Archive for June, 2009

Fathers: Heroes to Kids and Taxpayers

My five-year-old introduced me to his Vacation Bible School teacher last week as “the best sports player in the world.”

Over the weekend, my three-year-old requested I build him a pirate ship in the backyard.

As a friend left our house not long ago, the five-year-old observed, “Dad, you’re stronger than Cliff.” And the last time we were on a full-length basketball court, he asked me to shoot a basket from one end to the other. A nothin’-but-net no-brainer to a kid whose dad can do anything.

God gives dads kids to build their egos. God gives kids dads to be their heroes. Without such heroes, kids are profoundly disadvantaged. So is society.

Last year, the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) studied the effects of fatherless-ness. Drs. Steven Nock at the University of Virginia and Christopher Einolf at DePaul University noted that:

• 34 percent of children live absent their biological fathers

• 23 percent of children live in single-mother families compared to 8 percent in 1960

• 40 percent of single-mother families live in poverty; less than 10 percent of father-present families do

• The federal government spends at least $99.8 billion per year supporting father-absent homes

The indirect costs of father absenteeism are less calculable but no less identifiable: stress and anger from divorce and abandonment; mental and behavioral health issues; higher likelihood of alcohol and drug use, teen pregnancy and criminal misconduct; gender identity confusion; lower educational attainment and wages; etc.

The obvious public policy position is to promote and strengthen child-bearing marriages. On balance, father-present families produce more net contributors to our country and its treasury.

Here are some ways to begin rebuilding the fatherhood foundation:

1. End value-free education. Don’t give kids a condom and an abstinence brochure and say, “happy choosing.” Articulate that their futures will be more stable, profitable and healthful if they choose a “mate” wisely and commit to him or her for life. Admit that venereal diseases expose the folly of indiscriminant sexuality.

2. Rescind the sexual revolution that skyrocketed divorce rates and disillusioned an innocent generation. Couples couldn’t simply flip the fidelity switch after engaging with multiple pre-marital partners. Sexual appetites do not make standards meaningless. Standards give meaning to those appetites.

3. Clean up the airwaves and sight waves. For example, let the FCC curb Letterman’s sexually explicit joking about Gov. Palin’s 14-year-old daughter. Calvin Klein’s billboard portraying young people in a sexually explicit act should hit similar decency code roadblocks.

Critics will say such ideas encroach on free speech. However, free speech that exploits the young and promotes sexual chaos is hardly free. As the NFI study reveals, it is actually quite costly.

Sotomayor: A Justice for All?

President Obama has nominated a George H. W. Bush-appointee to the United States Supreme Court. Sounds like a win for conservatives until one remembers whence retiring left-leaning Justice David Souter came: the appointment of George H. W. Bush.

The president has called Sonia Sotomayor a woman of empathy. Critics have called her quota queen and reverse racist.

Judgment shall be reserved until more is known about Judge Sotomayor. Nevertheless, it is timely to ask, “What is the appropriate role of a Supreme Court justice?”

Justices wear black robes for the same reason referees wear black and white stripes (or gray in the NBA): neutrality. They don’t choose sides. They make calls according to the rules in the book.

Judges sit on “the bench.” They are not franchise players. Hardly activists, they are behind-the-scenes actors in our national play. Better yet, they are unassuming stagehands, dressed in black, unseen to the average onlooker, yet positioning the set for the next act of our unfolding freedom drama.

Backstage, of course, hardly means inconsequential. The masterful separation of powers upon which our government is built elevates the court to equal consequence.

Nevertheless, the court’s consequence should be case-by-case in matters of isolated conflict and dispute. The court should leave the widespread rulemaking to the legislators in colorful suits and ties. The audience voted them on stage.

Justices have the antithesis of term limits. They receive lifetime appointments so they can rule without concern for short-term political whims or the retaliatory consequences of their judgments.

Ironically, they are often placed in office by the most recent political wind and their decisions have immediate and wide-reaching consequences. Contrary to the Constitutional crafters’ design, they are sometimes appointed to “represent” constituencies.

Only the Obama administration knows what role Ms. Sotomayor’s race and gender played in her nomination. Superficialities aside, she may have been the best person for the job. She also may have been the Hispanic female most aligned to President Obama’s vision for the country.

Should Republicans forego questioning her nomination for fear of losing Hispanic votes? Did African Americans stop voting for Democrats after they challenged Clarence Thomas’ nomination in 1992? Did whites not vote for Mr. Obama after he voted against Chief Justice John Roberts’ nomination?

At the time, then-Senator Obama stated that he preferred someone with the ability “to understand what it’s like to be poor or African American or gay or disabled.” The disability Americans need most in a Supreme Court justice: blindness.

Is Capitalism Broken?

While one all-American institution (Chevrolet) is bankrupt, I happily report that three others are alive and well: motherhood (my wife recently singlehandedly cared for our three children while I attended a two-week graduate school class), apple pie (had a Tootie Pie lately?) and, believe it or not, capitalism.

The United States economy has about-faced since October 2007 (when the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a record 14,186), not because capitalism and free markets don’t work. It has reversed because they do.

Up to that point, certain businesses were generating returns without adding value (e.g., sub-prime mortgage lenders, packagers, securitizers, etc.). They sold their wares to a greater fool, but only for a time. The music eventually stopped. Capitalism would not allow those businesses to capitalize on valueless assets forever.

Earlier this week, General Motors (GM) faced the same music. GM went bankrupt and dropped, for the first time in 83 years, from the stock market’s list of the 30 most prominent companies. Capitalism would not allow GM to capitalize on a business model riddled with inherent flaws such as unsustainable union contracts.

No amount of government finagling can stop the stopping of such music. Within the last 18 months, officials have orchestrated marriages of certain businesses and pumped billions of taxpayer dollars in others.

Still, the U.S. economy, as represented by the New York Stock Exchange, has lost 37 percent of its value.

GM’s demise reminds us of the futility of government intervention against the steady hand of free market enterprise.

GM didn’t fail because it couldn’t make quality products. It failed because it couldn’t sell its quality products at a price high enough to meet its obligations. Capitalism exposed this inadequacy and stopped the bleeding, albeit through a painful process.

Centrally planned and state-run economic systems would not have saved GM from this pain. They would have allowed such inefficiencies to continue for years at collective economic costs more painful than what the GM empire is experiencing now.

One word should remind us of the criticality of the free market system to our national prosperity. One word epitomizes what happens when a government controls a market. Buckle your seatbelts and hang on for the ride. Here’s the word: Amtrak, that marvel of American ingenuity and utility.

Hopefully, GM won’t go the way of Amtrak. Hopefully, capitalism won’t go the way of GM.

It would be sad to lose the latter all-American institution. It would be devastating to lose the former.

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