Bill Black: The AEI and Brookings Sell Marriage as the Solution for Poverty

Yves here. This post by Bill Black merits a serious read for several reasons. First, it shows how a bend-owver-backwards effort to sell conservative values is depicted both as having “progressive” and right wing input, when it doesn’t. Second, it shows the strained effort to tell an updated story of the “undeserving poor”. The reason the poor are poor is not due to a lack of decent-paying jobs and inferior eduction in low-income neighborhoods. Heavens no. It’s all those unmarried woemn…who by implication are slutty or just not willing to subordinate themselves to manly men. This is the worst sort of ham-handed propaganda dressed up as policy thinking.

By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Originally published at New Economic Perspective

This is second article in my series on the AEI and Brookings report on how to fight poverty.  In my first article I dealt with their plan to oppose any material increase in the minimum wage being hyped by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times as a “bipartisan” plan to “champion an increase in the minimum wage.”  Indeed, Michael Strain, an AEI member of the group continues to attack the minimum wage on the AEI web pages after the release of the report.  I explained that the group was chosen to ensure that it was dominated by New Democrats and hard right Republicans who shared a core belief that poverty was caused by the poor choices of poor people, that it was verboten to even discuss how the economic and political system was rigged, and that a “new paternalism” aimed against the poor was essential.  The word “rigged” never appears in the report though it is a dominant feature of any progressive critique of poverty.

I refer to the group as the AEIb to reflect the minimal role of any progressive thought coming from Brookings and the fact that AEI uses Brookings in such efforts to give a fig leaf of “bipartisanship” to endeavors in which the Brookings name is used to give “cover” for the overlapping views of the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party and the far right.  On p. 16, at the start of Chapter 2, the AEIb report highlights this key phrase:

We must establish a set of facts about poverty and economic opportunity that both progressives and conservatives agree are correct and that, taken together, paint an accurate portrait of the conditions that account for the extent of poverty and opportunity in America.

The AEIb did no such thing.  As I explained in the first column, AEIb systematically excluded any authentically progressive critique from the report.  That was inevitable in that a majority of the members were known to share an impassioned hate of progressive views of causes of poverty.  The self-described “liberal” “moderator” of the group thinks “liberal” programs to help the poor inherently create a “moral rot.”  AEIb simply misleads the readers of its report.

We therefore created a working group of top experts on poverty, evenly balanced between progressives and conservatives (and including a few centrists).

Three of the Brookings appointees are, whatever they call themselves, to the right of even New Democrats – the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party that despises progressives.  Two of those three have spent their careers pushing conservative policies for the Republican Party.  A third started with Tony Blair’s “New Labour” party in the UK, which modelled itself on the New Democrats and their opposition to progressive policies.  He then moved to the even more anti-progressive Lib-Dem party when it put the Tories in power through coalition.  The fourth is the moderator that denounces “liberal” programs to help the poor as creating a “moral rot.”  A majority of the Brookings appointees were chosen because they despise progressives.

One of the AEI appointees, Kay Hymowitz is the focus of this article.  She is an ultra-right wing fanatic with an M.A. in English Literature who authored the unintentionally hilarious Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys (2011).  Hymowitz’s theme is that progressives, particularly feminists, are the source of evil that has emasculated men.  The three AEI staffers are hard right zealots on these topics.  That is a solid core of eight members (a majority of AEIb) that detest progressive and progressive policies.  But other appointees share the two key policy views of this anti-progressive core ideology of the AEIb that the only effective way to respond to poverty is to ignore the ways in which the system is rigged and to use the government to force the poor to work much harder.

In this second and final article in this series I discuss the AEIb’s bizarre embrace of pro-marriage propaganda aimed at poor straight women as its priority strategy to fight poverty.  Naturally, Porter is ecstatic that AEIb has decided to “endorse marriage.”  If you are like me you might be disturbed that it took AEIb 14 months working through their (minimal) differences to reach the brave, controversial position that they “endorse marriage.”  I like marriage too, and blueberry pie.  That took me zero time to figure out and three seconds to type.

I explained in my first column that AEIb’s report doesn’t even substantively discuss the minimum wage until p. 46, which is a strange way to “champion” an issue, particularly since it turns out that they actually oppose President Obama’s plan to modestly increase the minimum wage as excessive.

There is no question what the AEIb members actually “champion” – their priority is to for the government to run a propaganda program to advise poor women, particularly blacks, that they should get married.  That is the very first recommendation they chose to make and give pride of place.  One can only picture these poor single women listening to this propaganda smacking themselves on the side of their head in their moment of “V 8” revelation – “I could have had [married] a doctor.”  Yes, that will transform the problems of poor single women.

