Wedded To The State by Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D.

© 2005 Stephen Baskerville

Reproduced with permission of the author


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Rejected by National Review.

Originally published October 21, 2005 on this article was written some time ago in response to a column last August in National Review Online by Wade Horn, Assistant HHS Secretary. The version Dr. Baskerville submitted to NRO was more mildly worded.


October 21, 2005 — Writing recently in National Review Online, Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), describes the huge social costs of family breakdown and the benefits to children and society of marriage. He also points out that his agency spends $46 billion each year on programs "the need for [which] is either created or exacerbated by the breakup of families and marriages." He rightly argues that we need to address this costly "family breakdown" problem.

In fact, one could look beyond his Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and even Health and Human Services (HHS) and make a similar point about virtually all programs for law enforcement, substance abuse, and school performance.

Indeed, his argument demonstrates more than that the runaway growth in domestic government spending is attributable to family breakdown. It is also an acknowledgement that the federal government and its hangers-on have a clear self-interest in broken families. ACF and the half-trillion dollar HHS generally constitute a massive in-house lobby of social workers, psychotherapists, lawyers and others who are not so candid as Dr. Horn about how they depend upon a steady supply of fatherless and troubled children to justify their huge consumption of tax dollars — dollars that in turn subsidize and increase the number of such children.

The fact that Dr. Horn has a tiger by the tail may explain why, as remedy, he can offer only palliatives in the form of yet another government program, this time state-sponsored psychotherapy: "Through marriage education, healthy conflict-resolution skills can be taught." In what Christina Sommers and Sally Satel have called in their book title, One Nation Under Therapy, does anyone really believe that our multi-billion dollar family crisis is due to a lack of communication workshops and anger-management classes? And do we really want the federal government defining (and potentially re-defining) the terms of marriage?

The smorgasbord of programs Dr. Horn lists is more than a response to broken families; it is a major cause of broken families. Before we initiate new federal programs, we ought to remember the first rule of public policy intervention, which is to first examine the effect of existing programs to see if adjusting them may correct the problem. Could our current public programs and policies be contributing to the family breakdown problem, and, if so, how can we alter them to yield better results?

Dr. Horn provides a good example of how a federal program can be altered to become much more socially productive. Our welfare system used to be a major direct cause of family breakdown or non-formation. We used to pay poor mothers not to marry or work. With welfare reform, we changed that system to allow them to marry and no longer pay them not to work. As he notes, this change in the system has been a huge success. Our welfare rolls have decreased, and child poverty has declined.

Similar political courage will be needed to address the other known public programs and policies that are undermining marriage. These include:

(1) The states have failed, since the 1960's, to treat marriage as a real contract.

Currently anyone who wants out of a marriage can unilaterally end it without penalty. This is not what was intended when marriage laws were changed in the 1970's. "No fault" divorce was to be allowed only when both parties agreed to it. This would have made marriage more like a real contract, with less interference by the state in the matter of its ending. Instead, marriage has become a non-contract, with no protection for those who invest in it.

(2) Paternalistic "family" courts and new laws have seriously undermined fatherhood.

There has long been a huge bias in divorce courts to grant custody of children to mothers. As this bias threatened to diminish, feminists pushed through the < Convert this and post > Violence Against Women Act, which makes it easy for any mother considering divorce to toss the father out of his own home and claim the family assets, including the children, simply by accusing him of domestic violence. No evidence or formal charge is required, and domestic "violence" need not even be violent. Shared parenting provisions would end this winner-take-all lottery.

(3) Federally funded state child support systems set excessive awards and penalize non-payment harshly, even when the circumstances for non-payment are clearly outside the control of the payer.

Child support awards are so high that the children have become a profit center for middle class divorcing moms — an additional financial incentive for them to divorce. As Kimberly Folse and Hugo Varela-Alvarez write in the Journal of Socio-Economics, "Strong enforcement...may... lead to the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood of divorce." Yet in a striking slight-of-hand, disbursements under the "healthy marriage" mantra have actually gone less to counseling than to child support enforcement.

Is it any surprise that divorce in families with children is almost entirely instituted by the moms? But young men have gotten the message and are increasingly avoiding marriage and avoiding having children inside or outside of marriage. These men are scolded for their lack of "commitment" by the National Marriage Project, whose interpretation Dr. Horn is using to formulate policy. But no man in his right mind would start a family today if he understood how the federal government subsidizes the stealing of his children and his own incarceration for an assortment of newfangled gender "crimes" they make it impossible for him not to commit.

Exhorting people to marry is pointless so long as marriage is a bait-and-switch carrying financial rewards for those who break it. People will simply not invest in a worthless investment, no matter how much you preach at them. If marriage was a worthwhile investment, we would see more of it.


Stephen Baskerville is a political scientist and president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children. The views expressed are his own.



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| Families And Marriage Book | Abstract | Family site map | Family index |


| Chapter 1 — Marriage, The Bedrock Of Civilization |

| Next — The Federal Bureau Of Marriage by Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D. |

| Back — Wedded To Marriage by Wade F. Horn |


Added January 25, 2006

Last modified 4/11/15