The Unparalleled Influence of Family Structure on Economic Outcomes

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When you follow the breakdown of the moral and economic fiber of society, where do you trace it to?

Since the start of the War on Poverty, one of the most disappointing outcomes baked into social policy has become the disincentives toward maintaining intact families.

The so-called policy "solutions" for helping families have caused a breakdown that cannot be restored with economic proscriptions.

It's an unfortunate truth that has been unfolding in the United States for 50 years, and is described here by social scientist Charles Murray (hear his remarks in full in the video).

Who cares whether it’s nature or nurture, a lot of bad things are hardwired by the time a child reaches adolescence and probably long before that. ...

A young man who has never seen a father get up and go to work every day, even if he doesn't feel like it, has a high risk of reaching his late teens unable to hold a job for more than a few weeks.

It seems to make little difference at that point whether jobs are available or the incentives are right or whether we give a guy a mentor or send him to job readiness workshops. That led me to focus on the breakdown of the family as the root problem we needed to solve, but that produced another source of pessimism. I came to realize that once certain problems start, they take on a life of their own.

The changes in economic incentives may have contributed to the beginning of the problem, but once, well, take out of wedlock births as an example. Once the out-of-wedlock birth started to increase even if it was because of economic incentives the social stigma eroded and soon went away and without the stigma changing the economic incentives wouldn't revive the old norms. ...

I still believed then, as I believe today, that all human beings not clinically disabled have the capacity to be moral agents and are rightly held responsible for their actions, be they praiseworthy or destructive.

But I also came to believe that while everyone has a moral compass, some of those compasses are more susceptible to magnetic storms than others. By the way, that lovely simile is not mine. It’s Ed Crane’s, my buddy, who was president of the Cato Institute and founder of the Cato Institute.

It’s exactly the right way to put it. Moral compasses, yes, more susceptible to magnetic storms, yes. One of the practical advantages of having a good IQ, not a stratospheric IQ, just an OK one, is that it facilitates thinking ahead, seeing what the consequences are down the road. It’s as simple as saying to oneself, 'I’d better not get in a fight with my supervisor because if I lose my job, then ...' and thinking through the consequence versus not saying that to yourself.

One can receive all the financial help in the world, but without a family unit, an understanding of actions and their consequences, or social morés that hold are used to hold one another up to a set of expectations, we can not thrive as a society, Murray says.

We are making life as difficult as possible for people who have a hard time thinking ahead and dealing with complications. Instead we have built up this intricate structure of ambiguous laws and situational ethics that are congenial to people who are good at dealing with ambiguity and complication.

We need to simplify the rules for living a good life as indeed they were once simple.

What do you think of Murray’s commentary? What are some ways to restore family structure?

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