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How To Fix This Kind Of Broken?

David Brooks today: [1]

When you look over the domestic policy landscape, you see all these different people in different policy silos with different budgets: in health care, education, crime, poverty, social mobility and labor force issues. But, in their disjointed ways, they are all dealing with the same problem — that across vast stretches of America, economic, social and family breakdowns are producing enormous amounts of stress and unregulated behavior, which dulls motivation, undermines self-control and distorts lives.

I said to a friend the other day, in a conversation about the Honey Boo Boo show, that some of the worst problems we have today can’t be fixed by politics. Show me the domestic policy that can repair the damage, real and potential, done to the children of that woman by family breakdown?

Longtime readers will remember my story about the black Dallas pastor who moved to the city to take over a church in a poor part of town. He and his wife opened their home after school so children from the church would have a safe, quiet place to do their homework after school. They found the kids would come over not to do homework, but to sleep. Puzzled by this, the pastor and his wife investigated, and learned that those children lived lives of such domestic chaos — no stable family, no regular hours at home, no structure, no expectations — that they were barely sleeping at home. And these were the children of churchgoers!

Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf … [2] 

Sharon Astyk, who fosters children in upstate New York, wrote this long reflection on fostering [3], and what it has taught her about what is so broken about our country. Excerpt:

We live in a society that has professionalized, externalized, commercialized and industrialized pretty much everything that was once domestic, local, part of a commons or private space.  Dinner?  Available at thousands of locations near you.  Caring for grandma?  A host of assisted living options at your finger tips.  Breastfeeding?  Formula is just as good – and far more profitable.  Self-provisioning?  Outdated, just shop – there’s plenty of food at the store.  None of the things that the domestic sphere have historically provided remains outside the realm of the industrial – except this one.

The single and only thing that has resisted full industrialization is the family as a space for the raising of children.  It has been partly externalized – daycare centers, preschools, schools and creches create public and for-profit spaces that share the basic role of childcare.  But while there’s a lot of debate about how much good or bad daycare is, what isn’t debatable is that children MUST have a family to go home to in order to be successful.  Attachment to a few primary adults in your life as an infant and young child is critical to both neurological development and the ability to have normal human relationships.    No children’s house, no orphanage, no other institution has ever been able to take the place of the family at this level.  The destructive cost of not having this to society is so clear and so great (you can begin looking at research from Eastern European orphanages to start with this, but even kibbutz child houses ultimately went the way of the dodo) that we MUST provide families for children who cannot live in their families of origin.

I rail against the system that doesn’t value domestic labor, but I wonder sometimes – would I really want to live in a society that managed to fully professionalize what I do?  I don’t mind losing money, although it is a struggle sometimes – but I don’t make money on my bio kids, so why would I expect to on other kids?  Moreover, the fact that this one kind of work I do can’t be replaced – not by paid caregivers, not by robots, not by certified pros – because the reality is that no matter how awesomely trained and certified you are, the fundamental coin of family life is not money and it is not training – it is family-ness.  It is a thing you can’t buy or sell, coin or organize, collectivize or privatize – it is the reality of you are mine and I am yours and I’ll jump in front of a bus to protect you if I have to or more realistically, figure out a way to make the paycheck stretch a little further so that we can go do something fun on Thursday.  It isn’t necessarily done best by the smartest guys in the room or the most savvy (although smart savvy people make awesome parents and foster parents too), but by the most ordinary people.  And it cannot be replaced, unless you are willing tolerate unbearable harm to children.

Now that I have children of my own, I see clearly that the best thing my mother and father gave me was the blessing of a household where things were solid, secure, stable, and loving. Not perfect, but good. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I’ve known kids who grew up in homes that had a lot more money than we did, but who weren’t as rich as we were in this way. The government can print money, but it cannot create that kind of treasure.

Earlier this year, Brooks wrote [4] something that challenges the narrative of the left (that the chronic problems of the poor are the fault of material lack) and the right (that the chronic problems of the poor can be overcome through individual initiative alone). Excerpt:

Over the past 25 years, though, a new body of research has emerged, which should lead to new theories. This research tends to support a few common themes. First, no matter how social disorganization got started, once it starts, it takes on a momentum of its own. People who grow up in disrupted communities are more likely to lead disrupted lives as adults, magnifying disorder from one generation to the next.

Second, it’s not true that people in disorganized neighborhoods have bad values. Their goals are not different from everybody else’s. It’s that they lack the social capital to enact those values.

