When you see an article in The New York Times about marriage you can pretty much guess what it’s going to say, but a recent piece called, “Can Marriage Cure Poverty?” almost had me fooled into thinking they might have something positive to say about marriage. It even starts out quoting Marco Rubio and admits what he is saying about the consequences of the breakdown of marriage are in fact true. NEWS ALERT: NEW YORK TIMES ADMITS MARCO RUBIO HAS SOMETHING GOOD TO SAY! Drudge should pick it up.
So according to the author the breakdown of marriage leads to all sorts of bad stuff, including poverty. She even gets it right that government can’t do anything to fix marriage, and that Washington has “wasted hundreds of millions of dollars” over the years to try to do something about this mess. The health, or not, of Marriage in America is primarily a cultural issue rather than a policy issue. Policy may be able to help around the edges, but it can’t change people’s attitudes, values or choices.
But alas the article which starts so well ends up in liberal/progressive boilerplate. Marriage doesn’t have the ability to get rid of poverty because poverty makes marriage if not impossible than very difficult:
But even if Washington got rid of all its dumb and ineffective policies to promote marriage and implemented a number of smart ones to do so, it might all be for naught. Some researchers think that marriage — or a lack thereof — is not the real problem facing poor parents; being poor is. “It isn’t that having a lasting and successful marriage is a cure for living in poverty,” says Kristi Williams of Ohio State University. “Living in poverty is a barrier to having a lasting and successful marriage.”
I wonder how poor people in all of history happened to marry and stay married. It must have been “good jobs and growing wages,” as the piece states because that is supposedly what is needed today to change the marriage culture. This is typical liberal materialist reductionism, or what they call positive liberty, i.e. having the resources and power to fulfill one’s potential, as opposed to negative liberty, which means freedom from external constraint. It is not what is inside a person, the content of their character as Martin Luther King said, that determines their status in life or their opportunities, but their environment, their material conditions.
Usually the state is enlisted by liberals to create the conditions of positive liberty, thus the huge transfers of wealth since the Great Depression, and especially since President Johnson’s “war on poverty.” Yet it is hard for liberals to argue that all that money taken from one segment of the population and given to another has actually helped alleviate poverty. To one degree it almost certainly has helped because those defined as poor in America are relatively well off compared to the poor in the rest of the world or in the rest of history. Yet money can’t shape a culture, although it can certainly harm it because of perverse incentives offered by government programs.
I guess we could say this is a sort of progress at The New York Times, where economic growth as opposed to government programs is promoted as a requirement for a healthy society. Unfortunately liberal policies destroy economic growth. The current progressive occupant of the White House has always desired that America be more like a European welfare state, and he’s doing a good job making that happen. Sclerotic growth, high unemployment, low workforce participation rate, unsustainable government debt, exploding government regulation, aging population; we’ve got it all!
Actually, poverty has nothing to do with the breakdown of marriage, or the inability of marriages to work. It has everything to do with our cultural and intellectual elites who have denigrated the very idea of monogamous marriage and the nuclear family as an ideal. That was so last century, or at least so 1950s. In fact these same elites for hundreds of years have chafed against the restraints that marriage places upon our freedom, and more accurately our license. In many of their minds and many of their cultural products (Hollywood anyone?) the traditional, patriarchal nuclear family is often portrayed as a cesspool of dysfunction. If you think “good jobs and growing wages” can overcome such detrimental cultural influences, I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you.