“Marriage Promotion”

The fact that the entire AEIb group, without a single dissent, favored this inane, insane, and profane fantasy of the perfectibility of the poor through public paternalistic propaganda demonstrates that it either had not a single authentic progressive member, or none with the requisite courage or intellectual honesty.  Marriage promotion is the fantasy of Hymowitz and Lawrence Mead of the AEI, who pines as I explained in my first column to restore “stigma” to single women having children and to end no fault divorce.   Of course, he also admitted in the same interview that marriage promotion was a failure, but why not recommend policies you know are failures but love ideologically?

The AEIb report cannot bring itself to even mention the minimum wage until p. 28, and never makes a declarative statement that “poverty would have been reduced if the minimum wage had been increased.”  But the report discusses “marriage” on its first page of text (p. 5).  And the very first two recommendations on that page are propaganda aimed at poor women.

To strengthen families in ways that will prepare children for success in education and work:

1) Promote a new cultural norm surrounding parenthood and marriage.

2) Promote delayed, responsible childbearing.

Poverty isn’t caused by economics, starting position, or discrimination.  It is caused by “culture.”  The poor embrace a defective “culture.”  The “new paternalism” requires those of us with the superior culture to direct a change in this defective culture.  The AEIb explicitly embraces blaming the poor for being poor.  Indeed, they champion the rehabilitating one the most noxious and discredited concepts in poverty-reduction, the idea that we should only aid the “deserving poor.”  The AEIb even makes that concept more reprehensible by stating that poor people bear the burden of proof of demonstrating that they are deserving by proving that they are “clear[ly]” “overwhelmed by forces beyond their control.”  AEIb then amps up the “blame the poor” game by extending the burden of proving you are part of the deserving poor to proving not only that you are working as hard as it possible to work and that you lead a “responsibl[e]” “family life.”

Family life is a network of mutual responsibilities.  So is work life. So is democratic citizenship. When people fail in their responsibilities, they should shoulder the blame—unless it’s clear that they tried hard to meet their responsibilities but were overwhelmed by forces beyond their control.

The AEIb excludes any discussion of how the system is rigged by the wealthy and the elite frauds.  St. Louis Fed’s economists – who are exceptionally conservative – have documented that it isn’t simply poor minorities who were devastated by the rigged system.

Compared to their less-educated counterparts, typical white and Asian families with four-year college degrees withstood the recent recession much better and have accumulated much more wealth over the longer term. Hispanic and black families headed by someone with a four-year college degree, on the other hand, typically fared significantly worse than Hispanic and black families without college degrees. This was true both during the recent turbulent period (2007-2013) as well as during a two-decade span ending in 2013 (the most recent data available).

Higher education protects wealth, but only among white and Asian families. Another financial benefit of having more education may be its “protective” effect on wealth. Better-educated families often withstand major economic and financial shocks better than those with less education. For example, the median wealth of all families headed by a four-year college graduate declined by 24 percent between 2007 and 2013. The decline among families without a college degree, however, was 48 percent. (Both figures are adjusted for inflation, as are all figures in the balance of this article.)

Median wealth declined by about 72 percent among Hispanic college-grad families versus a decline of only 41 percent among Hispanic families without a college degree. Among blacks, the declines were 60 percent versus 37 percent.

This was obviously critical information for the AEIb to consider and it was available to them well before they completed their work.  It demonstrates that “culture” is a grossly inadequate explanation for what is happening to vast numbers of American workers.  Hispanics and black households headed by college graduates are run by people who are doing what the dominant culture tells them they should be doing about education and employment, often in far more difficult circumstances that the average American.  And they were shredded – their losses in wealth were catastrophic.  This is not what Whites experience – or Asian-Americans.

AEIb’s report does not contain the words “racist,” “racism,” “sexist,” “sexism,” “feminist,” “feminism,” any variant on “bigot,” or “discriminatory.”  It uses the word “discrimination” solely in a historical or philosophical context – and ignores it substantively.  Under the report’s own claims, this is intellectually dishonest and designed to exclude progressive analyses and the facts that real progressives would have brought to any study of how to address poverty.  One cannot claim that the report provides “progressive” perspectives on women when the report refuses to even use the word “feminist” or provide any feminist critique of its propaganda campaign aimed at women.

Why did AEI Appoint Hymowitz to the AEIb Group?

Hymowitz isn’t an expert in any of the relevant fields.  Her obsession is the perfidy of feminists who she blames for males’ being unmanly.  Did I mention that one of the three principles the AEIb claimed to be its pillars was taking personal responsibility rather than blaming feminists for dudes who aspire only to be dudes?  Hymowitz was appointed to ensure that she would pursue a single issue relentlessly.  A group that is all about “consensus” can only bring such a member on board by giving her what she wants.  It’s an old strategy, but an effective one if people care more about consensus than recommending real steps to reduce poverty.   