Third, while individuals are to be held responsible for their behavior, social context is more powerful than we thought. If any of us grew up in a neighborhood where a third of the men dropped out of school, we’d be much worse off, too.

The recent research details how disruption breeds disruption. This research includes the thousands of studies on attachment theory, which show that children who can’t form secure attachments by 18 months face a much worse set of chances for the rest of their lives because they find it harder to build stable relationships.

Brooks was writing in context of the release of Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart,” about the social collapse of the white working class in many communities. He concludes:

The American social fabric is now so depleted that even if manufacturing jobs miraculously came back we still would not be producing enough stable, skilled workers to fill them. It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies. The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities.

This requires bourgeois paternalism: Building organizations and structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly and, yes, sometimes using government to do so.

I’m all for that, at least in theory. I don’t think we as a society can look at the falling apart of the family, and in turn the unraveling of the social fabric, and satisfy ourselves with either the left-wing alternative (more social programs and redistribution) or the right-wing alternative, a libertarian-ish approach that sees the family as more or less a market institution, subject to market ideals (i.e., if it fails to produce healthy, stable, productive members of the next generation, then that’s just the price of freedom). The thing is, I don’t know what “bourgeois paternalism” would look like. Do you?

79 Comments (Open | Close)

79 Comments To "How To Fix This Kind Of Broken?"

#1 Comment By Chris On September 28, 2012 @ 2:57 pm


Politics cannot solve this. Politics works within culture, and what’s wrong is the culture.

Our post-Christian culture is the culture of The Market. We have all been taught that The Market has immutable laws and happiness can be attained only if we live by those laws. We are constantly reminded of all the stuff we don’t have, but should!

And the effect of this is seen in Sharon’s foster kids.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the technology that allows me to type this and share it with all y’all, I like modern medicine and the ability to travel around the globe and be home again in a week. I even like my clothing and food and wine that comes from all over the globe. I would not return to the 13th or 14th centuries happily.

But what creates Honey Boo Boo is our forgetting that we created The Market, that The Market exists to serve us and not the other way around, and that there’s so much more to life than what The Market can provide on its best days, or destroy on its worst.

#2 Comment By Rebecca Trotter On September 28, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

Franklin, they are piecemeal, but I think they are the only sort of thing that will work. At its bottom, most of the bad decisions people make are related to trauma. It’s not a co-incidence that our social problems came out first and most strongly in the black community. People get broken one by one and unfortunately for us, many of them need help getting put back together. It really is a judgment on us as people that we have let things get as bad as they have without being willing to put in the work needed to stop the trauma from continuing to destroy generations.

I am probably disproportionately excited about the programs and ideas that are happening. But Jesus started with a couple dozen followers. I am starting to see a greater willingness among everyday people to step up and try to help people in these really intensive, hands-on ways. I think it’s the way forward, frankly.

This post and the comments just set me off because at some point standing around talking about how bad things are and there’s nothing you can do about it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it removes an impetus to take action – why try to change things if it’s just hopeless?

#3 Comment By ronan ryan On September 28, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

Jeff was kind(??) enough to provide us with this exposition of the classic libertarian position

Bryan Caplan, a pretty hard right libertarian, had this to say:

The welfare state isn’t the sole reason for the moral decline of the working class. But it is surely one important reason for this decline. Free government money is a key foundation of long-term male unemployment and out-of-wedlock births. Reduce or eliminate that free government money, and you start a virtuous cycle of working class self-improvement. Males would be a lot more likely to find and hold a job. Women would be a lot more likely to focus on men’s industry and dependability instead of aggressiveness and machismo. This in turn would raise the status of working class men who actually work for a living. And if you take behavioral economics seriously, you should be totally open to the view that the working class would be better off as a result.


To which my answer is that, without jobs to go to, or the skills to get jobs if they are there, the fathers will have no means to support these children or their mothers and pursuing them through the courts for child support will be a waste of time. If you’re a pregnant 19-year-old with no job/no paid maternity leave and no male to provide support what will you do?

Implement Bryan Caplan’s policies and watch the abortion rate soar. Outlaw abortion and watch the female mortality rate soar.

#4 Comment By Jeff On September 28, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

Lots of others (violence, murders, divorces, suicides, abortions, gun ownership, etc) peaked in the early 80s years prior to any meaningful implementation of harsh measures aka ‘reforms’. Among serious people the notion of causation by the laws is not credible.

If you find one these serious people, please ask them to come here and comment, won’t you?

