Politics & Media
Jul 23, 2013, 07:48AM

Family vs. Capitalism

Obamacare for Traditionalists.

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In the U.S., the party of unfettered capitalism and rugged individualism is also the party of traditional values and traditional families. As a result, Americans tend to lump those things together. Capitalism and families for us seem like they have some connection, or at least like they're not opposed to one another.

A recent working paper distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests just how confused the logic linking capitalism and traditional families is. Economists from a range of institutions analyzed the implementation of Obamacare, and concluded that it could lead to 500,000 to 900,000 people choosing to leave their jobs.

The study is based on what happened in Tennessee when the state ended its Medicaid expansion in 2005, and bunches of people suddenly had to get a job in order to get health insurance. According to the study, those who lost coverage in Tennessee, and those who will gain coverage with the affordable care act, are disproportionately single, childless, and just slightly above the poverty line—in other words, not people with families to care for.

Still, you don't need to be all that imaginative to look at the results and figure out that linking health coverage to the job market creates fewer choices for everyone, and that "everyone" includes families. If you're a traditionalist who believes that women should stay at home raising kids, you shouldn't want to connect health care and work, because connecting health care and work means that anyone with a kid has a huge incentive to go to work. Obviously, if you're a two-parent family and the husband has a good job, this isn't an issue—but in bad economic times like now, that's a pretty big if.

The dilemma here isn't new. The welfare Aid to Dependent children program was intended to allow single mothers to stay home with their kids; it was set up, in other words, to enable women in difficult circumstances to fulfill a traditional role. Originally it was directed mostly at white women, and paid African-American women less, on the racist grounds that black families needed less to live on. As blacks began to participate in the program as well, though, the rhetoric around it shifted. Instead of a program designed to help mothers be mothers, it became seen as a program that allowed potential workers to slack off. Racism became the lever to view women in the context of the workforce rather than the family. Capitalism beat out tradition.

Which is what capitalism does, fairly relentlessly. The market isn't about traditional moralities or relationships. On the contrary, it's dedicated to dissolving them. In capitalism, you aren't a mother or a father or a husband or a wife or, for that matter, a child. You're a worker. Your primary relationship is to production; your primary moral imperative is to work. That's why, traditionally, people who have cared about tradition—like, say, T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesterton or Pat Buchanan—have been leery of the advances of capitalism. Often that leeriness has been queasily linked and routed through traditional anti-Semitism and nativism. But that doesn't change the fact that the central insight is sound. If you want traditional communities centered on faith and family, you can't be worshipping the market and treating people like individuals whose main commitment is to the grindstone rather than the hearth.

One of the main ways the U.S. has enforced the grindstone in recent decades is by making health care dependent on employment. If you want to be protected against medical disaster, or you want your family to be protected from medical disaster, you need to work, and work at a particular kind of full-time job. Among other things, this means that parents who might want to trade income for time spent with their children and families have many fewer options for doing so.

A lot of the anger among conservatives in the U.S. is, appropriately enough, conservative. People are pissed because their lives are in upheaval, family dynamics are changing, and everything seems unstable. But the party that speaks for that unrest also advocates for more and more capitalism, which thrives on churn and chaos and the wage-lowering energy of worker anxiety. To the extent that it provides protection from the exigencies of the market, Obamacare, then, is more conservative than its conservative critics.   

  • Again Noah, you give no back up to your argument. Did it ever occur to you that traditionalism is alive and well in this country? Perhaps it is old traditions giving way to new ones in a new country? Ever hear of the Super bowl? Thanksgiving?; 4th of July? Girl Scouts? Bring your daughter to work day? For that matter, ever hear of the settlers where every member of the family worked? And what does paying for healthcare have to do with these changing traditions and capitalism? U.S. citizens always had to pay for healthcare. Always had to find some way to afford it or go without. One thing that has definitely changed, is the citizens sense of entitlement. The current liberal thought that you so often repeat without support, is that all are entitled to the same quality of healthcare. Why is this the case now and never before in the history of mankind? How does one distribute limited resources with abundant need? Perhaps you should focus on this change and how it is changing the family structure and values of our times. It may be good change, you just have never said and supported why that would be. One more thing, instead of name calling, how about a mature and thoughtful response this time. You are better than your latest diatribe.

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  • I'll provide mature and thoughtful responses as soon as you stop being an abusive little troll. I'm not holding my breath on that, though.

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  • Noah, for a writer, you have a shockingly small stable of insults. Why not try to answer at least one question about your position, instead of hurling the troll charge? Do you really think that name calling is the appropriate response to my previous message? Did capitalism limit your ability to respond with maturity and professionalism? Precisely which family traditions did capitalism kill? Women working out of the home exists in most economic theories. For that matter, how does it qualify as a tradition or traditional value in the first place? How are these questions offensive to you other than making you think about what you wrote?

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  • Noah - well written piece. Understandably people are upset about the state of their lives. Humans fear change - at least most of us...a few of us thrive on it once we realize it is a growth in experience and comprehension giving new prospective. Concerning "obamacare". The best selling point for that piece of legislation is in terms of the insurance industry - insurance becomes cheaper when one is employed for two reasons - 12) the "group" spreads the risk over more people and can absorb any potential loss caused by one or two people. The larger the group, the lower the risk to insurer. AHA or ACA spreads the risk through the state's pool of uninsured making it the largest pool, surpassing even many corporations keeping costs low and assuring quality care (right now, I will pay $300 less than COBRA costs and $200 less than the employee participation I paid while employed in the world's largest title company - over 33.000 employee group based on the preliminary figures in my state) 2) the death of denial for pre-existing conditions...will provide coverage for everything except elective procedures, dental and vision (unless it is surgical) and still creates lower costs for insurance. Affordable health care assures better working environments, less cost to employers for lost work hours and lowered production (even if people work while ill, they are not functioning well and cannot produce at a level consistent with any job plus they threaten the health of everyone around them). Personally, I feel universal health care would be better but since we have the Party of No Way in the way, this is the best alternative... Even with the corrupt capitalist BS promoted by the top 1% and their minority supporters, any sane person with 2 active brain cells should be able to see a positive effect that will stabilize (once they get past the talking points yelled without real thought).

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