Here’s an interesting article, from the right-wing magazine The Weekly Standard, suggesting that the Republican party needs to do more for working-class Republican voters.
Without a youthful population, the costs of supporting retirees are unsustainable, and the innovation and entrepreneurial zeal that make America the world’s economic leader will slowly wither. Yet the decision to raise children continues to be treated as something akin to the decision to buy an expensive automobile–a perfectly fine thing to do, but don’t expect any sympathy or support when you can’t afford a tune-up or an oil change.
I read this going “where have I heard this before?” I mean, this sounded very familiar.
And then I remembered – Nancy Folbre, one of the nation’s leading feminist economists, makes virtually the same argument in The Invisible Heart, except that she calls it “children as pets” rather than “children as expensive automobiles.” Compare the above-quoted paragraph to this paragraph by Folbre:
It is sometimes popular to argue that the decision to raise a child is nothing more than a discretionary form of consumption, like raising a kelpie. Why then, should taxpayers be asked to support it? “You propagate, you pay!” Perfect market-based reasoning. But most pets do not grow up to become taxpayers, workers or citizens. And market goods are subsidised by mothers and fathers who do the non-market work of raising children. Every time you hire a wage earner, or buy a product that was produced by a wage earner, you are benefiting from the altruistic contributions of the parents, other family members, and poorly paid care workers who developed that worker’s capabilities.
Although I’m sure it’s innocent – I doubt the Weekly Standard writers have even heard of Folbre – the similarity is striking, isn’t it? The Standard writers go on to say:
The trouble is that the contemporary workplace demands that women follow the male career track, which assumes a seamless transition from school to full-time employment, and a career path that begins in the early twenties and continues in unbroken ascent until retirement. For many women, this is an appealing model–but many more find themselves losing their best childbearing years to the workplace, and then scrambling to squeeze in a child or two before middle-age arrives.
A better way to approach the division between work and family life might be what sociologist Neil Gilbert calls a “life-course perspective,” with measures that would allow a mother (or father, for that matter) to provide child care full-time for several years before entering, or reentering, the workforce. For instance, the government could offer subsidies to those who provide child care in the home, and pension credits that reflect the economic value of years spent in household labor. Or again, Republicans might consider offering tuition credits for years spent rearing children, which could be exchanged for post-graduate or vocational education. These would be modeled on veterans’ benefits–and that would be entirely appropriate. Both military service and parenthood are crucial to the country’s long-term survival. It’s about time we recognize that fact.
Nothing there that feminist economists like Folbre haven’t been suggesting for years. (The military service analogy is another one Folbre has made, by the way.) If this were standard Republican thinking, there’d be many more Republican feminists.
Frankly, I’d love it if the Republicans would co-op more feminist ideas (Bitch PhD has posted another example – creating structures to enable young single parents to combine raising children with going to college). I’m all about policy, not party – if the Republicans want to put some good feminist ideas into action, then good for them.