#5 Comment By ronan ryan On September 28, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

Nobel laureate George Akerlof (spelling??) published a paper for the Brookings Institution in the mid-90s that strongly linked the increase in illegitimate births to the emergence of birth control which freed the male from the hassle of having to promise marriage before getting sex. Does Jeff SERIOUSLY believe that the birth control genie can be put back in the bottle?

#6 Comment By PDGM On September 28, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

Abelard Lindsey, a continuously growth oriented economy is impossible. Furthermore, seeing it as the solution to our ills is the social equivalent of “rich people can act irresponsibly and like a**holes and it does not affect them as much.” We’ve tried that; in fact one can argue we’ve tried it for about a hundred years; and we’re running out of room, of productive capacity, of topsoil and clean air and so on, in the natural world for that effort.

This being the case, the solution has to go deeper than “growth oriented economies” which in the practical realm mean what I pointed out above, a massive confusion of needs and wants, and the subsequent dislocation from reality of modern Euro-Americans and those who aspire to lead similar lives.

#7 Comment By Franklin Evans On September 28, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

Abelard, we have a growth-oriented economy right now, and growth is measured by the increases in national and personal debt. PDGM covers the rest for me, with thanks.

Rebecca, I honestly and sincerely hope you are right, and the “piecemeal” efforts will show significant healing. I’m an old, cynical man without much room for that much hope. Let us both hope that I’m wrong. 🙁

#8 Comment By Josh McGee On September 28, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

One of the issues is that we are three generation into this. If we were still in the first generation, you could probably (in theory) eliminate the welfare state and see people return to a more traditional state of affairs – mom and dad dependent on each other to provide for themselves and their children, remembering the values they were taught as children or which the older patriarchs/matriarchs could remind them of. Cliches telling people to develop their work ethic would make sense to the first generation but are meaningless to the third generation. In the third generation, eliminating the welfare state wouldn’t produce those same results because there exists no memory of the alternative. Thus, the problem is complicated now because many people living in the Honey Boo Boo scenario not only have no experience with a traditional family model, they also have absolutely no memory of such a prior arrangement, nor do they have any patriarch to remind them of ‘how it used to be’. For the family in Honey Boo Boo, returning to a traditional family arrangement is talking about something as ancient and historic as returning to something so ‘old’ (and by that I mean foreign) that we might as well go up to them and suggest they return to the social and economic practices of the middle ages. It may as well be 30 generations ago because it’s still forgotten history. They have no connection – no memory, even – to any other way of life.

The first generation that breaks apart the family by divorcing and asking their kids to live out of a suitcase between two houses for the next decade has the memory of what it was like to grow up in a stable home. Thus, they tell their kids it will be okay. The second generation (the children with the suitcases) has the knowledge that such a situation was possible but their parents failed to see it through (this commonly produces a fair amount of anger). Many times, by the third generation, there is no connection to that older way of life – nothing to even remind anyone with that it will be okay.

Even though such a person might be my next door neighbor, encouraging them to live up to the traditional family model and work hard is often times as foreign to them as someone from the East asking me (a midwestern Christian) to practice transcendental meditation. Both are foreign ideas and in many ways unrelatable.

I will mention to the older generation in my church that I firmly believe (from experience) there are more than a few people now in America -in their very own towns and counties – who have never actually heard the gospel. They have heard the word ‘Christ’, sure. But not the gospel. The older generation finds that hard to believe, even still, despite the decay they see around them. Because of that, they don’t realize we are back to needing to rebuild the foundation for family, social, and religious life. They don’t realize now that some of their own neighbors have no connection to the way of life that was overwhelmingly practiced just three generations ago (it’s a memory for me – even a reality – so it must be for my neighbor too, right?). And they have no way of communicating with these people. When they talk about family, religion, culture, they are often speaking at a level nearing calculus to people that haven’t been handed down basic addition and subtraction. This, I believe, is why no one on the left or the right has any solution to the problem. We don’t realize how far the disorganization has gone, how much has been lost. We believe we need complex solutions, believing those things will still work. We haven’t yet admitted that it’s going to require going all the way back and starting over from scratch.

#9 Comment By Rosie Land On September 28, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

As sad as the Honey Boo Boo story is, I had some sympathy left over for that poor slob who had that harridan railing at him about light bulbs. I hope he finds a job so he can unload her soon.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 28, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

Its going to happen one family at a time, which is why Rebecca Trotter and others who have pointed to successful efforts in the trenches and laboring in the vineyard are an essential part of the answer.

