By Frederick A. Costello
A Review of the Report: Opportunity, Responsibility and Security; A Consensus Plan For Reducing Poverty And Restoring The American Dream
Report published by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and the Brookings Institution
What a laudable undertaking—liberal and conservative think tanks combining to propose ways of overcoming poverty! The authors of the report base their proposals to overcome poverty on three values: opportunity, responsibility, and security. They consider these to be “moral” values, although nowhere do they give a standard for moral values. Proposals are made in three areas: family, education, and work. They want to reduce poverty, reduce dependency on the government, and increase people’s ability to earn their own way and to take responsibility for their own futures. They propose the following public policies:
- To strengthen families in ways that will prepare children for success in education and work:
- Promote a new cultural norm surrounding parenthood and marriage.
- Promote delayed, responsible childbearing.
- Increase access to effective parenting education.
- Help young, less-educated men and women prosper in work and family.
At the end of the report, the authors state that the moral values are best advanced by ensuring that marriage comes before childbearing, that mothers and fathers know the basics of parenting, and that becoming a parent is a deliberate choice.
- To improve education in ways that will better help poor children avail themselves of opportunities for self-advancement:
- Increase public investment in two underfunded stages of education—preschool and postsecondary.
- Educate the whole child to promote social-emotional and character development as well as academic skills.
- Modernize the organization and accountability of education.
- Close resource gaps to reduce education gaps.
At the end of the report, the authors recommend that the government “invest” more in early childhood and postsecondary schooling, educating the “whole child;” reorganize the schools so that teaching is more effective and ties with local communities are stronger; and close resource gaps between schools in low- and high-income communities.
- To improve the quantity and quality of work in ways that will better prepare young people—men as well as women—to assume the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood:
- Improve skills to get well-paying jobs.
- Make work pay more for the less educated.
- Raise work levels among the hard-to-employ, including the poorly educated and those with criminal records.
- Ensure that jobs are available.
At the end of the report, the authors call for improving the skills of low-income Americans through work-based learning, increasing funding and accountability for lower-ranked schools, making work pay through earnings subsidies, increasing the federal minimum wage, and increasing workforce participation by requiring welfare recipients to work.
The authors state that data show that children do better in school and in life and are less likely to live in poverty if they are raised by their biological parents, parents committed to a lifelong marriage. They propose to change the common culture in favor of stable marriages using the techniques that they consider to be successful in the anti-smoking and pro-contraception campaigns. They do not propose any specific aspects of the marriage campaign other than advice by educators and prominent people. Such advice does not have the deterring impact of high prices on cigarettes and the enabling impact of widely distributed free condoms. They propose telling young people that raising kids jointly with the children’s other parent is more likely to lead to positive outcomes than raising a child alone.
They do propose to spend much taxpayer money for families of those who choose to live otherwise: single mothers, absent fathers, divorced parents, cohabiting couples, promiscuous singles, and others.
The authors summarize the solution to the problems with families:
We propose a public interest campaign that would promote stable, two-parent families; policies to increase effective contraception by couples who aren’t ready for children; programs to promote parenting skills among low-income parents; and programs to help young men with low earnings increase their education, employment, and family involvement.
Notice that their arguments against other forms of married life are economic. Children are raised in poverty; therefore, they are insecure, do poorly in school, and have little hope for economic advancement. The authors assume that financial incentives are sufficient to induce good behavior—despite the swindlers on Wall Street. “Become rich,” “It’s nice to be nice,” and “Being nice makes you feel good about yourself” are superficial. Why should anyone live by such clichés?
Reasons based on economics fall far short of reasons based on the natural dignity of human beings. The authors seem to think that sex is primarily for pleasure—independent of marriage and family. The authors strongly support contraception, thereby promoting selfish sex. Apparently, the authors do not see sex as the expression of marital love between a man and a woman totally committed to each other, unselfish and generous to the point of having children not for themselves but for the sake of the children. The authors give many reasons not to have children; none, to have children.
The authors are so enamored with contraception that they ignore safe, natural means of controlling the number of children. Instead of advocating teaching students to control themselves as befitting human beings, they implicitly encourage self indulgence, unmitigated sexual experiences rendered “harmless” by contraception, even remaining childless and therefore, never needing parenting education and never being an absent father. Indeed, the authors give no reason for not being selfish, including the mutual selfishness of partners. Without self control, we surely can expect not only sexual misconduct but also drug usage, mass murders, and suicides. Why not? Who cares, if “it is all about me?” Just as the Soviet Union unsuccessfully tried to do, the authors propose to establish a government-defined secular basis for morality—a job normally under the purview of religion. The Soviet Union failed, despite its coercive techniques. There is no secular substitute for heaven and hell. Prosecution is too easily avoided.
