 20th century has not affected marriage is prima facie absurd.
Today, over 40 percent of births are to single women, compared to less than 10 percent in the 1960s.
Among African Americans, only 17 percent come from families with always-intact married parents. By comparison, 90 percent of African American families were intact when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.

African American marriage rates survived both world wars, Jim Crow laws,  segregation, even worse poverty after all.

“Cohabitation may rival single parenthood as the largest generator of child poverty, while divorce is the cause of most women and children entering poverty in any given year.”   - Patrick Fagan

William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has written extensively on this, in an interview he says,

 “... to avoid being poor you only have to do three things: finish high school, not have children until you are 20, and be married before you have children. If you do those three things, 8 percent of you will be poor. If you fail to do these three things, 79 percent of you will be poor.

[So what is the relationship between marriage and poverty?]
The relationship between marriage and poverty is bi-directional. That is to say, if you are poor, you are less likely to get married, and if you don't get married, you're much more likely, to be poor. We can statistically separate out the effects of marriage and income, and show that both contribute to social problems. But they are also closely related.

Is marriage a tool for fighting poverty?
Marriage is, I believe, a tool for fighting poverty. Not a perfect tool, but it's much better than the alternative -- not being married. 

In a 2008 study by economist Ben Scafidi, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing,” estimated that family fragmentation costs the taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year

Doherty and Sears say that rolling family fragmentation back to the levels of 1980 would result in “half a million fewer children suspended from school, about 200,000 fewer children engaging in delinquency or violence, a quarter of a million fewer children receiving therapy, about a quarter of a million fewer smokers, about 80,000 fewer children thinking about suicide, and about 28,000 fewer children attempting suicide.”

JAMES KALB sums it up :

“If marriage is to be something we can rely on, it can’t be a sentimental celebration or optional lifestyle choice whose content depends on the orientation and goals of the parties  understandings. 

 Sexual freedom and standard-issue feminism are radically unjust, because they deprive necessary institutions of what is due them for support. They therefore injure all of us, the weakest and most vulnerable most of all.

 Experience has made it obvious that the abolition of traditional rules and roles doesn’t deliver the dignity, respect, happiness, or effective freedom that was promised. Instead, it’s given us hooking up, slutwalks, failure to bond, epidemics of STDs, complaints about rape culture, and a great deal of resentment.

The problem is that sex is profoundly expressive and interpersonal, and it can’t mean what it naturally means when it’s disconnected from other considerations...., that relation becomes a matter of shifting and conflicting desires, and we end up in the crude and manipulative world that has grown up around us.”

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