But, it is also true that as every part of life becomes commodified by capitalism, that which is not commodified is not valued, and if we rely on market forces, is not provided for. In short, we can have blind reliance on market forces, or we can have family values, but we cannot have both. The market doesn’t give a damn about family values, even if the majority owner of Chick Fil-A personally does. (Or does he only care about closing on Sundays and opposing gay marriage?)

There are some broad social measures that would create a more family-friendly world for the Rebecca Trotters and Jane Addamses to work in. (Speaking of Addams… social work lost its edge when it became gummint work… we need to unwind that well meant but unholy alliance).

Recognizing that a large scale enterprise IS social production, NOT individual private enterprise, would be a good start. Liberals, like the godlings who edit The Economist talk ad nauseum about labor market flexibility, but the only good reason to labor is what it does for the laborer, not what the laborer does for the enterprise.

Labor will not be paid for products that nobody wants to consume, but the mediators of this transaction, since its no longer producer to consumer directly, must be pulled back into the position of public servants, not gods among men.

Families will flourish when a man OR a woman OR both can make sufficient money to suport children, and still have TIME to spend with them. Whatever it takes, powerful labor unions, high minimum wages, Mondragon-style collectives, is a preqrequisite to strong families.

And of course work programs would help. Instead of paying out welfare checks, put people to work on every infrastructure project we need but can’t afford. Pay minimum wage to union scale, as they master the apprenticeship program. Those among us who don’t want to work and aren’t disabled… well, as a Roman Catholic ethnic mother of eleven in Cleveland used to tell her kids, “As they say in socialist countries, those who work will eat.”

I’ve saved the most trite for last:

“liberalism is devoted to overthrowing the moral order”

If you are talking about the free-market fanatics who run The Economist, and the fans of “market forces” in the Republican Party, I agree. But did you mean William Gladstone, leader of the Liberal party, who upon meeting his future wife for the first time, asked her if she had meditated on the goodness of God that day? Liberalism was founded by some of the most suffocatingly pious, patriarchal heads of families in the history of the world!

So terms need definitions. I wouldn’t even say that libertarians are dedicated to overthrowing the social order. Perhaps libertines, who mistake themselves for liberals?

#11 Comment By pinkjohn On September 28, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

Most of this thread seems to be fairly divorced from any concrete efforts to make a dent in the conditions being complained about. One trend unexamined here is the explosion of nonprofit organizations since the ’70’s. Many of these reflect the ‘bourgeois paternalism’ Brooks speaks about, often led by women in the tradition of Jane Addams and the settlement house movement. Others are indigenous to the neighborhoods and communities where they operate. Some go along with the trend identified here of “outsourcing” what used to be family functions, others are actually trying to rebuild communities that have been devastated by decades of bad government policies, economic divestment, ghettoization of the poor to segregate them from everyone else. This is the work of the much-maligned community organizer, trying, often successfully, to build power for positive change. (See the book “Cold Anger, A Story of Faith and Power Politics” by Mary Beth Rogers, [6]).

One fashionable example of bourgeois paternalism is the Harlem Children’s Zone under the leadership of Geoffrey Canada, which seems to operate on the radical premise that the parents, churches, schools and community organizations have completely failed in a 10-square-block area of Harlem, and that only his organization funded by government, corporations, foundations and rich individuals to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars can save them. It may turn out to be true, but the evidence coming out of his charter schools and social services is inconclusive at this point. Personally, I think it is just more disempowering of families and communities, denying them any active role or helping them take leadership.

Another thought I have is that most posters are talking about poverty as if it isn’t a dynamic situation, that once one is poor it will always be so. This is not true. Most people (2/3rds) on public assistance are on for less than two years. People fall into it due to catastrophic illness, job loss or other traumatic event. Generational poverty certainly exists, and if that is what is being discussed here, we should state it openly.

#12 Comment By Abelard Lindsey On September 28, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

Abelard Lindsey, a continuously growth oriented economy is impossible.

I disagree. I think a growth-oriented economy is absolutely essential for the psychological well-being and intellectual vigor of our society. Also, the basis of the so-called American “exceptionalism” is the pioneering spirit and the belief in unlimited personal opportunity. Without these traits, America means nothing to me.

Being a hedonistic slacker (not having kids and doing the lonely planet travel thing as often as possible) is a rational life choice in a non-growth oriented economy. Indeed, it is the most optimal choice in such a society. Certainly many European and Japanese young people agree with me on this point.

