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Why family matters

News truths about relationships good news for social conservatives

November 1, 1998

"Why family matters"

News truths about relationships good news for social conservatives


Many of the disagreements that fuel contemporary politics are not about economic issues, but about the so-called "social issues."

    Social issues embrace a broad spectrum of policies — tax credits for child care, gay rights issues, parental choice in education, pornography, marriage and divorce law, capital punishment, abortion and most recently, the VLT issue.  [Note]

    For social conservatives, the common thread through these diverse policies is the protection of family and the ethic of responsibility.

    For social liberals, the main issue is usually individual liberty framed as "freedom of choice."

    Academics usually weigh in on the liberal side of these controversies, but this is changing.  There is a new body of social science research that recognizes the importance of family in government policy.  The key concepts in this new field of research are "civil society" and "social capital."

    Civil society is the network of voluntary associations that fill the gap between individual citizens and the state.  These associations are voluntary, and have a wide variety of purposes — social, economic, religious, recreational, political, and educational.

    Civil society produces the social connectedness and trust that allows individuals to cooperate for mutual benefit.

    Civil society is important because it produces "social capital."  Social capital is a new expression for an old concept — civic virtue.  At a minimum, it means law-abiding behaviour — respecting the rights of others.  More expansively, it denotes public spiritedness.  Social capital focuses attention on the institutions that generate "the habits of the heart"; that transform the "I" into the "we."

    The most important source of social capital is the family.

    Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam is the leading exponent of this new school.  Putnam's research claims that societies in which civil society is strong enjoy better schools, faster economic development, lower crime and more effective government.  Putnam goes on to argue that American democracy is threatened by the weakening of civil society and declining social capital.

    Putnam's work is complemented by Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan's research on the effects of family breakdown on children.  McLanahan's research shows that children who grow up with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who are raised in a household with both of their biological parents.

    McLanahan's studies found that children from single-parent families are twice as likely to drop out of school; twice as likely to have a child before the age of 20; and twice as likely to be unemployed in their late teens and early twenties.

    This trend holds regardless of family income, educational background, race or whether the resident parent remarries.

    There are also higher correlations with drug and alcohol abuse,    sexually transmitted diseases and criminal behaviour.

    What children from single-parent families lose, according to McLanahan, are parental guidance and attention, as well as equal access to community resources.  She describes this as a deficit of    social capital -- "an asset that is created and maintained by relationships of commitment and trust."  Social capital, McLanahan concludes, can be just as important as financial capital in promoting children's future success.

    While Putnam and McLanahan are Americans, the importance of preserving social capital — and the natural two-parent family — is beginning to find its way into Canadian public policy debate.

    John Richards is a former NDP MP and current professor at Simon Fraser University.

    In his 1998 book, Retooling the Welfare State, Richards repeats the social advantages of two-parent families; the superiority of parental care to commercial daycare for young children; and the dangers of tax policies that subsidize — and thus encourage — divorce.

    Richards findings and recommendations mirror those made by Professor Mark Genuis, Director of the Calgary-based National Foundation for Family Research and Education.  More surprisingly, even the usually liberal editor of the Globe and Mail, William Thorsell, publicly    endorsed most of Richard's policy recommendations.

    These new truths — and really, they are old truths — are good news for social conservatives.

    After years of producing research that helped to weaken civil society, social scientists are finally recognizing the social and economic value of the traditional family and the moral infrastructure that it helps to sustain.

Morton is a political science professor at the U of C and Reform 'senator-in-waiting'.

Letters to the editor should be sent to callet@sunpub.com.

Copyright © 1998, Canoe Limited Partnership.

 My note: VLTs — Video Lottery Terminals — promoted and run by the Alberta Government are all-pervasive in Alberta bars and lounges.  They have proven to be an irresistible lure to compulsive gamblers and are contributing to the destruction of Alberta's families.  Families' finances are being destroyed, people pushed into bankruptcies, and increasingly we see an escalation in embezzlement crimes.  Addicted gamblers, apparently primarily women, are dipping into company and organizational coffers to cover their personal debts that they ran up as a result of their losses incurred at the VLTs.  If any of these women are caught with their hands in the till, no punishment is meted out to them.  I have yet to see a story in the papers that reports that any such woman was sentenced to jail, even though the embezzled sums often run in excess of  $100 thousand.  Restitution is seldom made to the full extent of the embezzled sums and most often amounts to an insignificant fraction of the money stolen.
    It is not a trivial problem.  The total revenues collected by the Alberta Government through its VLT gambling operation are in excess of $2 billion/year (Alberta's population is just over 3 million).  Most of that money is used to cover the costs of the gambling operation.  About $600 million/year remain in the hands of the government, of which a little more than $200 million/year is handed back to some communities, usually with great fanfare and some of it to battered women's shelters — to show how benevolent our government is.  --WHS

Additional Reading:

The protectors of women time and again praise to 'Wessi' (Westie) women the wonderfully complete world of the 'Ossi' (Eastie) women, ever since the end of the GDR, whose all-encompassing children-crèche system secured full-time earning potential and thereby the personal freedom of mothers.

What a full-day program for the children of fully-employed looks like has been thoroughly experienced by the mothers of the former GDR. Marlene, herself a crèche-child and subsequently an educator for child-educatoresses from Potsdam, told it to me.
[Full Story]

— Karin Jäckel
Germany devours its children —
Families today: Exploited and burned out

2001 12 26 (added links to information on daycare)
2003 08 01 (added reference to From Marxism to Feminism: The planned destruction of the American family)
2005 03 28 (added reference to the communist origins of the history of daycare)
2006 03 04 (added link to Feminism for Male College Students)