My latest article on what I learned in Walter Williams’ class published at Oklahoma’s free-market think tank, The Oklahoma Council of public affairs here.
When I stepped into a Ph.D. microeconomics class at George Mason University at the age of 23, I knew little about what lay in store for me. The professor, Dr. Walter Williams, was unfamiliar to me. I had never read any of his syndicated columns and had never heard him on the radio when he guest-hosted Rush Limbaugh’s show.
With wide-ranging discussions ranging from the minimum wage to the precepts of libertarian thought, Dr. Williams’ class exposed this young student to those economic and political ideas that are the cornerstones of liberty, dramatically reshaping my worldview over time.
Some of the most interesting discussions occurred when Dr. Williams would share personal stories with us. Somehow, his stories turned what might be a dull graphical presentation of the minimum wage into a fascinating historical narrative that vividly drew a picture of why the minimum wage wasn’t the great policy innovation it was purported to be.
His minimum-wage observations were rooted in his experiences in the North Philadelphia housing project where he grew up. He talked about the well-kept subsidized housing where most of the households were married, unlike his mom. Additionally, the majority of mothers and fathers worked full time.
In his autobiography, Up from the Projects, he states: “In those days, the Richard Allen administration office would periodically send someone to make inspection visits to all apartments to ensure cleanliness and good repair. Graffiti and wanton property destruction were unthinkable. The closest thing to graffiti was the use of chalk to draw blocks on the pavement to play hopscotch.”
He described the thriving business community next to the housing project where the proprietors were both Jewish and black. Most striking were all the jobs he talked about having as a boy. A thriving business community meant jobs for any young person willing and able to work.
Enter: the minimum wage. Dr. Williams described the minimum wage as a tool that eradicated opportunities for young, willing workers like him. This outcome is especially egregious for those growing up in the inner cities that don’t have access to the best schools. They need the experience a job allows. However, when an employer is forced to pay $7.25, he will discriminate and hire the better-educated white worker over the inner-city black or Hispanic worker. What happens to those who would have been willing to work for a wage below the minimum? Unfortunately, these missed employment opportunities have left us with generations of poor, unemployed Americans trapped in a cycle of hopelessness.
Another lesson that stood out was a story about a woman who knocked on Dr. Williams’ door at his Pennsylvania home and asked if he was registered to vote. He said he didn’t vote. She said that was a shame—everyone should vote. What followed was a classic Williams reply: “As soon as everyone else stops voting, I’ll start voting. Then, my vote will count.”
Another vivid memory from his class involves the time I swiftly transcribed his words onto paper and then suddenly screeched my pen to a halt as I re-read what I had just wrote: “education departments are the cesspools at all universities.” Having no idea what that meant, I looked up to survey the reaction of my fellow classmates. This was one of the first times I had really looked around the classroom. I think it was the third class of the semester. We were seated in a U-shaped configuration.
I remember seeing this guy across the room with his arms crossed, leaning back in his chair as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I immediately thought, “I need to get to know that guy—he must be the smartest guy in class.” We talked after class, and it turned out that the main reason he applied to George Mason’s Ph.D. economics program was that he had grown up reading Dr. Williams’ columns and listening to him on Rush. So, for him, sitting in Williams’ class was like listening to his favorite radio show. That guy eventually became my husband. Longtime Perspective readers might recognize the name: OCPA research fellow Scott Moody.
One of the things I admire most about Dr. Williams is his boldness. He is unafraid to speak the truth despite the onslaught of criticism that follows. For that example, I will always be grateful. He was also an unknowing matchmaker—for which I am also grateful.
OCPA research fellow Wendy P. Warcholik (Ph.D., George Mason University) formerly served as an economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, and was the chief forecasting economist for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services. She is a co-creator (with J. Scott Moody) of the Tax Foundation’s popular “State Business Tax Climate Index.”
This just makes sense. More about women paying attention to family–in the WSJ. There are consequences for not having as many kids as WWI and WWII generations as well as outsourcing our domestic duties for the kids we do have. Most people think the WW2 generation was one of our greatest generations–doesn’t that perception have something to do with their attitudes about family ?