It is silly and stupid to expect people to turn away from such a life style choice unless they are offered lots and lots of economic opportunity to make it worthwhile to do so.

Take away these things and you will see American turn into another version of Europe or Japan, with the birthrates to match. You can have a growth-oriented economy where people keep their noses to the grindstone, live a conservative life, and have families; OR you can have a society where people just do the minimum to get by and spend all of their time partying and having a good time. However, you cannot have it both ways.

#13 Comment By JonF On September 29, 2012 @ 6:59 am

Abelard Lindsey,
The former poster was correct: we cannot have infinite growth. The resources available to us will not allow it, and we are going to have to learn to live much more frugally in the years to come.
I believe you are also quite incorrect about Europe and Japan: those are also growth-oriented economies, albeit we have all fallen on hard times in that regard in recent years.
And while I sometimes seem, to be the resident optimist around these parts, even I know that “unlimited opportunity” is an absurdity. There are always limits to the possible.
As for low birth rates, there are vastly more of us on this Earth than at any time in history. It would take many years of low birth rates (much more than a human lifetime certainly) before population to declined to what it was when I was born. We are in no danger of running out of homo sapiens, or having too few of us.

#14 Comment By T.S.Gay On September 29, 2012 @ 9:42 am

I doubt Brooks has evolved on his bourgeois paternalism as far as our host Rod Dreher. This is in no way a form of “buttering up”. I say it because, yes, Brooks is thinking creatively about solutions that are beyond left or right. But he has not come significantly into a community awareness and the actions needed for it’s implimentation. We need children who have actually lived within a real community. As Rod and Sharon point out, this doesn’t mean church goers or even families….it’s broader. And to think this through, it is going to take the hard work of adults who are willing to sacrifice by their actions in the lives of children. The opposite of coming apart is coming together, and children have to witness it to be able to pass it on. You don’t get that by accident, but by actual structured choices. This is hard to write but true- Rod Dreher’s sister gave him, even in her death, an invaluable witness to life as community.

#15 Comment By Socrates On September 29, 2012 @ 11:08 am

It seems likely this is simply what you eventually get from our system, which I would describe as capitalism/rugged individualism/consumerism.

And that’s a system that is worshiped by the Right, and held in contempt by the Left.

#16 Comment By Socrates On September 29, 2012 @ 11:59 am

“Second: revival of the Hays Office, on a national scale. Robert Bork, in “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”, may have had a point when he stated that a healthy censorship can be useful to a culture. Stopping the glorification of the deranged, the depraved, the actor, the “celebrity” and the athlete may go a ways towards reacquainting the American commoner with Reality and its requirements.”

Oh, right! And who will decide what will be censored? Who will decide what is “healthy”, what is “deranged”, what is “depraved”?

Apparently, Lord Karth and Robert Bork will decide.

Um, no thank you.

Personally, I think Bork’s views are depraved, deranged, and unhealthy. Will that get his books banned?

#17 Comment By Abelard Lindsey On September 29, 2012 @ 1:06 pm

As for low birth rates, there are vastly more of us on this Earth than at any time in history. It would take many years of low birth rates (much more than a human lifetime certainly) before population to declined to what it was when I was born. We are in no danger of running out of homo sapiens, or having too few of us.

I agree. Then again, I’m not the one in here advocating that everyone should have a family. However, most social conservatives seem to have a “pro-natal” orientation and think that more people should have families. My point is that such a pro-natal society absolutely REQUIRES a growth-oriented economy in order to make it worthwhile and attractive for people to have kids. Who the hell wants to raise kids on a limited budget? Such a life really sucks!

In a no-growth economy, its much more fulfilling to make enough money to live cheaply on the beach in some tropical third-world country. Even in a no-growth economy, depending on your career field, you can still save enough money to retire at age 40 PROVIDING you are willing to live a cheap life and not have any kind of overhead (like a family, for example).

Let’s say you guys are correct and growth is off the table for the next few decades. The slacker life-style will become more popular with Americans, just like Japanese and Europeans, and the U.S. fertility rate will drop to 1.2-1.5. U.S. cities will become more “artsy” much like Tokyo and European cities. Lonely-planet style cheap adventure travel will become more popular. Businesses that cater to singles or childless couples with limited budgets will do OK whereas businesses that cater to families or large numbers of upper-middle class will go away. By 2020, the U.S. will resemble Japan and Europe much more socially.