I do not mean that only Hymowitz wanted to create a propaganda program aimed at poor women.  As I quoted in my first column in this series, Lawrence Mead called poor women “crazy” in his interview with David Blankenhorn because they were not marrying as often and as early as he thought they would if only they were sane.  The conservatives were eager to “blame the single mom” for being poor.  Hymowitz was sure to be a reliable vote for the conservative majority, and she was tactically useful in giving primacy to “marriage promotion” even though as Mead admitted in the interview it did not work.

The Logic and Data Chasm at the Heart of “Marriage Promotion”

As I noted, I like marriage and blueberry pie.  I think couples who mutually want to be married are often better off, as are their children.  The data support both propositions.  That does not mean, however, that women would be better off if they married people they did not believe they should marry.  That is not a difficult concept to understand.  It is one that virtually all of us have personal experience with.  It is also an elementary principle of logic and hypothesis testing.  We cannot extrapolate from a population where the couples voluntarily and mutually decided to get married to a population where the “couples” are often not even “couples” because one or both of them does not wish to marry the other.  But that illogical and unsupportable extrapolation is exactly what AEIb relies on for its marriage promotion program.  If you have even the most basic understanding of statistics and hypothesis testing you also know that one cannot “hold constant” for such characteristics.  In jargon, these personal characteristics are what humans know and consider vital in deciding whether to marry and are inherently “unobservable” in statistical jargon to the social scientists conducting the study.

The illogic also explains the vagueness over just what the propaganda message should be to women.  The obvious problem, except to “new paternalists” who are sure poor women are “crazy,” is that the women and men who decide to date but not to marry each other are in the best position to decide whether they mutually wish to get married.  (The AEIb report assumes heterosexual couples, so I will use that example in my critique.)  If they choose not to marry (and it only takes one to make that decision) who is in a better position to make that decision?  Surely not any of the AEIb’s 15 members.  What is the “marriage promotion” propaganda supposed to advise such a couple where one or both members believe that their marriage would be a tragic mistake?  Even if we “new paternalists” somehow “knew” that the woman was wrong and she would be better off if she married the man she was dating but did not wish to marry, how would we convince her to marry him?  (Of course, no human can “know” this.)

The men and women making the decision not to marry (unlike the AEIb 15) know that general statistics on the outcome of marriage are meaningless in their circumstances.  Couples that do not wish to marry each other know that neither they, nor the AEIB’s self-anointed “new paternalists” can predict on the basic of statistics about couples that wish to marry what the couple’s experience would be were they to marry when they believed that such a marriage would be disastrous for them and their children.

We rarely listen to our mothers when they try to tell us we should or should not marry someone.  Indeed, we mock anyone who listens to his or mother in some circumstances. In deciding whether we should marry a particular person, why would we listen to generalized government propaganda by people who did not know us or the person we were considering marrying?.  Further, unlike our Mother, the AEIb members do not love us and indeed delight in “blaming” us.  Would anyone seriously write the government propaganda script to say to poor women: “Don’t worry about whether you think marrying this particular man is a good idea or a terrible idea – marry him!”  That would be crazy, intellectually dishonest, and illogical.  The good news is that such propaganda advice would be ignored and mocked.

Here’s an example of the AEIb report’s logic falling apart (p. 22).

And not all of the very strong correlation between single parenthood and poverty reflects a causal effect of the former on the latter.  Even so, there is little doubt that single parenthood does cause increased poverty; therefore, if single mothers got married, household income would be likely to rise and poverty to fall.35

They begin, properly, with an admission that causality can run in the opposite direction than they wish it did – that poverty plus racism in employment and housing, and in the criminal injustice system would lead to enormously higher rates of single parenthood.  But they do not explore the powerful implications of that admission for it would logically require them to call for a guaranteed jobs/income program to those in poverty and that is contrary to their unacknowledged ideology.

They then use a “tell” – “there is little doubt.”  That kind of language is usually a good indication that there is a lot of doubt, as indeed the studies cited in the footnote prove.  But perhaps one percent of their readers will read the footnotes.

Still worse (and each of these three problems compounds) the “therefore” (a statement of formal logic) fails logically.  It is not true under their own logic that “if single mothers got married household income would be likely to rise and poverty to fall.”  Precisely the opposite would often be true.  The AEIb methodology is inherently unsound in contrasting (overwhelmingly female) “single parents” in poverty marrying some fictional “average” male and statistics on couples that have mutually chosen to marry each other.

