The return of the zombie to family values ​​- 07/27/2021 – Paul Krugman

For a few weeks in 1992, politics in the United States focused on “family values”.

President George Bush Sr. faced problems in his re-election campaign due to a weak economy and growing inequality. So his vice president, Dan Quayle, tried to change the subject by attacking Murphy Brown, a character in a comedy television series, who decides to have a baby when he’s not married.

The incident occurred to me when I read recent statements by JD Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and now Republican candidate for the Ohio Senate.

Vance pointed out that some prominent Democrats were childless and attacked the “childless left”. He also praised the policy of Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, whose government subsidizes couples who have children, and asked: “Why can’t we do this here?

As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel, who was in attendance, pointed out, it was odd that Vance didn’t mention the recently approved Joe Biden Family Tax Credit, which will make a huge difference to the many poor families in poverty. children.

It was also interesting that Vance praised Hungary over other European countries that have adopted strong birth promotion policies. France, in particular, offers great incentives for families with children and has one of the highest birth rates among advanced countries.

So why did Vance decide to choose to praise a repressive, autocratic government with a strong penchant for white nationalism? The question is rhetorical.

I also can’t help but mention that when I tweeted about some of these issues a few weeks ago, focusing my assertions on the weak economic case for birth incentive policies, Vance’s mature and thoughtful response was to call me “a weird old cat.”

But there is a more important aspect to this. The whole question of focusing on “family values” – as opposed to concrete policies that help families – has turned out to be an epic intellectual fiasco.

Of course, Dan Quayle was not an intellectual. But his attack on the series came amid a sustained argument from conservative thinkers like Gertrude Himmelfarb that the decline of traditional values, especially traditional family structures, portended widespread social collapse.

The end of the Victorian virtues, according to many, would lead to a future of rampant crime and chaos. Society, however, refused to crumble.

It is true that the proportion of single mothers has started to increase. I will talk about this later. But the spike in anxiety over family values ​​coincided with the start of a huge drop in violent crime.

Big cities, in particular, have become much safer. By the 2010s, the number of homicides in New York had fallen back to 1950s levels. And while someone will be sure to mention the fact, yes, during the pandemic the number of homicides increased, but not the number of homicides. .

No one knows the exact reason, just as no one knows for sure why the number of crimes initially declined. But it’s worth pointing out, however, that other aspects of society also went into disarray during the pandemic.

For example, there has been an increase in the number of fatalities in traffic accidents, even though the mileage traveled by vehicles in the country has decreased significantly. One can assume that forced isolation causes serious social damage, but it has nothing to do with family values.

It should also be noted that the decline of traditional families is even more pronounced in some European countries than here. France, as I said, has been successful in promoting a high birth rate, but most of the children born are daughters of single mothers.

As in the United States, however, there is little indication of social chaos: France’s homicide rate is less than one-seventh that of the American.

Of course, not all went well for American society. We have seen an alarming increase in the number of deaths due to despair, that is, deaths caused by suicide and alcohol and drug abuse. But it is difficult to say that this increase reflects the decline of traditionalist values.

In fact, if we compare the situation by state, of the ten states that score the highest on one of the traditional value indicators, religiosity, seven have above-average deaths from despair.

This is almost certainly a case of correlation rather than causation. It reflects the concentration of desperation in rural areas and small towns where opportunities have disappeared as the economy’s center of gravity has shifted to metropolitan areas where education levels are higher.

Which brings me to my last point: When politicians demand values ​​or attack the personal choices of others, it is often a sign that they cannot or do not want to come up with policies that would actually improve lives. Americans.

The point is, there are a lot of things we can and must do to improve our society. Doing more to help families with children – with financial assistance, better health services, and access to child care – is near or near the top of the list. And the goal, by the way, is not to encourage people to have more children – that decision is up to them – but to improve the lives of children, so that as they grow up they become adults. healthier and more productive.

On the other hand, yelling at the elite about their decisions about their personal lives is not on the list at all. And when that’s all a politician does, it’s a sign of intellectual, and maybe moral, bankruptcy.

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