The authors fail to address two key aspects of education. First, consider sex education. Human weakness draws people away from long-term happiness and toward short-term pleasure; therefore, keeping marriage, sex, and child-rearing in proper perspective must be taught at home and in the schools. Present-day family-life education is really education in sex-and-contraception recreational sex. This type of education destroys the dignity of the woman and attacks the deep psychological and spiritual experience possible with marital sexual intercourse. Although teachers may not have been virgins when they married, they should be extolling virginity. They can seek the witness of couples that waited until marriage. They should be teaching how to be a good spouse and a good parent. They take students on field trips to aid the poor, but the ultimate motivation is selfish—feeling good. Selfish children become selfish parents. As the 1960s rebels realized, without heaven or hell, there is no compelling reason for behaving one way or the other if you can get away with the behavior. Those rebels are now formulating government policy and probably, the tenets of the subject report. Other ideas are needed. Without heaven and hell, killing, stealing, lying, sexual deviation, and disrespect for authority are all advantageous if the actor can get away with such acts. As the 1960s rebels knew, you cannot legislate morality.
Second, consider education for life. The authors imply that all human beings are created absolutely equal. They imply that, with proper training, every person can be either an Einstein or a Michael Jordan. There is no allowance for differences in mental ability, as measured, for example, by IQ tests and the SAT. The authors consider only differences in educational opportunities and social-emotional education as being the causes of the performance gap between classes of people. They similarly ignore the relationship between student IQ and parent IQ and the correlation between family income and parent IQ. They skew the data by ignoring IQ as an independent variable.
Although the authors cite the successes of charter schools and private schools relative to public schools, they want the government’s practical monopoly on education to be extended to early childhood and postsecondary education—federal funding directly or indirectly of cradle-through-college education. They ignore the benefits of competition between educational systems. They want the federal subsidies to depend on the performance of students after they graduate—regardless of the IQ of the students and without performance metrics. The authors consider people having a low IQ not as a human as dignified as one with a high IQ but as a human capable of doing the same work as the person with the high IQ, earning the same income.
The authors do call for the use of performance metrics in the evaluation of government programs. They do not call for the evaluation of existing programs but rather, want to add more programs. Head Start has been found to have little or no impact, but the authors do not consider replacing such programs with more effective programs. The authors want especially to add job-training programs–funded by reducing corporate welfare and personal income-tax deductions such as mortgage interest. They do not cite specific corporate welfare, so readers do not know if they are thinking of oil-depletion allowances or wind-energy subsidies. They do not indicate how the proposed job-training programs differ from job-training programs that have been or are being funded by the government.
The authors recognize the dignity associated with work, wanting welfare recipients to work for the welfare they receive such as is necessary for the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit). They want to add a 30-hour-per-week requirement to the EITC. They want more paid leave for family and illness so single mothers would be encouraged to work. They do not consider the source of the funds for the paid leave. The authors give a telling example: a single woman with two children, earning $12,000 per year, who gets $16,000 in welfare benefits. This case inadvertently shows how little incentive she has to work more. The family benefits would decrease if the father lived with the mother, so the welfare program also discourages intact families. The authors propose only to give the father more EITC funds.
The authors want every person to be educated for high-paying jobs—jobs that need college degrees—not allowing for IQ differences and the limited number of high-paying jobs. A better government service would use IRS data to report for each job category the number of jobs, the salaries received, and the rate of growth in each category. Let the students, their parents, and their guidance counselors choose the careers, matching job demands and student ability.
The authors advocate raising the federal minimum wage, but to something less than the $10.10 that President Obama advocates, although they acknowledge that they are unsure of the impact. This advocacy contradicts their call for evidence-based decisions. Their utilitarian mindset convinces them that more people would be lifted out of poverty than would be cast out of a job, the outcasts thereby being driven permanently into the economic safety net—the welfare rolls. They do not want to wait until evidence is obtained from states that raise the minimum wage.
The authors esteem apprenticeships, with state tax credits to offset the loss in productivity when apprentices are added to the staff. They do not mention the importance of teaching the apprentices good work habits, especially for those accustomed to living on welfare. But indeed, apprenticeships have proven effective. They do not discuss the roles of unions, which can, for example, limit job opportunities.
The report suffers from its omitting a compelling goal by which to set standards of behavior; implying that sex is an unbounded recreational activity; expanding of the government monopoly in education; and ignoring IQ as a causative factor in performance in school and work. On the positive side, it advocates work for welfare and apprenticeships.
 Most but not all statements in the report omit “biological”.
 Such data is available at http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000, but it needs to be publicized. The historical values should also be publicized.
 Drexel University’s co-op program has long been successful.