Who exactly is AEIb assuming the poor single mothers would marry?  If she marries the guy she chose not to marry because he is an alcoholic, a gambler, a smoker, a drug user, lazy, unfaithful, dangerous to her kid, or on the edge of bankruptcy, then her income and wealth for her child and her over the course of the marriage is “likely to fall and poverty to fall.”  She is also likely to be miserable.  Her children may be at far greater risk.  It is preposterous to assume that she can simply decide to marry Mr. Right.  There is no basis for assuming that if she had a Mr. Right she would be unwilling to marry him (assuming he wanted to marry her).

AEIb has made the classic economic blunder of “assuming the can opener.”  In this context, AEIb has implicitly assumed an unlimited supply of Mr. Rights who poor women could marry and who would love to marry those poor women.  Yes, if poor women married these hypothetical Mr. Right suitors that AEIb assumes are seeking their “hands in marriage,” the women would typically improve their lives and the lives of their children.  The further implicit assumption by AEIb is that poor women refuse to marry Mr. Right even when he is available and proposes.  AEIb thinks that we need propaganda to convince poor women to stop being, as Mead labelled them, “crazy,” and to marry these omnipresent Mr. Rights who are desperately seeking poor black single mothers to marry, only to be constantly spurned.  That is the unstated “logic” chain of AEIb.  It could not be stated openly because it is so wacko that everyone would have laughed their study into oblivion upon reading their logic.

Once they stopped laughing however, the readers would have also realized that there is no such legion of Mr. Rights being spurned and that we need to make fundamental changes to our economy, rooting out bigotry, providing far more generous support for educating poorer kids, and fixing our criminal injustice system to create vastly more Mr. Rights.  Again, there is a plentiful literature on this including by my spouse, June Carbone and Naomi Cahn in books such as Marriage Markets that any real study of the family and decisions to marry would draw on.  AEIb’s members dread making the fundamental changes to the rigged system that are vital to deal with poverty in America.   By p. 25 they are reporting facts that destroy their “logic” chain, but they ignore that self-destruction.

Some evidence suggests that young women are less willing to marry men who don’t have a steady source of income, meaning that a rising share of young black men may be seen as unmarriageable by young women.40 It’s hard to imagine a vibrant community with strong families and safe neighborhoods for children when half the young men who live there don’t have regular employment.

Wow, maybe poor women are not “crazy.”  Maybe the economy and the criminal injustice system and social ills that poverty greatly increases make enormous portions of males “unmarriageable” because they would pose a serious risk of reducing income for the mom’s kids and risk producing losses, expenses, and debts that could cause the family’s finances to collapse.  It also turns out that males often suffer psychologically from not having “regular employment” and do less homework when unemployed than they do when they are fully employed.

To fix the employment crisis that AEIb finally admits on p. 25, we would have had to (1) dramatically increased stimulus rather than use the financially illiterate austerity nostrums that AEIb spreads in this report and (2) adopt a federally funded job guarantee program.  The AEIb admits (p. 52) that job programs were often successful, but thinks we should only start them after a severe recession has struck.

Another way to provide jobs is through public service employment. But such jobs are costly. They should be limited to serious economic downturns and should not support workers who could get regular employment in either government or the private sector. In other words, they should be truly jobs of last resort.

As readers of NEP are well aware, this is absurd for reasons my colleagues have explained at length.  I will not repeat them here. The AEIb is ideologically incapable of doing anything foundationally progressive.

In any event, by p. 32 of the report AEIb is back to repeating its chorus that lies at the core of its logical chasm.

[C]hildren raised in single-parent families are nearly five times as likely to be poor as those in married-couple families.58 In part, this is the result of simple math: two parents, on average, have far greater resources to devote to raising children than does one parent attempting to raise children alone.

Single moms are back to being crazy, they can’t even do “simple math” about raising kids.  Or, as I have explained, it might turn out in the real world they face and the men they might realistically be able to marry that the moms actually conduct a much more sophisticated and accurate risk analysis than AEIb’s members demonstrated they were capable of in their report.

Poor single moms know that it would be madness to use the AEIb’s “logic” of predicting the results of marrying Joe based on “the average” results of women marrying men who they wish to marry.  The single moms often have no ability to “choose” to marry Joe, because Joe may not choose to marry them.  Typically, the single mom chooses not to marry Joe, because she thinks he would be a terrible husband and father.

AEIb doubly stacks the deck by touting the “on average” benefits to couples who mutually choose to be married – and who then mutually decided to remain married, presumably becauxe they mutually find marriage to each other beneficial to them and their children.  Marrying “loser Joe,” however cannot be predicted to, on average, prove beneficial for mom and her kids.

