Right Side: Family Values

Just As We Try To Keep Distance Between The Government And How We Raise Our Own Children, We Must Also Restrain The Reach Of Government Into Private Business


When it comes to mothers, children, the family or puppies, no one wants to be the person who appears to be arguing against them. That's exactly how the moral indignation is framed when one doesn't tow the line on mandated paid family leave and an increase in overtime pay to benefit working parents. Scrooge lives!

It's not that I dislike mothers, children or families at all. I'm heavily involved in a combination of all three. But I do hold great disdain for the word mandate, which is merely a synonym for compulsion. When it's levied by the government for the purpose of helping some, we must understand that it comes at the expense of others, including ourselves if we dare argue its merits.

Here's what we do have. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was the first law Bill Clinton signed when he took office in 1993 (Monica Lewinsky was a mere 20). It provides parents with up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to care for a new child—or a list of other family reasons. But it's limited to employees who work for companies with 50 or more employees, and the employee must have worked for the employer for more than a year to be eligible.

Restrictions aside, here's my case for why employees (specifically moms) should be paid, at least something, when a baby is born: job retention, labor supply and lifetime earnings. Employees who receive paid leave are more likely to stay with the company. This is a big win for employers who don't have to invest money in finding and training new employees. Employees staying in the workforce obviously boost the labor force participation rate, which is good for the economy given that employees pay taxes out of their checks. Also, logic tells us that people who stay in the labor market make more money over their lifetimes, thereby providing more taxable income and a lower chance of needing some type of federal subsidy. Finally, children in higher income homes have a better chance of success later in life.

But just because something is good for some companies, a lot of families and the economy as a whole, in no way makes it the purview of government. If for some reason, say, Misogyny Supplies, Inc. decides they have too many young employees to be able to keep the ship afloat to fund weeks of paid leave, why is that upended by a politician who has no familiarity with that business? Also, who's going to pay for this compulsory plan? Hillary Clinton says she would raise taxes, of course, on high earners who likely don't share Mrs. Clinton's predilection to have one group fund another.

If our undying devotion to the family is so heartfelt, then why stop at 12 weeks? If the entire proposal revolves around getting mom and dad back to work, then who is watching the baby on week 13? Assuming that most children enter kindergarten at age 5, that means we have an obligation for another 248 weeks to provide working families with the help they need. In fact, since 1990 the cost of tuition for daycare has gone up 180 percent (toys, teaching and tenderness are evidently at a premium nowadays). If we are truly dedicated to keeping parents in the workforce by providing them with financial assistance, then let's eliminate the barrier that is expensive childcare. I propose that we offer free childcare and daycare tuition until children are of the age where they can move on to their free schooling, noting that none of this is actually free at all.  

The argument that I have often been given for Uncle Sam laying down the law on paid leave is that people (read: women) shouldn't be penalized for having children. It's amazing that not creating a new entitlement is somehow a penalty. Also, Democrats love Family Planning but balk at planning for family. I've been taken to task for being heartless toward young people who find themselves in an emergency situation. A car accident is an emergency. When two people practice the well-known dance that ends with a well-known product, it's not.  

With that said, as a society we owe it to ourselves to take care of our own, and I do mean this in a collective sense. It is not acceptable to knowingly let children suffer or to terminate employment due to the creation of life—the thing we value most. For that reason, the FMLA was a positive step forward. But just as we try to keep distance between the government and how we raise our own children, we must also restrain the reach of government into private business. Government should not be dictating to employers how they treat employees beyond the laws of discrimination, harassment and OSHA.

Matters of degree matter when it comes to tax dollars. Yet, as soon as the issue of family gets thrown in to the ring of politics, fiscal responsibility takes a backseat to painting one side as Ivan The Terrible and the other as Mother Teresa. It's the same argument for increasing the minimum wage or the recent federal law stipulating that employers must pay employees overtime if they work over 40 hours, even though they're making $47,000. As long as it is framed as "helping families," as it was, employers should evidently be happy to give more. What's funny about that whole policy is that those who made the policy likely worked tirelessly to get where they are today, not trying so much to make a buck but to better themselves. To prove that they could work harder than the next person. That they deserved the promotion, the raise, the acknowledgement. I guess nowadays the early bird catches a more lucrative worm.

There are those among us who will need the government as a backstop. But let's not get to the point where every time we decide to take a swing we count on them to also help us run the bases.

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