There is an excellent New York Times piece on how the wealthy in the United States continue to marry, but everyone else is really doing their best to avoid the whole thing. It’s dated July 14, 2012, written by Jason DeParle and entitled Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do’.
In my earlier articles on saving marriage, I argue that marriage is first and foremost an economic institution. To be sure, there are other parameters involved, but by and large, people marry when there is an economic advantage to being married. They don’t marry when there would be an economic disadvantage.
Since World War II, women have more and more become equals in the world of work with men. There remains a glass ceiling for pay and benefits, but it’s a rare profession anymore that you don’t see lots of women. In fact, women are now being allowed by the military to participate in combat. I’m pretty sure that most of us agree women are as capable and competent as men in any employment field.
Because of this trend, women have become so prevalent in the American workforce, that some of the fields long thought to be exclusive bastions of men, are now worried about being over feminized. Among them, my own chosen profession, the practice of law.
I’m not one of those who worry about this trend. When I first started practice back in the early ’80s, the entire field was dominated by a bunch of men who defined each other’s standing and success by how many cases we “won.” Nowadays there’s a trend towards actually solving problems. I’ve got to say, this trend is way overdue, and as far as I’m concerned, a welcome change. My own theory is, men tend to be competitive. Women tend to be nurturers and relationship builders. Hence, when it comes to solving human problems, we have different approaches. If trial by sword were still allowed, men would be all about that. I say, welcome all you nurturers and relationship builders.
But there are large societal changes that result from women being fully equal to men. The most important of them is that women no longer need a man to provide economic support. What this means, is, women are going to marry if their economic circumstances can be enhanced. Otherwise, forget it.
This creates a real problem for men who are not viable economic mates. And equally real problems for women who want to marry, but cannot find a man who enhances their economic position. In other words, women are having a harder and harder time finding a man worthy of marrying.
This doesn’t seem to be a dramatic shift in perspective for women. Instead, we are seeing a decrease in the marriage rate in all advanced nations because of economic policies set at the national level.
The heyday of marriage was in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. At that particular moment in history, there were fewer women in the workforce, fewer women with equal education to men, and far more important, a man without a college education could earn enough to support an entire family on a single wage. In other words, there were a whole lot of marriageable men because the national economic policy supported a strong middle class.
That all changed in the 1980s when we as a nation decided to give the top 1% of the wealthy all of the economic advantages in our national system. Derided as Reaganomics, Trickle Down Theory, and Voodoo Economics, we made a conscientious decision during the Reagan administration to adopt a supply side economic policy, which since has come to include lowering taxes and keeping interest rates at rock bottom. Sometime after he left office, Reagan was recreated into a mythical economic god. So much so, that the economic ideologies of the mythical Reagan have become a religion among a significant portion of the American electorate.
The results have been completely foreseeable, and disastrous. Where we find ourselves at the end of thirty years of this economic experiment is in a financial slump we may not be able to climb out of. And if we manage to heat up the economy again, there will be another bubble, and another disaster, this next time almost certain to drive us into a 1930′s type depression. Why? Because the Fed has no tricks left in its basket to shore up the economy. The federal government is in debt and can’t borrow any more to take the necessary steps to bring us out of the mess, and as a whole, we are now a debtor nation. We have lived off from debt for so long, and interest rates have been low for so long, that no one has anything saved for the next rainy day.
As a nation we have decided that we want a consumer economy. Our reasoning is, a consumer economy is the best way to put everyone to work. It’s the best way for each of us to achieve the American Dream, and for our families to live comfortably.
When Henry Ford was setting up his car factories, he made it a rule to pay his employees well. The reason was simple. He wanted them to be able to afford to buy his cars.
The middle class took a few years after Henry Ford to fully create itself, but by the 1960s it was a reality for most. There remained inequality based on age, sex, race, national origin, things like that, but for white male America, most could earn enough to buy a house, car, furniture, take a vacation, pay medical bills, plan for retirement, and support a wife and kids. Much of the credit belongs to unions.
Since the 1980′s there has been an attack on unions. Why? Because there’s more profit to be made without them. True enough. There’s also been an increasing tendency to move factories and companies providing services to countries where wages are a fraction of what they are in the States, and just coincidentally no one objects to pollution, or you working the children in your factory 20 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Without high paying middle classs jobs, single wage earner households have been disappearing in the United States. To maintain their economic standing, married couples are each working multiple low paying jobs, often times leaving their children at home to be baby sat by the TV or computer. Unsupervised, their children are more likely to get into trouble, run loose on the streets, even join gangs.
The elections of 2010 saw a particularly fanatical breed of supply side disciples elected to office. Like both the real and mythical Reagan, they know that they have figured out the only viable economic system possible. And so they refuse to negotiate or compromise on pretty much everything. Because of this, state and federal governments are unable to do the work of governing. When they have a majority, these fanatics pass laws to completely do away with union activity, to gut economic support for disadvantaged citizens, to eliminate anything that doesn’t agree with their ideology. At a time when our economic woes are being caused by the disappearance of the American middle class, the very people who are needed to purchase goods and services in a consumer economy, the Tea Party brand of Republicans are laying off government employees (who have till that time been receiving middle class wages), and gutting public union activity so that the remaining employees have no chance of earning enough to support a family on.
The irony is that, if asked, the vast majority of all Republicans, and especially the more extreme Tea Party adherents, would say unequivocally that they are in favor of marriage, of families, of children being born in homes where there is a married father and mother. And yet, the very economic policies that are at the front of their ideology, are the things that are destroying the American family. Fewer and fewer women marry. More and more children are being raised by single parents in poverty. And this trend will not reverse until the inequality in our economic system is reversed.