Women have a finite amount of time and must choose how to allocate that time. With 75% percent of women now in the workforce, it is clear that women are choosing to allocate their time to their professional life instead of raising children. So, why is that a problem ?
Unfortunately, there are now too few productive young people (working) to support those over 65. This is a huge problem sometimes referred to as Demographic Winter. When boomers were children, the average number of children per family was 4. Now that families are defined differently, we must look at the number of children per woman which is now 2.06 per woman (fertility rate). However, the number of children per all families is .90. From a public policy perspective, this drop in demand for children is clearly troubling.
Read across all American Catholic Churches this past Palm Sunday, look what Jesus had to say about women and fertility. Just like the popular bumper sticker
No Farms–No Food we have
No People–No Human Race because women make little people.
From Luke 22:14—23:56
As they led him away
they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian,
who was coming in from the country;
and after laying the cross on him,
they made him carry it behind Jesus.
A large crowd of people followed Jesus,
including many women who mourned and lamented him.
Jesus turned to them and said,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me;
weep instead for yourselves and for your children
for indeed, the days are coming when people will say,
‘Blessed are the barren,
the wombs that never bore
and the breasts that never nursed.’
At that time people will say to the mountains,
‘Fall upon us!’
and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’
for if these things are done when the wood is green
what will happen when it is dry?”
The educational establishment is one of the major drivers behind the frequency with which government comes and asks for more of our earnings and the increasing number of laws and regulations which erode our freedoms.
We all know that increases in educational performance cannot be attributed to just increases in educational spending. The data shows that we’ve reached the point of decreasing returns in the U.S. when it comes to education such that for every additional dollar spent on education, we are seeing decreases in performance in many geographic areas. We all know where the good schools are–in the affluent neighborhoods where other factors in addition to money make a difference in students’ lives (like intact families, college-educated parents, etc.).
No one likes to say no to the “old” or to “children.” So, our first problem is voters feel warm and fuzzy about voting for spending increases for the so-called” educational benefit of our children despite even plummeting performance.
Second–aside from educators–who always claim that they’ve squeezed every penny out of the budget this year–parents wiht children in the schools can’t say no to more school spending (literally, that was the quote in my local newspaper from our superintendent when asked about his $600k increase in the budget).
A parent is a voter. No parent with children in the school wants to vote against a nicer school, more teachers, etc . A for-profit company would not keep dumping money into an entity that performs so poorly. So, my question is, why do U.S. conservatives keep propping up a failing educational system ?
If we truly want to preserve our liberty and not keep giving government more and more of our tax dollars and our freedom, shouldn’t we pull our children out of this failing system ? What are conservatives afraid of ? Is the reliance on the public school at all cost the necessary evil to perpetuate the two-income family (mom and dad working outside the home). I’m sure this will anger many but it seems logical to me.
It is true that marriage is on the decline. With the divorce rate approaching the 60% mark and married couples having less than two children, it is pretty clear that The Economist’s title “The Fraying Knot” rings true. However, The Economist, which is skeptical of all things traditional, goes on to present robust evidence that the institution of marriage creates stable family structure.
Even Democrats like Bill Clinton and Daniel Patrick Moynahan (Democrat Senator from NY) have pushed for programs that promote marriage. In 1965, Moynahan proposed emergency federal intervention inthe establishment of a stable Negro family structure; he justified the intervention by the high out-of-wedlock birthrate among blacks. The 1996 Welfare Reform Act that Bill Clinton signed into law called marriage “an essential institution of a successful society which promotes the interests of children.
One type of program that The Economist (January 12th through 18th issue, p. 27-28) seems to laud for its results is that of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) which helps couples recognize the benefits to marriage. OMI, started in 1999, has served 315,000 people and is the largest and longest running initiative of its kind.