Although I prefer a growth-oriented economy, I personally have no problem with this scenario. I am married, but we have no kids and no intentions of having any. I am in good health (some of this based on DIY medicine) with the expectation that life extension technology will become available in the time that I need it (although, due to FDA regulations, we expect to travel abroad to partake of it). I expect medical tourism to be a huge growth industry, regardless of overall economic growth.

One side effect of this non-growth scenario is that religious belief will decline in the U.S. Its generally people with kids who get religion. Those without kids are generally agnostic or atheistic. Ergo, the fewer people with kids, the fewer people who believe in religion.

My point is that a non-growth economy will be more favorable to the SWPL-types we have in Portland than it would be for the pro-natal types that make up the bulk of the respondents on this blog.

Is this really the kind of society you want to live in?

#18 Comment By Surly On September 29, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

The government has quite a few levers that, if applied strategically, could probably re-impose social order in about a generation.

Ironically, these measures would bring the polarized political parties together since both left and right would be hostile to most of the programs.

Here we go:

Reform public education so that there are clear tracks: vocational, technical and for a select few, college preparatory. The voc/tech tracks would lead to apprenticeships after the end of formal education. The system would be more like the German system, with maybe a concession to American style flexibility that a capable kid would be able to test into a different track during his or her teen years.

Compulsory “domestic education” that starts in middle childhood. The American public school system used to do a great job of this in the early 20th century. Remember home ec? Cooking? Sewing? Wood shop? Machine shop? P.E. with compulsory showers afterwards? Budgeting and personal finance? Those programs were designed to teach kids from poor and immigrant families the things that mainstream middle class kids grew up observing. We need to bring those subjects back into middle and high schools and take them seriously. Even as late as the 1960’s there were fairly demanding sewing classes available at the local high school, and many girls who otherwise didn’t have much social or academic talent learned that they were really good at something.

Bring back work farms and mental hospitals. There are a lot of people who are simply too disordered to live decently. It’s not their fault. Addiction and mental illness are often the core problems. The destitute should be evaluated and if deemed able-bodied, assigned to a highly structured residential/work community. If too physically or mentally ill to function in that environment, they should be committed to a residential treatment or care facility.

Bring back detention for public intoxication, vagrancy, vandalism, etc.

Compulsory military service for every young adult starting at age 18. No deferments. The military should have the authority to forbid personnel to marry or have children during the compulsory service term. (Young women enlisting and then getting knocked up is a pet peeve of mine). Compulsory service has two goals: For children of the middle class and rich, it is to promote lifelong social cohesion. For children of the disordered and dysfunctional: the structure and life skills learned in the US Military have turned a lot of lives around historically—take advantage of that.

Lastly, a system of public employment that will provide basic jobs to the unemployed. This would replace unemployment and welfare. If you lose your private sector job, you apply for benefits and you get a work assignment. Here are some possible jobs that could be funded by the government and given to people who are out of work: Home care assistant, food server in a school or public care facility, janitor/groundskeeper/maintenance worker/security worker in public facilities, road repair, parks maintenance, street cleaning, delivery services, laundry services in public facilities (hospitals, etc), nursing assistants, teaching assistants in classrooms, child care workers, construction, office assistants, receptionists.

All of those are low to medium skill jobs that exist in the public sector that could be reserved for the unemployed.

The last thing would be to bring back “blue laws” and make everything close between Saturday at say 2pm and Sunday at midnight. And I do mean everything: stores, recreation facilities, theaters, restaurants–the whole shebang. If there was nothing to do but hang out at home or go visiting or go to church, maybe people would be happier and healthier.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 29, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

Harlem Children’s Zone may be a suffocatingly patronizing notion, in part, or as applied, but having lived in deteriorating neighborhoods short on cash and jobs, worked at a Boys and Girls Club, routinely ridden my bike through such neighborhoods, and knowing a lot of people who live in such neighborhoods, I know two things about families:

1) There are many hard-working, dedicated, married couples (and single parents) who really want the best for their children and push them (not always successfully) in the right direction, and,

2) There are children whose parents couldn’t care less, consider them a burden, or consider it a point of pride that their kids grow up as clueless, stupid, violent, and emotionally reactive as the previous generation.

Trying to open a better path for the latter group of children is a great idea.

Infringing the parental prerogatives of the former groups is ludicrously patronizing.

A legal framework which protects the liberty of parents to raise their children without excessive government strait-jackets will be taken advantage of by parents in the second group, making it more difficult, though not impossible, to save their children.

