Actually… it’s the family, stupid!

The older I get, the more I’ve come to distrust the prevailing wisdom of the age. Not this or that age, but any age. Such wisdom, in my experience, has a consistently poor track record in the long sojourn of human history. Indeed, we are brilliant at being short-sighted.

When I was in middle school, the “in” style among my fashion-forward peers was to wear designer blue jeans tight, and rolled up at the ankles. I thought it looked foolish, as well as uncomfortable. I preferred my jeans straight-legged with a more relaxed fit. I still do.

A couple years later (in high school) the trend reversed. All of a sudden loose jeans were the hot item. Those I didn’t mind so much. After all, at least they were relatively comfortable. But in the years since my wastrel youth, I’ve seen it ebb and flow from each extreme. One season the kids are sagging, the next they’re wearing “skinny jeans.” The ephemeral quality of fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we are apt to change it every few months.

These are the things I think about when I observe how the “wisdom” of our day would have us cast away the very foundations upon which our civilization rests — all the while lamenting the sorry state we are in when the consequences abide upon us. As the Good Book says: if you spit in the air, it lands on your face. Okay, so the Good Book doesn’t actually say that, but it’s still an accurate analogy.

The culture is an absolute mess. Our society is producing fewer of the people best capable of hard work: namely, committed married men with dependents. As the retreat from marriage continues at a breakneck pace, there are fewer and fewer of these men, resulting in a slowly, permanently decelerating economy.

When men get married, their sense of responsibility and drive to provide gives them the incentive to work much harder. This translates into an increase in their productivity and income.

As our society retreats from marriage, we get more single men (who work the least), more cohabiting men (who work less than married men), and more divorced men (who fall between the singles and cohabitaters). All this is visible in the changing work patterns of our country, resulting in real economic consequences.

Fifty years ago family life and the economy were quite different here. Around 1960 (just prior to the “sexual revolution”), the United States was the world’s heavyweight champion in economic productivity and earnings. Today we can still pack a wallop, but we are certainly moving down to the middleweight class. Divorce alone has reduced the annual growth rate of the economy by at least one sixth since the mid-1980s, which with its compounding effect is by now quite significant.

No matter which way you look at it—through the lens of income, savings, or poverty—marriage is the great engine of the economy, with every household a building block that either contributes or takes away, millions of times over. Put all these families together, and we have the team that runs the American economy.

Of course this is without bringing morality or objective ethics into the conversation — which (if you are a regular reader of mine) you know where I stand on that.

Nevertheless, ideas have consequences. Though many progressive pundits are quick to screech, “It’s the economy, stupid!” whenever social issues are brought into the political dialogue, a cursory glance at the regression our nation has made in recent years — despite enormous leaps in technology and a globally expanding market — bears this out. The intact married family (with or without children) is the household that generates the productive work, income, and savings that purchase houses, food, cars, and clothing, uses energy, sends children to school, and saves for college and weddings.

Much like the farmer who neglects the basics, the peoples of Spain, Italy, and Greece have given up on traditional family life as the core of their culture and their future, and have vied with each other over the last few decades for the lowest fertility rate in the world. Spoiler alert: it’s going to get worse for them.

If we want a vibrant economy, we must grow the best of families that — we hope — in turn produces the best of children, nourished in the fertile soil of a strong home. Just as the farmer who wants the best crops pays close attention to the timing of the seasons, and sows the best seed in the best soil he can.

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