Again, AEIb’s implicit assumption is that single moms are irrationally refusing the proposals of Mr. Right and that the none-to-benevolent AEIb needs to educate them to say “Yes” to Mr. Right.  This implicit assumption generates clunkers like this (p. 32):  “All else equal, two sets of hands to help, hold, provide, and instruct are clearly better than one.”  But singles moms choose not to marry losers because they know that the assumption “all else equal” is almost certainly false when it comes to marrying someone Mom has decided it would be disastrous to marry.  AEIb repeatedly assumes that poor single moms are morons or crazy.  If the hands that hold your child are those of a man who is addicted, drunk, depressed, violent, jealous, or simply careless then you and your child are vastly worse off.  If the man cannot “provide” reliably because he cannot get steady employment or if even once every three years he crashes your car, falls down the stairs when he is drunk and breaks his leg, or loses his once steady job then he poses a critical threat to your ability to meet your and your kids’ needs.  If he “instruct[s]” your child how to run drugs then he is a grave threat to your child.

Poor women make these choices every day.  No one thinks any human being is strictly rational.  Behavioral economics teaches vital truths about the ability of sellers of goods and investments to deceive and predate on people.  I have never met anyone over 30 who does not look back and wonder what delusion led them to be enamored of someone that they now realize was terrible for them.  Single poor moms are clearly making more sophisticated, realistic, and statistically valid projections than anyone on the AEIb was capable of doing in writing about this subject.  Indeed, one of the stronger proofs of their bounded rationality is their refusal to marry most of the worst losers.  The AEIb’s level of logic and analysis on marriage is downright embarrassing.

In the end, of course, the AEIb has nothing but empty words (and failed evaluations) for all its grand rhetoric about “marriage promotion.”

Many of the challenges are about culture more than legislation or programs. We believe nonetheless that there is a role for government, educational institutions, and opinion leaders. Our group has reached agreement on four cornerstones of a pro-family, pro-opportunity agenda. We need to:

1) Promote marriage as the most reliable route to family stability and resources;

2) Promote homemade blueberry pie made with fresh blueberries and butter crusts

OK, so I added the one about pie.  Seriously?  We need to promote marriage?  To who?  Why?  Certainly not to “fight poverty.”  The problem is not “culture.”  You want more marriage – adopt a federal jobs guarantee program and pay people 50 cents per hour less than a (considerably higher) minimum wage and stop arresting folks for the use of drugs or possession of smaller quantities.  Those changes would be transformative.  There would be far more marriageable men, which is the real constraint as AEIb knows but refuses to say.

“Delayed, Responsible Childbearing” – AEIb Loves Progressives?

AEIb also wants to “promote delayed, responsible childbearing?”  OK, zero problem for progressives.  That’s what we do, as even Lawrence Mead admitted in his interview by Blankenhorn.  (See Red Families v. Blue Families.)  Run federal ads in red states lauding progressives’ “culture of responsibility” and touting the morning after pill.  Do all of this under a Republican President.  The “new paternalism” will die within a day of the first ad running in Iowa.  Of course, the AEI criticized the contraceptive mandates of the Affordable Care Act, so perhaps they are not too serious about poorer citizens delaying childbearing.  Or maybe AEIb wants to start a national virginity culture for unmarried adults.  Good luck on that propaganda campaign.

The Lie about Marriage that AEIb Wants Us all to Spread

AEIb wants everybody telling poor black single women that they should marry the genetic father of their children, and that if they fail to do so they are irresponsible and endangering their children.  They are to “blame” if their kids are poor because they failed to marry the genetic father.

Presidents, politicians, church leaders, newspaper columnists, business leaders, educators, and friends should all join in 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 (pp. 33-34).

There is the teensy tiny problem that AEIb is proposing that all of us, from the President down to everyone that sees a pregnant woman without a wedding band, should march up to her and tell her a lie.  We are supposed to tell her that marrying the genetic father is what she should do.  How do we know that?  We know nothing about her, nothing about the genetic father, and nothing about other men she may wish to marry.  According to AEIb, our total ignorance – contrasting to the single mom’s unique expertise on each of these critical subjects – is irrelevant.  The “new paternalism” is even more arrogant than the old paternalism.

Let us count a few of the ways in which would go horribly wrong.  First, what if the genetic father is her rapist?  It might get slightly awkward when the President singles her out for a harangue on the need to marry her child’s genetic dad and she responds that he is in prison for raping her.  On the plus side, it would probably mean that any President so demented that he signed on to AEIb’s fatuous propaganda campaign and its lies about marriage would never be elected to a second term.

