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Social Issues Are Small-Government Issues

Ronald Reagan once said,

“If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”

In many ways this is true. Conservatives believe in and promote limited centralized government and personal liberty. However, as libertarian thought has crept into conservatism more and more, so have some of its less noble and less socially beneficial aspects – individualism and antipathy toward social issues common to traditional authentic conservatism. Some within conservatism’s ranks are now arguing we should abandon most of if not all of the social issues we have strived to promote for generations. Instead, we should just focus on freedom and economic issues – smaller government, lower taxes, and balanced budgets. What this fails to recognize is that social issues are economic issues.

Small government requires strong families; liberty demands a healthy society.

Over the last few decades the poverty rate has remained about the same. This, despite billions being spent to eradicate poverty. Why has LBJ’s War on Poverty failed so disastrously? Partisans will tell you it’s because of too high taxes or too low taxes, or globalism and free trade, or perhaps technology is to blame. But when you dig into the poverty numbers you find that there’s much more to the story. This isn’t a political issue. It’s a family issue.

Every single demographic group in America has seen its poverty rate decrease. So why hasn’t the overall rate decreased as well? Because single-parent households have the highest rate of poverty, and those households have increased in number exponentially, pushing the rate higher despite all the economic gains the country has seen since the ’70s.

Today, a full 40 percent of children are born to unmarried parents, a staggering number. That number balloons to over 50 percent of children born to women under 30 and to 70 percent for African-American children.

There are serious consequences to this erosion of the family. Children born to single-parent households are less likely to be achievers in school or the workplace. Tragically, boys raised by single parents are twice as likely to end up in jail or prison, and girls whose father is absent early on in their childhood are about five times more likely to get pregnant as a teenager than girls whose fathers are present throughout childhood. Even girls whose father is absent only later on in childhood remain about three times more likely to experience teen pregnancy.

But the increase in the rate of children born to unwed parents isn’t just because there are more single moms out there. It’s that more and more couples are choosing not to get married but go ahead and have children anyway. This is one of the new family structures that many in the media and society have told us is fine, and even beneficial, for society. But the facts say otherwise. On average, cohabiting relationships are more fragile than their married counterparts. Half of unmarried couples that have children split up by the time the child is five years old. Many of those parents go on to have other relationships and children in those new relationships. This instability harms kids’ cognitive and social development and has long lasting negative impacts on their futures.

But it’s not just instability that has negative impacts on these children. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse are significantly more prevalent in homes where a mother is living with an unrelated boyfriend than they are in homes with married parents. The disintegration of the family has created a situation where millions of unmarried parents are splitting up and raising children in risk-prone environments, creating countless negative influences to struggle with as they grow. Many don’t overcome it.

Family matters more than race or education when it comes to growing up and achieving prosperity.

In a speech given at a Sutherland Institute dinner, Princeton professor Robert George said, “The family, based upon the marital commitment of husband and wife, is the original and best department of health education and welfare. No government alternative can match it.”

Not surprisingly, as the family has come under attack, government programs have grown in response. Our economy requires good citizens to function properly, and with the weakening of the single greatest citizen creator – the family – the departments of health, education and welfare have grown enormous.

The political and economic consequences have been either rising tax burdens to pay for these family-replacing programs, or perhaps even more pernicious, funding them through debt, saddling these children not only with a fractured family and society, but with trillions in debt payments to boot.

Responsible citizens will not heed calls to set aside social issues, whether those voices come from the left or the right. For every major policy issue is deeply affected by social issues.

Dig Deeper:

Princeton-Brookings Study: Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited

National Institute of Health-funded study on impact on girls of father’s absence

World Congress of Families: Brad Wilcox

American Enterprise Institute: Inequality

Sutherland Institute Annual Dinner: Robert P George

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