The ‘Laissez-Faire Family’

While arguing about fairness and the taxation of dividends makes for better editorials and more entertaining news shows, the way government treats families has far more important consequences for America. Under President Bush's proposed tax plan, the child tax credit, now $600, would immediately be increased to $1,000. The plan had previously been to phase in the increase between 2005 and 2010. The president's proposal also takes aim at the so-called "marriage penalty," under which a married couple pays more income taxes than a cohabiting couple earning the same income -- a travesty in the present law. Married couples' standard deductions would, in fact, be doubled. In addition, the amount of income eligible for the lowest tax bracket would also be doubled. This would eliminate the marriage penalty for most middle-class families. And under the proposal, the 34 million American families with dependent children would receive an estimated average tax cut of $1,475. What's more, the approach taken in the president's plan will benefit both dual-income and single-income households. But the significance of the proposals transcends numbers. As David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values wrote, this proposal recognizes "the reality of the marital bond." It understands that "when two people marry, they cease to be simply two separate individuals. In so many areas of life, including the economic, the two become one." In other words, it's a small step in the direction of recognizing both the nature of marriage and the special status of marriage within our civilization. As economist Jennifer Roback Morse has written, it is precisely this recognition that has been missing from our economic and political debates. Instead, government and policy-makers have adopted what Morse calls a "laissez-faire" view of marriage. In this view, government should be neutral with regard to marriage, family, and children. You see an example of this worldview when Edmund Andrews of the New York Times complained disdainfully that the "big winners" in the Bush proposal are "the Ozzie and Harriets" -- sounds okay to me. But it isn't only liberals who think this way. As Morse tells us, many libertarian economists share similar views. Instead of seeing the love, commitment, and sacrifice that makes family life possible, they see the family through the lens of modern individualism. In this worldview, families are little more than voluntary liaisons between otherwise autonomous individuals. And any two individuals, male or female, will do. Any obligations created by the relationship would be contractual, not moral, in nature. As Morse writes in her book, Love and Economics, this worldview doesn't understand the essential role that families play in creating the kind of society any sane person would want to live in. It's families who teach children the meaning of commitment, attachment, teamwork, and trust. These, in turn, are essential to individual character, as well as self-government and free markets. Jennifer Roback Morse will be a featured speaker at our "Christianity in the Marketplace" worldview conference this April. Please visit our website for more details on the conference -- because as we see in the proposed tax cut, worldviews do matter. For further reading and information: Learn more about the upcoming conference "Christianity in the Marketplace." Download a brochure with registration form (free Adobe Acrobat Reader required). Jennifer Roback Morse, Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work (Spence, 2001). Read more about President Bush's Agenda for Tax Relief. David Blankenhorn, "For Richer, For Poorer," Weekly Standard, 3 February 2003 (reprinted on the website of Institute for American Values). Daniel J. Mitchell, Ph.D., "President Bush's Tax Package: Pro-Growth and Pro-Tax Reform," Heritage Foundation, 8 January 2003. National Review editors, "The Bush Revolution: On Taxes," National Review, 24 February 2003. "The Bush plan: What it means to you," CNN, 8 January 2003.


Chuck Colson


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