Second, what if it’s the genetic dad who refuses to marry the pregnant poor woman?  Dad is difficult to spot because he never “shows” even in the third trimester.  But the pregnant poor woman is easy for the public to spot so she will get all the abuse by the public.  Yahoos will be marching up to pregnant women and single moms to give them a piece of their minds about why she needs to marry the kid’s genetic dad.  These public confrontations that AEIb wants to foment will add enormously to civility and amity.  The single mom or pregnant woman may respond by  bursting into tears because the genetic dad has no interest in marrying her.  Other moms or pregnant women will tell the scold to mind their own damn business and explain that the genetic dad is a creep who cheated on her with her (former) best friend and stole $40 from her purse while she was busy washing his clothes.  About this point, it might begin to dawn on the AEIb-inspired morality squad scold that she knows none of the facts essential to mom making the right decision while the mom likely knows all the essential facts.  That insight might lead the moral police to realize a point that the AEIb “experts” never understood.  Telling mom that she should marry someone she believes she should not marry is arrogant and stupid.

Third, there are all the reasons I’ve suggested earlier why marrying the genetic dad when he is Mr. Wrong is likely to prove disastrous for mom and her kids.  .

Fourth, she may have met Mr. Right after getting pregnant by Mr. Wrong or by “Mr. I don’t love you.”  It would be a terrible idea to marry Mr. Wrong or Mr. “I don’t love you” instead of Mr. Right.

Fifth, the genetic dad may be married, and marrying him would be a criminal act of bigamy.

Sixth, if one knew anything about American history, it might cause even AEIb’s “new paternalism” types to ask whether we really want to encourage a every white person to march over whenever they see a pregnant black woman, or a black woman with children, and interrogate them on whether they are married and whether they married the kids’ genetic dad.

This will get even worse if they learn that Mom had not married the genetic dad.  If they follow the AEIb’s advice they will deliver a sermon to the single mom on her failings.  The personality types most likely to act on AEIb’s advice are likely to be the most painful scolds.  Consider how they will deliver their denunciations of mom’s failing in a screaming voice at the playground.  In front of the kids, the kids’ friends, and everyone else at the playground they will be encouraged to pass judgment on how irresponsible Mom and “her kind” were and how Mom had condemned her kids to a life of poverty through her immoral lifestyle (complete with copious use of the word “slut”).  The scolds will love to add that they have to pay through their taxes to subsidize the single Mom’s kids.  The AEIb members, as exemplars of a superior culture, publicly congratulated themselves on the first page of text of their report for their civility to each other.

[We] worked together for fourteen months, drawing on principles designed to maximize civility, trust, and open-mindedness within the group. We knew that the final product would reflect compromises made by people of good will and differing views.

The AEIb members are smart enough to know the plague of incivility, close-mindedness, outright racism, nastiness, humiliation, denial of any presumption of good will on the part of poor women, and denunciation of any poor woman with “differing views” about the desirability of her marrying the genetic dad that their propaganda campaign would unleash.  Look at the trolls that plague social media and then imagine the hellish trolling on-line and in our playgrounds that would be encouraged by the AEIb’s call for a nationwide mass media propaganda campaign against single poor women complete with presidential denunciations of single moms who “fail” to marry the genetic dads.

As Lawrence Mead, the dark prince of the AEIb advised in his interview, we have no choice but to “bring back stigma” to unwed Moms and humiliate them wherever we find them.  I’m sure kids will not mind being described as “bastards” by everyone in the Tea Party.  After all, we’re doing this out of love for the kids and our concern that they be saved from a life of poverty.

One caution, if Mom married Mr. Right, who was not the genetic dad, he might respond rather forcefully when you scream that his wife is a “slut” and his kids are “bastards.”  Sadly, such political correctness runs amuck among lefties.  The simple pleasures of slut-shaming are being lost.

AEIb wants everyone to do this everywhere, so store clerks, bus passengers, and everyone’s crazy Aunt or Uncle at Thanksgiving can join in competitive slut shaming under the flimsy faux noble cover of “giving you vital advice to save your kids from a life of poverty.”  I’m in the same quandary the reader probably is by now.  Are you more offended by AEIb’s stupidity, cruelty, or arrogance?  Ah, trick question.  The correct answer is: (d) all of the above.  But remember the NYT’s Eduardo Porter is breathless with praise for this brave new world in which all of us will give stupid, ignorant advice on the most private of matters to poor pregnant women as part of our civic burden to lift up to our exalted cultural level these poor benighted savages.

How scandalously bad is AEIb?  Not a single member was able to summon the moral courage, intellectual honesty, humanity, or even the minimal statistical and logical competence to publicly dissent from the vileness and idiocy of the AEIb report’s marriage propaganda claims and recommendation.