As the 2012 presidential election approaches, neither candidate really excites me. I would like to have seen the Republicans run Jon Huntsman. As governor of Utah he avoided ideology. Whenever there was a problem to solve, he gathered all the players together, figured out what the exact problem was, and together they came up with the best solution. Even in one of the most radically red states in the nation, Jon enjoyed an approval rating of 80%.
From what I can see, it’s taken Obama four years, but he’s finally starting to understand what the problem is. The United States needs to re-grow its middle class. On the other hand, I don’t think Romney’s caught on. But Romney does achieve whatever he sets out to do. Which makes him the worst bet by far. Because from what I can understand, he fully intends to take the radical right ideology to the next level. I’m not sure he’ll be satisfied till the top 1% of Americans own 95% of the wealth. And he’s shown no concern whatsoever for anyone below the top 1%. He’s good. He’ll do what he sets out to do. That should frighten the other 99% of us to death.
If I had the ear of either candidate, what I would tell them is that the supply side policies which both Bush and Obama have used in an attempt to get us out of our economic woes have been a predictable failure. What’s needed are jobs for the 99% of Americans who do not enjoy independent wealth. The jobs need to pay decent wages. In fact, there ought to be a law that no matter what legislation is being considered, we ask ourselves what the potential impact on middle class jobs and wages is. And until the private sector begins hiring, the federal and state governments across the nation should fill the void. FDR understood this back in the ’30s. He gave actual jobs to the unemployed. Once they have a paycheck, they can buy goods and services produced by the private sector. That will trigger new hiring in the private sector. Those new hires will buy more goods and services. Eventually the private sector will need the employees the federal and state government put to work. At that point, we can cut them loose, no longer need to provide government jobs for them.
I would also raise the federal interest rates significantly. While there are sectors in our economy that make it look like inflation is not a worry, it’s roaring out of control. In 2008 I was paying forty-nine cents a pound for apples. Yesterday I paid almost five times that amount. The plus side to raising interest rates is that more people will begin saving. We can start the slow process of returning to a saving nation.
Of course, the radical supply side folks will argue that higher interest rates will kill employment. The theory being that right now employers are hiring because it doesn’t cost them anything to borrow money.
I’ve personally started and ran my share businesses. Around ten in all, depending on how one counts. Some were successful. Some not so. Not a single time did I ever make a decision to hire someone because interest rates were low. Businesses hire people when they can sell goods and services. That’s it. What we need are more people with middle class wages buying more goods and services. An economy based on borrowing and debt is what caused the great recession. It’s not a preferred way of doing business. And the longer we continue our zero interest rate policy at the Fed, the higher the inflation rate, not to mention the less resources we have to do those things that will actually get us out of the economic mess we’re in.
The misguided attempts at the federal and state levels to fix the economy have resulted in the single largest transfer of tax dollars to the already extremely wealthy in the history of our nation. Perhaps in the history of the world. And as we all know, the added money in the pockets of the captains of supply side economics has not resulted in anything trickling down to the rest of us. Why is that?
The current lending rate from the Fed runs most days close to zero. If I’m allowed to borrow that money, the expectation is I’ll have less overhead, and be more likely to hire people. But as we’ve seen, the sole factor determining whether to hire is an increased demand for goods and services. Instead of hiring, I’ve now got a billion dollars, or whatever I’ve just borrowed, absolutely interest free, to do whatever I want with. In the current economy, I’m not going to gamble it on the stock market. If I lost, I would have to dig up the money somewhere to repay it. Nor am I going to lend it to regular folk to buy cars and houses. They have a habit of going under in an economic system that kills the middle class.
What I do with the money, is, I buy federal paper. It’s known to be the single safest investment in the world. And it might not pay as high as if I hit the jackpot on the stock market, but it’s absolutely positively secure.
Which means that whatever the interest for federal paper is, we are literally transferring that money to the already extremely wealthy, free of any need on their part to do anything short of showing up to collect it.
If we want regular folk and small business to be able to borrow to purchase new homes, cars, appliances, send their kids to school, whatever, we should start with a federal bank that loans out that money directly to them. If the private sector is going to simply get a free ride, it’s better to make an end run ourselves, we the people, and get the money to where it will actually do good.
We have a real need to reverse the damage done in the last 30 years. If Romney’s latest trip to Poland is any indication, he doesn’t understand his own economic tools all that well. He praised Poland’s economy as something very close to a Republican Utopia. But Poland gives women $300 for each baby they have, $600 if the woman is poor. Poland fully funds state university education. This is something that would greatly help rebuild our own country, but which Romney opposes. Poland guarantees health care to every one of its citizens, something Romney also opposes. Poland has had growth in its economy. That’s the main reason Romney was there for a photo op. But the growth in Poland flows from subsidies out of the European Union. Not really a free enterprise solution. The total government expenditure as a percentage of GDP in Poland is 44%. In the United States its 41%. If Poland were a candidate running in the 2012 U.S. presidential race, Romney would long ago have tagged him socialist.
Obama seems to be beginning to understand some of the principles that will set us on a long term recovery. At least he seems to understand the most important one. We need a strong middle class. We need it to turn our economy around. But as important, we need it if we really want two parent families to marry and raise children. Middle class economic prosperity is an absolute prerequisite to the modern woman finding a marriageable man.
Written by Waine Riches