#20 Comment By stef On September 29, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

Re: Sharon Astyk’s point about commercialization taking over domestic functions.

Commercialization is a “risk management” strategy. If you follow the commercialized “standard of practice,” you won’t get sued – or in the case of parenting / elder-care, charged with criminal neglect.

Re: cultural censorship, are you commenters serious? Talk about “Republic of Gilead.” Give me a break – reviving “blue laws” and the “Hays Code?”

Why not just shut down the whole internet while you’re at it.

Ronan Ryan, I agree with you totally about the complete moral bankruptcy of the libertarian position mentioned in your link above. There’s a reason the Libertarian Party (as well as general philosophical libertarianism) is largely made up of men – and I would add, men who totally live in Cloud City, with no idea of the reality experienced by most of us.

#21 Comment By JonF On September 29, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

Re: Compulsory military service for every young adult starting at age 18. No deferments.

What? Not even for A) people with children B) people with disabilities or C) people with legitimate religious and moral objections?
No freaking way! I do not want to turn the USA into some sort of neo-Fascist state where the state owns people, body and soul!
That said I could see a program of national service (not necessarily military) for people at graduation. I would not make in complusory, but I would make it rewarding enough (tuition credits? Lump sum payment on completion?) that most people would be attracted to it.

Re: If you lose your private sector job, you apply for benefits and you get a work assignment.

I would suggest that this only apply to the long-term unemployed. I’ve been urging something like this too, but I would keep the initial six month transitional payment system– most laid-off people do find new jobs in that period.

Re: The last thing would be to bring back “blue laws” and make everything close between Saturday at say 2pm and Sunday at midnight. And I do mean everything: stores, recreation facilities, theaters, restaurants–the whole shebang.

No. First off, that was NEVER a universal practice. In many areas businesses opened for a limited schedule– generally Sunday afternoon. My grandmother’s restaurant, for example, was open for people to come in for Sunday dinner after church if they want to treat their wives and others to break from the kitchen– that was in the 30s and 40s (my mother listened to the news on the radio about Pearl Harbor there on Dec 7, 1942). Secondly some businesses do need to remain open: hospitals most obviously, but also power plants, waterworks, morgues and funeral homes, airports, pharmacies, gas stations, etc. Unless everyone is supposed to totally grounded in the cold and dark on Sunday, whether they are Christian or not. I AM Christian and I find that obnoxious! (By the way did you mean 2PM as in Saturday afternoon? Or Sunday 2am? I don’t think even John Calvin or Cotton Mather had an issue with people doing regular business on Saturday.)

#22 Comment By JonF On September 29, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

re: One side effect of this non-growth scenario is that religious belief will decline in the U.S. Its generally people with kids who get religion. Those without kids are generally agnostic or atheistic. Ergo, the fewer people with kids, the fewer people who believe in religion.

That’s an extremely facile analysis, and largely untrue. It might be closer to the mark to note that as people age they have a tendency to become more religious– and since they are more likely to have kids as they get older I think that accounts for the first-glance appearance of people with kids or grandkids being church-goers. Otherwise you have a hard time accounting for people like me, 45, but childless, and a dedicated member of the Orthodox Church.

#23 Comment By Abelard Lindsey On September 30, 2012 @ 1:05 pm


You are definitely an outlier based on my life experience. However, its been my experience that most people into religion have kids and that most childless people are not into religion. Its possible that religious people are motivated to have kids. But its equally plausible that people who have kids become attracted to religion. I think the latter is more common than the former.

Compulsory military service for every young adult starting at age 18.

I am vehemently opposed to any kind of compulsory national service. An argument can be made for militia training and service IF AND ONLY IF you have the kind of localized militia system that Switzerland has. That is, if the purpose is exclusively for military defense and nothing else.

However, I consider any kind of compulsory service for the kind of social engineering purposes as described in this blog. Such compulsion is slavery plain and simple and any form of social engineering is nothing more than fascism. Freedom of association (who I choose to associate with and call my friends) is the most fundamental of all liberties.

This brings up another point. Viewed within this context, social conservatism is as much of a utopian social engineering scheme as the liberal left. Indeed, I’ve come to view social conservatism and liberal-left as mirror images of each other similar to how Nazism and Soviet Communism were very similar to each other (a fact that was fully recognized by Nazi intellectuals during the early 30’s).

