In his latest economic left turn, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has embraced a watered-down version of one of Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals and promised a child care plan that would mandate six weeks of government-paid maternity leave while using public funds to subsidize home childcare.
While the proposal has already drawn praise from some voices on the Right, it belies that the Republican nominee is playing with some dangerous myths.
The first is the myth that, “we need to help people” (as Trump said when he embraced a federal increase in the minimum wage). This new form of government intervention buys into the same myth that has already beset so many other vital sectors of our economy. However, as my colleague Maria Jeffrey points out, “When the federal government gets financially involved in an industry (health care, student loans, etc.) prices increase as a result of government subsidies.”
This myth of the government being able to “fix” things and “help people” by overstepping its bounds has been a major driving force behind the politics of the American Left since the Progressive Era.
Basically, all that forcibly redistributed wealth means that the market can artificially tolerate higher costs for goods and services. Eventually, this creates a sort of market addiction wherein only the privileged can afford to use a service without government assistance. Don’t believe me? Think about what’s happened to things medical bills or college tuition since the government decided to step in and “help.”
This is what Thomas Sowell calls policy based on self-congratulation, wherein “the Left always has to be morally one up” and the belief that “problems exist because others are not as wise or as virtuous” as those who wish to “help” via government force. According to his 1996 book “Vision of the Anointed,” every statist crusade of the past century has had a similar set of elements at its core: Assertions that society is on the verge of some disaster; a belief that only government can save society from said disaster; a loathing disregard of counter arguments or dissent, on the grounds that such positions are mean-spirited or uninformed; and willful ignorance of the disastrous outcomes of said policies, typically while blaming failure on the efforts of those mean, stupid dissidents we discussed earlier.
After all, “you have to help people.”
And, like with most other bad policy ideas, we can see how this myth is already playing out in Europe. Next week, Italy will celebrate “Fertility Day,” an annual observance in which Rome desperately tries to reverse the nation’s dismally low birthrate. That is much to the frustration of some Italian women, according to a story at the New York Times, which says the chief problem that many women in the country cite is a lack of government handouts, rather than a lack of desire to have kids. “The government encourages us to have babies, and then the main welfare system in Italy is still the grandparents,” journalist, and mother of two, Vittoria Iacovella tells the newspaper.
The problem here is that what Iacovella describes is the state of affairs for every single generation of mankind in recorded history before the creation of the modern welfare state somewhere in the 19th century.
But if we’re in the mindset that we need government welfare in order to reproduce, let’s look elsewhere at European welfare states that Big Government doesn’t necessarily translate to “helping families.”
This myth might also be popular in the United States, since our low birthrate is also a “national emergency,” according to a recent article at The Week. But the problem with buying into the myth that Trump and Senora Iacovella espouse here is that it overlooks the reality that the best form of government family assistance, like with anything else, is to get out of its way before it makes too much of a mess of things.
There’s another myth afoot here — the one that children are burdens that require too much effort to raise. How is this even comprehensible? If one recent case study is any indication, the myth doesn’t really hold up. As Conservative Review’s Chris Pandolfo points out, a recent attempt in Australia to show teenage girls just how “burdensome” children really are by having them take care of robotic babies actually resulted in an increase in live births among the women in question.
However, Italy’s far from alone. The rest of Europe’s birthrates are also dismal. The birthrate on the European continent is barely enough to replace the current population, according to CIA and World Bank data, per The Telegraph. So yes, some Italian women may be holding off having kids because of financial reasons, but social welfare programs don’t seem to be doing much for the birthrate in Germany or Denmark, either.
We’re, more or less, richer and more better off than we’ve ever been, yet we can’t financially pull off what people have been doing for millennia? That’s incomprehensible. Human beings have been starting families for millennia without state actors forcibly redistributing wealth to correct the problems they’ve created.
The irony of the situation is that those who go to government to look for therapeutic answers to the struggles faced by American families are also usually the first to decry higher birthrates in countries as an excuse to force the very things — contraception, abortion — on them with, what Pope Francis has called, ideological colonization. What we really mean when we say this is that we wish to pursue children ... but we don’t want that in any way to hamper the standard of living to which we’ve become accustomed.
Yes, there are policies that can help families, but those — like the ones that spur economic growth — focus more on getting the government out, rather than expanding government intrusion therein. What about removing licensure obstacles that would allow mothers and fathers to start their own businesses, determine their own hours, and set their own wages in accordance with prevailing market wages, as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah (A, 100%) proposed? Rather than tackle questions like these, the Trump child care plan embraces the idea that the best solution is getting government more involved in family matters.
This myth of the government being able to “fix” things and “help people” by overstepping its bounds has been a major driving force behind the politics of the American Left since the Progressive Era. Now it seems that the Trump camp is attempting to harness some of its power to surge during one of Hillary Clinton’s worst weeks of the campaign. This attempt may very well help the Republican candidate among those who still think Big Government is the answer. But all it does in the long term is promise even more of those problems with an ever-increasing public cost.
But don’t worry, Big Government will still be around to “help people” with those problems, too.
Nate Madden is a Staff Writer for Conservative Review, focusing on religious freedom, jihadism, and the judiciary. He previously served as the Director of Policy Relations for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. A Publius Fellow, John Jay Fellow, Citadel Parliamentary Fellow and National Journalism Center alumnus, Nate’s writing has previously appeared in several religious and news publications. Follow him @NateMadden_IV.