book review article


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The War Against Parents

by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West


Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West tell their personal stories, then deliver a mixed bag argument. They make the good point that more should be done to get AWOL fathers involved rather than merely ignoring or excoriating them. The authors point out that subsidies for racehorses are larger than parental economic rights. Racehorses do not provide overall benefit third parties. Third parties gain from parental labors and in the future from the labors of their children.


The authors argue against the view that families and communities are something that just happens.


Public institutions and private institutions depend on each other. Yet those supporting a family with low wage work get rewarded with regressive payroll, state, and local taxes. The median income of young families with children declined from $23,705 in 1970 to $16,219 in 1990 (in 1990 dollars), a 32 percent decrease. Regressive taxes skyrocketed during that period. Payroll taxes are the worst taxes in U.S. history.


Some of this work is socially conservative—that is if social conservatism is defined as setting up a social environment where individuals and families flourish. If social conservatism means spouting empty slogans while engaging in destructive policies, then those parts are not socially conservative. Much of this work, however, consists of ultra-liberal nostrums and is poorly targeted. The authors attack most managers (wrong target). Most managers are not in the top one percent. Managerial work is difficult and has more responsibilities than many union jobs the authors lament losing. Millions of managers earn less than some union employees with cushy jobs.


The authors go too far in excusing deadbeat parents. Relying on polls framed to produce the desired result, the authors lump eight separate issues into false dichotomies. Adoption assistance, head start, daycare, wage subsidies, and longer school years are among many issues worthy of longer study and argument. Nurture assumptions also appear in War.


West and Hewlett deserve credit for offering a lengthy list of prescriptions—the “Parents Bill of Rights.” They deliver, unlike many writers, policy more than bromides. Unfortunately, their prescriptions are not well designed. Their plan, oddly, is too darn regressive. Part of it should be called the single child tax relief plan, or perhaps, the Bill McKibben tax relief plan. They recommend eliminating payroll taxes for “working parents who have children under the age of six.” A two income, one child family earning $130,000 a year, therefore, would gain about 20 thousand dollars in reduced payroll taxes. Parents with three children, and income of 30 thousand dollars, would gain about $4,500 in reduced payroll taxes. Third parties gain more from parents in proportion to the number of children parents have. Three children will provide three times as many benefits to retirees as one child—all other things being equal. The three-child family would also benefit much more from the money because of the declining marginal utility of money. The two-parent family with one child also has the greatest ratio of caregivers to children at 2/1. The three-child family has a 2/3 ratio.


(Payroll taxes are currently 15.3 percent on earned income, meaning work income. Stocks and other non-work income are exempt from payroll taxes. So do incomes above $65,400. Work is the largest source of social benefits, yet it is taxed most. We have more virtue taxes than sin taxes. We should eliminate payroll taxes and replace them with progressive consumption taxes. This would catch almost all income types, including drug dealers and similar shirkers who pay no income taxes of any type. We create vicious spirals. The more the childfree and elites tailor the world to their goals, the more unattractive parenting becomes, adding more power to Faustian adults, making parenting even more difficult.)


The authors' universal paid parental leave recommendation is too expensive and primarily benefits high wage parents. Their prescriptions contain the word free numerous times, but alas, free things have prices.


War, unfortunately, is poorly targeted. Not recommended.


—Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 25, 2009


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