Many churches sponsor initiatives like OMI but are unable to reach their target audience because they don’t attend church. OMI is able to reach beyond the church-going population into those demographic clusters that most need its help. More cities and communities need these type of initiatives to dig deep into the community. As The Economist recognizes:
you don’t see the same pattern of long unmarried relationships you see in Scandinavia, France or Britain…in the United States, marriage is how we do stable families (Andrew Cherlin, sociologist at Johns Hopkins University).
In closing, here is some food for thought… if marriage creates stable families in America, does it also follow that a stable family structure throughout America’s past helped make the U.S. the wealthiest country in the world? And, would it also follow that because marriage is on the decline today, the U.S. is approaching federal budget insolvency ? Get married and stay married–it works.
As I start out 2013, I think back to some of the key moments in my life that have shaped my world view. One such moment was the time a relative (a couple years younger than me) mentioned that I was known as the “throwaway child” in her household.
Needless to say, this tidbit my relative shared wasn’t helpful at the time and I wished she had kept it to herself. However, as the years went on and I had my own children, the image of the “throwaway child” was a robust reminder of how grateful I was for the opportunity to work hard and achieve based on my own merit–only in America (at least prior to 2008). My achievements allowed me to rise from the self-doubt that emanated from my parent’s lack of affection and care.
I always believed that once I was no longer directly affected by my parents’ poor choices, I could reap the benefits of my own choices and perhaps be free of the drama that plagued my parents’ lives. I am a conservative today because my parents were not. Without any guidance, I simply made the opposite choices they did and have enjoyed different results. Simple math.
If you’re a throwaway child, you too can triumph in marriage and child rearing, however, it will probably require adhering to traditional beliefs. If you’re a conservative then you’re most likely a Republican. However, that relationship is definitely changing.
There are many in the Republican establishment echoing the insults of Democrats who call traditional values “tinfoil hat” issues. These establishment Republicans need us tinfoil hat people if they’re going to win elections (Mitt Romney lost because the tinfoil hats didn’t show up).
To sum up, the data doesn’t lie: overall, if you just stay married and don’t divorce, you’ll be wealthier and healthier than those who bail on their marriage and kids.
Isn’t it bad enough that the current federal tax code is full of provisions that penalize married couples with a “marriage penalty?” Now, to add insult to injury, Obamacare (the recently enacted federal healthcare scheme) will also have its “marriage penalty:”
The latest unintended consequence of President Obama’s health care law could be a lower marriage rate, according to the staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committee recently released a study claiming a marriage penalty within Obama’s law could lead to fewer marriages once the law is implemented . . .
The marriage penalty is a result of how Obama’s law allocates tax credits for purchasing health insurance. According to the committee staff, based on estimates from the Joint Taxation Committee, “married couples will receive only 14 percent of the PPACA’s tax credits. At most, only two million married couples (out of nearly 60 million married couples) are projected to benefit from the health insurance tax credit in any year through 2021.”
“Obamacare introduces a substantial new marriage penalty into the tax code. Over time, PPACA’s marriage penalty will directly cause fewer individuals to marry,” the report found . . .
Another factor driving PPACA’s marriage penalty is the interpretation of the law denying premium subsidies to a worker’s family if the worker’s employer offers “affordable” insurance for self-only health insurance coverage. Under regulations recently proposed by HHS, as long as an employer offers self-only insurance coverage that is less than 9.5 percent of household income, the family does not qualify for tax credits, regardless of how much a family policy would cost.
According to the report, these aspects of PPACA strongly favor single individuals over those who are married.
I think this government study is being overly generous by calling this an “unintended consequence” of Obamacare. I think you have to really wonder if there are folks in the federal government who don’t like marriage . . .
Recently I’ve been trying to catch-up on the backlog of The Economist magazines that have been accumulating on my bedside table. As I perused the magazines, I came across this article titled “Land of Wasted Talent.” The article starts off simple enough:
Unlike an earthquake, a demographic disaster does not strike without warning. Japan’s population of 127m is predicted to fall to 90m by 2050. As recently as 1990, working-age Japanese outnumbered children and the elderly by seven to three. By 2050 the ratio will be one to one. As Japan grows old and feeble, where will its companies find dynamic, energetic workers?