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  1. inode_buddha

    It is beginning to amaze me how far those on the right will go, to maintain a facade. Its almost like an existential need to maintain a status quo. BTW it seems they do nothing to address poor *MEN*, what about those?

    1. human

      Of course it is. What struck me immediately of that first quote that Black highlights is how it screams, “We will control the narrative.”

    2. washunate

      It’s just part of the kabuki theater. With how anti-science the Democrats have become, it is increasingly difficult for Republicans to play their part of appearing more extreme.

  2. Torsten

    Stupid? Cruel? Arrogant? Yes, (d) All of the Above, but also dog-whistle racist. The AEI can get one half the working class to kill off the black/brown half of the working class. And Brookings and Ms. Hymnowitz are there to prove there’s no racist intent.

    Thanks again, Bill Black!

  3. KYrocky

    Modern conservatism is dependent on lies for survival, and AEI is but one of many outlets which exists to put those lies into circulation disguised as honestly performed research. Apparently, Brookings is also bending to the will of its funders and they should take considerable scorn and heat for endorsing this piece of s*it “report”.

    The sophistication and expense in the planning, creation and dissemination of this type of propaganda should give everyone pause, and deep concern. A small but powerful, rich group of our citizens is on an ideological jihad against the facts and reality they feel threaten their beliefs, both economic and social.

  4. newyorker

    One very important factor affecting moms’ decision to marry is the existence of TANF and other non cash benefits, which are probably more reliable than even the most earnest Mr Right’s resources. This elephant in the room is not mentioned by the author.

    Most middle class people feel it is irresponsible to have children one cannot afford, and they rely on birth control and abortion to assure it doesn’t happen. Why should the poor be relieved of this very reasonable expectation?

    1. diptherio

      Birth control and abortion are both expensive, or maybe you’re not aware (in which case, my condolences).

      Let’s hold everyone to the same standard, regardless of their differing circumstances…great idea! I think you missed a good bit of the point of this article. It’s been long understood by demographers that the best way to lower birth rates is by offering education and economic opportunities for women.

      Maybe differing birth rates are affected by differing access to ed and econ opportunity, not some sort of moral or intellectual failing on the part of poor, non-white people. In fact, that would seem a nearly inescapable conclusion, given that we know that having a college education, while economically beneficial for whites, is bizarrely detrimental for blacks and hispanics.

      Or, conversely, we could just engage in some moralizing…that’s always fun! If only everybody had the moral fortitude of the average white middle-class person, everything would be peachy!

      1. newyorker

        Sure, why not finally do some moralizing. What’s wrong with discouraging irresponsible self destructive behavior? Why not acknowledge the moral hazard of govt assistance that are better bets than husbands?

        Thought experiment: there is no govt assistance to support unwed motherhood. Don’t you think that pregnant mom would desperately be searching out abortion providers whether or not it’s illegal? Or the community would shame the man responsible into marrying? This was the normal state of affairs years ago, and while not perfect or likely to make all parties happy, is definitely preferable to the inner city dystopia that now exists.

        1. Lois

          Oh I get it – inner city problems have nothing to do with redlining, underfunded schools, and crap jobs. It is because moms didn’t marry the dad! Or they should have used expensive birth control that our nutty reps don’t want to pay for in Medicaid.

          Please stop.

          1. craazyboy

            Who’s assuming dad asked?

            It’s obvious to me where this is all headed. We will organize Sadie Hawkins Day events in the poor parts of town and have destitute poor pregnant wimens chase Ben Carsen around. Whoever catches Ben can wrestle him to the ground and propose marriage. Free abortion in the deal too – Ben used to do brains, so the other end can’t be that hard.

            BTW, I like key lime pie. And 6 figure salaries.

          2. BEast

            And it couldn’t possibly be related to the fact that mass incarceration sweeps up young inner city black men (often for crimes that young rural and suburban white men get probation for) and gives them lifelong felony records even after they get out… meaning their job prospects are shot and they can’t get even student loans to better themselves.

            Racism, sexism, classism… if one squints and sees the heternormativity (I’m sure they’re only advocating opposite sex marriage), it’s a bigotry four-fer.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Wow, you must really live in a bubble and not get any media other than Fox News or worse.

          1. Abortions cost money. Poor people do not have money. That is what being poor means. You seem unable to understand the basic concept. That is a sign of a serious deficiency in the ability to reason, deep-seated bigotry, or both. I vote for both. Your not very convincing or adept attack on diptherio about moralizing, when you are the one on the holier-than-thou morality trip, is also dishonest argumentation, which is against our site’s written policies.