#24 Comment By JonF On September 30, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

Abelard Lindsey,

I may be an outlier, but I also know scads of people with kids who never set foot in church. What I do notice in churches is that the age mix skews decidedly older, 20-somethings being rare as hen’s teeth while senior citizens are very common.
Something like this happened, to a extreme extent, in the old Soviet Union where religion was actively discouraged. The Communists would point to churches where no one was under 60 and say “Just a few more years and these churches will be empty and will close.” Except it never happened: years and decades passed and the churches remained full of old people– their numbers continually replenished by a new generation of seniors. That’s not a demographically healthy mix of course, but I think it points to the reality that as people age they begin to reflect on Big Questions and many (granted, not all) will seek the answers in religion. For me that reflection point came early in my life, the result, I hypothesize, of too many visits by the Reaper in my younger life, including a close call with a rare blood malignancy in my 20s. But sooner or later anyone living a normal life span does start having those encounters, and anyone not shallow as a mud puddle will start asking questions of themselves.

Re: Freedom of association (who I choose to associate with and call my friends) is the most fundamental of all liberties.

Actually no: freedom to live is the most fundamental of rights, trumping even liberty and property.

#25 Comment By Abelard Lindsey On September 30, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

The other reason why I appose compulsory national service as social engineering scheme is that it is entirely unnecessary. As I mentioned previously (and one of you agreed with me) the objective metrics of social dysfunction, crime, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy, have all significantly improved. If there was a problem with “social cohesion” today, would not these metrics be significantly worse than 1990? That they are not suggests that society itself is much better today than it was, say, in 1980 or 1990.

Second, kids I encounter today are much more polite than they were 25 years ago. In the 80’s, I thought most kids were smart-asses.

Third, there is evidence to suggest that the most rapid decline in birth rate are occurring among the less educated and lower economic classes. See:


The key quotes:

They noticed a stark difference between race, with the less-educated and Hispanics suffering the largest decline.

But the share of births to non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans with college educations has grown, the company told USA Today.

If true, it sounds to me that whatever social problems that exist, that they are already self-correcting on their own. Let the trend continue and everything will be OK.

Whatever the social problems are, they certainly do not justify any form of compulsory actions on the part of young adults.

#26 Comment By Surly On September 30, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

I SAID that everybody would hate the ideas I put out there, but all of those ideas, in some form or another, were the norms at one point or another in the history of the U.S.

JonF–compulsory military service was almost universal in WWII. Sure the disabled should be exempt, Of course there should be non-combat alternatives for objectors. There are a lot of medical, chaplaincy, counseling, and human support roles in today’s military. And sorry–if you have a kid by the time you are 18 you probably need more than anybody to be in some sort of military structure. I think people with dependents should be drafted and given assignments stateside so that they can meet their pre-existing family obligations.

#27 Comment By JonF On October 1, 2012 @ 6:14 am

Re: compulsory military service was almost universal in WWII.

We are not fighting WWII, we certainly have no need for an even bigger military than the world-spanning colossus we have today, and outright social militarization of the sort you propose, except in situations of extremis, ought be anathema to a free people.

#28 Comment By Abelard Lindsey On October 1, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

compulsory military service was almost universal in WWII.

Sure, and thats because we were (supposedly) fighting implacable enemies that sought to kill and enslave us.

However, you are not proposing mandatory conscription for the purpose of fighting an implacable enemy. Rather, you are proposing such for the mere purpose of social engineering. No social engineering scheme is worth a scintilla of my time and attention, nor that of my kids, if I were to have had them.

freedom to live is the most fundamental of rights, trumping even liberty and property

Certainly true. However, there are certain conservative bioethicists, including some who are Christians, who disagree with this.

Its not clear to me that even if we did face an implacable WWII-like enemy, that a multi-million men military would be necessary to destroy it. The military is robotizing (aerial, sea, and land drones) at a stunning rate. I envision using a MEMS fab to crank out MEMS-based killer microrobots by the millions and use those as “cloud” type of device to wipe out cities or even entire nations. Both the manufacture and the deployment of such devices all done by a crew of less than a hundred people. I’m not going to even talk about biotechnological methods. Million man WWII-style militaries are no longer necessary (or even desirable) to kill large numbers of an enemy. My methods are both faster and more economical.

Mandatory conscription is no longer necessary for ANY reason at all.

#29 Comment By Abelard Lindsey On October 1, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

Speaking of mass conscription to fight tyranny, a discussion of WWII:


WWII ended up creating more. not less tyranny.