Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Uncle Sam, marriage counselor

A certified Obama-free posting™ !

The Soviet Union only tried to plan every detail of the economy. As far as I know, it never planned people's marriages. That's an idea left to U.S. federal and state governments, if certain "experts" have their way.


According to the Seattle Times:
Divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing cost U.S. taxpayers more than $112 billion a year, according to a study commissioned by four groups advocating more government action to bolster marriages. Sponsors say the study is the first of its kind and hope it will prompt lawmakers to invest more money in programs aimed at strengthening marriages. …

The study was conducted by Georgia State University economist Ben Scafidi. His work was sponsored by four groups who consider themselves part of a nationwide "marriage movement" — the New York-based Institute for American Values, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, Families Northwest of Redmond, and the Georgia Family Council, an ally of the conservative ministry Focus on the Family.
The "movement" is nanny state social engineering if this is any example of what it's about. Do these outfits imagine that government agencies, managed perhaps along the lines of the Motor Vehicles Bureau, the Department of Substance Abuse Prevention, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement can save a marriage that's shipping water?
"The study documents for the first time that divorce and unwed childbearing — besides being bad for children — are costing taxpayers a ton of money," said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values. "We keep hearing this from state legislators, 'Explain to me why this is any of my business? Aren't these private matters?' " Blankenhorn said. "Take a look at these numbers and tell us if you still have any doubt."
Okay, Mr. Blankenhorn, I'll explain to you why I still have a lot of doubt.

In the first place, not everything can be valued on the basis of money or numbers. There are certain principles, one of which is the limitation on the power of the government over people's private lives, that are more valuable than any supposed tax saving. Yes, I know, we already allow the government to sentence people to psychotherapy and marriage counseling. Both may do some good — but even therapists are generally skeptical about what they can offer to unwilling clients.


Regardless, it is a bad practice. At most, the government should make such interventions available, not require people to participate. Governments are there to protect lives and property and perform public services, not private attitude adjustments.

Second, what this "marriage movement" seems to be advocating — I surmise from that dreaded word programs — goes beyond trying to help individual couples patch things up. They want to throw out a dragnet, pull in segments of the population, and "educate" them. That means more bureaucracies to run the programs, and more state and federal employees to do the educating. Where would this new Marriage Corps be recruited from? Why, I'm sure there are many organizations, like, oh, I don't know, maybe the Institute for American Values or Focus on the Family, who could supply educators.


One other thing. Government programs and costs to the taxpayer go together even better than love and marriage. A hundred and twelve billion a year? Why, a few government programs can burn through that much faster than an African tribal chief can get divorced.



YIH said...

This is something I've thought about for some time; This whole idea that government(s) can 'fix' people.
Regardless of the ideology behind it.
Currently the hot debate in the FL legislature is over ''abstinence-based'' or ''STD prevention-based'' sex ed programs in FL public schools.
IMHO, it should be NEITHER. Not 'condoms' nor 'promise keepers'. Just butt out of the whole thing.
You may remember during the Reagan years the promotion of the D.A.R.E. program. Complete with Nancy's enthuiastic support of it.
About 10 years ago many schools quit on it for the simple reason that while it was a good concept, and didn't do any harm, it didn't do any good either.
I doubt it made any difference to the stoner girl at the end of this post.

Rick Darby said...


Yes, exactly. I could have gone on and on, but respecting my readers' time, left it where I did. The biggest downside of government taking on the reform of individuals, even if you call it education, is that it promotes what psychologists call learned helplessness in the population.

People are led to believe that they have psychological or behavioral problems that are too much for them, and that only an outside agency — namely, a government program or organization — can fix for them.

I'm not denying that individuals can sometimes use help from counselors or psychotherapists; I myself have benefited from counseling. But the motivation, and the bulk of the work, has to come from the individual.

In the case of marital problems, both partners have to want very much to sort things out, and contribute most of the effort. If they feel they need a third party, there are many counselors who will accept them as clients for a moderate or income-adjusted fee.

I frankly would not put much faith in the competence of a marriage counselor whose paycheck comes from the state or U.S. Treasury. Most talented counselors couldn't put up with the paperwork and supervision by bureaucrat managers. If there must be government-run agencies, they should be not engage in the "outreach" (i.e., empire building) activities typical of institutions. But in the real world, fat chance of that.

Anonymous said...

Good example of how error compounds error. We have lots of divorce because the government did away with the inherited (and religiously) derived idea of divorce only for extreme fault. So we had an explosion of divorce. Now it wants to intervene again. It's like the urban planners of the 50s. First they bulldozed neighborhoods, then they needed more cops, then jobs disappeared and they needed jobs programs. If they'd avoided intervention in the first place the community would have dealt with things in their typical, organic, if somewhat inefficient and disorganized fashion.

Rick Darby said...


A very insightful observation. Commonly, as you point out, a new office/agency/outreach program is generated to alleviate the fallout from the original government initiative.

No government program can ever be acknowledged as a failure; regardless of lack of results, or bad results, it either (a) carries on in a dim recess of a monumental building, occasionally emitting studies and other paper that become part of the background, like the clicks and groans in old plumbing; or (b) more typically, announces that further study is needed and that the effort has been hampered by severe underfunding.

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