But then things get weird. The obvious answer to me was — have more children . . . right? Well, no. The answer, according to The Economist, is to throw more women into the workforce. Huh, say what?
I’m sorry, but where is the connection between having more women working and fixing Japan’s demographic disaster? The lack of internal logic like this article is one reason why I have a backlog of Economist magazines.
Frankly, the magazine’s quality of writing seems to be going downhill in pursuit of ideological purity (of a general leftist slant, it is a British magazine afterall). As such, I feel less compelled to read it on a regular basis. And if I see more anti-family articles like this one, maybe I’ll save myself a few bucks and cancel it altogether.
Isn’t it strange that when you talk with a young, recently married couple that one economic reason for finally tying the knot is that it costs less for two people to share a home, furniture, etc. than it does for two separate people. So, why is it you never hear people talking about getting a divorce discuss how much more expensive it is going to be to bust up their home. Well, it turns out that the damage done to the economy extends far beyond simple living arrangements.
A new study by Henry Potrykus, Patrick Fagan, Robert Schwarzwalder titled “Our Fiscal Crisis: We Cannont Tax, Spend, and Borrow Enough to Substitute for Marriage” explores the economic costs of the breakdown of the family:
Three facts shape our on-going fiscal crisis: Government revenues come from the taxation of our economy. Our economic growth is and will continue to be a fraction of that of the pre-1960′s era because of the breakdown in marriage. All the while, more citizens are pushed into dependency on this government, again because of marriage breakdown.
This slowdown in economic growth coupled with the increased numbers of dependent citizens makes closing the deficit impossible for President Obama or anyone else who uses the present welfare state as the economic model to be sustained. It cannot be. This reality arises from two facts: 1) We have proportionately fewer children 2) Up to 20 percent of these children are unequipped to compete in the modern economy because of a lack of essential skills formed within the intact married family . . .
Because larger families are a greater contribution to the economy than smaller families, U.S. family planning policies have undermined the U.S. economy. The sensible economic policy is to grow intact, stable married families instead of favoring sexual unions that are not child-centered.
- A sane government would work to reverse all laws, policies and programs that undermine fertile marriage such as no fault-divorce, abortion, education formation of high-school students in extra-marital sexual intercourse, and family planning services that have resulted in a massive increase in single-parent families, and the loss of well over 50 million workers.
- Tax policies should support rather than penalize marriage and family formation.
The long-range solution to our economic difficulties is to grow intact married families rather than growing government.
You know, there are very practical reasons why marriage is a 4,000 year-old institution. Marriage is not some ideology based on flimsy evidence. There will be a price paid for our flippant attitude toward marriage . . . though I think it will take more than a change in government policies to bring back marriage. People will have to take a long, deep look into their souls and make real changes. Going back to church would be a start.
Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Paola Giuliano have written a fascinating study on the power of the family as an economic unit (pdf). This study adds heft to what I’ve written about in the past about how strong families act as an bulwark against hard economic times. Here is what they have to say:
The structure of family relationships influences economic behavior and attitudes. We define our measure of family ties using individual responses from the World Value Survey regarding the role of the family and the love and respect that children need to have fro their parents for over 70 countries. We show that strong family ties imply more reliance on the family as an economic unit which proves goods and services and less on the market and on the government for social insurance. With strong family ties home production is higher, labor force participation of women and youngsters, and geographic mobility, lower. Families are larger (higher fertility and higher family size) with strong family ties, which is consistent with the idea of the family as an important economic unit. We present evidence on cross country regressions. To assess causality we look at the behavior of second generation immigrants in the US and we employ a variable based on the grammatical rule of pronoun drop as an instrument for family ties. Our results indicate a significant influence of the strength of family ties on economic outcomes . . . people belonging to strong family tie societies appear to be happier and satisfied with their life. [emphasis added]
It is a real tragedy that so many Americans use to understand this simple, but now forgotten, truth.