          2. I know personally of an underage woman who got pregnant who were told by nuns at her Catholic school that she’d become sterile if she had an abortion. Her mother was desperate for the daughter to have an abortion and the girl was inclined to get one till the nuns got to her.

          3. Similarly, in many states, abortion clinics are required by law to basically try to scare the pregnant woman into not having an abortion.

          4. Or are you advocating that women try aborting themselves with coathangers? You can go to hell because given what you’ve said so far the odds are close to 100% you’d say yes.

          1. BEast

            As Democracy Now! reported recently, a recent study said that half a million women in Texas have self-aborted in the last five years.

      2. charles 2

        Birth control is not necessarily expensive. Planned parenthood places places the real cost of condom as low as 0.04$ per unit. ( Of course, retailers take their share, but you can find today in the US a pack of 1000 condoms online @ 0.125$ each (free shipping). (no, I won’t put the link, but finding that took 5 minutes of googling). Using a frequency of 10 intercourse per month ( , that is only 15$ a year.

        The real obstacle is not cost, but education (in particular teaching people how to choose and use a condom properly, a not-so-obvious requisite for effectiveness !) and of course natalist ideology.

  5. Ranger Rick

    It’s not hard to imagine that as part of their idolization of all things 1950s the conservative movement sees stable nuclear families as the bedrock of a crime-free, productive society. And while they might have a point with respect to the economic, educational and even medical outcomes of children in single-parent families, I think their “private sector” solution of marriages of convenience makes a mockery of the conservative insistence on marriage as a sacred institution.

  6. HotFlash

    I wonder about marriage. Monogamy, serial or otherwise, is only one way of anchoring families. Many cultures have done the societal business of sharing resources, raising children and looking after the sick and elderly using other basic constellations. For example, the Hurons of North America did marry, but it was no biggie. It seems that the community was cool with just about everything except public display of jealousy. If a girl got pregnant it was the custom for all of her lovers to come to her and claim to be the father, she could pick the one she liked best. The Jesuits were appalled.

    One of my Muslim friends explains that while the Koran permits a man to have as many wives as he can afford, in most cases that is one. The same friend has spent some time living in Berkina Faso. His host there, the headman of a small village, there had 9 wives and 47 children. I have read accounts of life among the Masai of the Serengeti. There a girl is sexually active usu with a steady older boyfriend, until puberty, then is married to the richest man her mother can hook her up with. This results in the local tycoon having many, many wives and the wives have, in effect, a good job with security and lots of company, help with the chores (and women do most of the chores, from house building on down) and the rich man provides for the village. Oh, and the lady usually has a lover on the side, so this is more like old-fashioned European marriage with droit de seigneur than a captive harem.

    Children raised, resources shared, old and sick looked after, society’s mission accomplished.

    And finally, the last word on Bible-based marriage from that great Christian, Mrs. Betty Bowers.

    1. jnleareth

      Exactly, yes. The fact that the word “marriage” is used to imply all sorts of things is the part that, from the beginning, makes me scratch my head. Is it the tax status that somehow raises people out of poverty? Possibly cheaper health insurance? Because other than the rights that the law gives to a pair of people (and only a pair of people) who signed a document saying they’re civilly “in it together”, the word means what people internalize it to mean. Society plays a big role in how people internalize and assign value to that word, but using the word “marriage” to describe a relationship doesn’t seem to have much correlation to things like “love”, “fidelity”, or “responsible parenting” despite what we might wish or hope for ourselves. People are pretty much free to share bank accounts and bedrooms with people to whom they’re not married, just as people are free to live across the country from people to whom they are. But, no, we must venerate the word “marriage” as this ideal relationship to which everyone should aspire even though no marriage-labeled-relationship is the same. As long as you call it marriage, you’re cool.

      This is a fantastic article, and pulls together so many different threads and ideas. Thank you.

    2. Stephanie

      About the Masai, a slightly different take here:

      The money quote for me:

      Since virtually any man in a father’s age-set could be the biological father of his daughter, any young girl is a daughter of the whole age-set. Thus, a father must strictly avoid most contact with any daughters of his age-mates.

      Money quote for me, since as a graduate of a women’s college in the 90s, the biggest “gap” in achievement there seemed to me (with a few very notable exceptions) between girls whose fathers were actively invested in their success and those whose fathers were not involved in their lives at all (a friend of mine at the time noted the former were the men who couldn’t give a crap about equality for their wives but who would make damn sure their daughters had it). It seems very curious to me that discussions of alternatives to marriage focus so much on managing the sexual aspect of such arrangements and not so much on the parenting end.

      1. HotFlash

        The account to which I refer, Barefoot Over the Serengeti by David Read, makes it clear that ‘promiscuous’ (that Western word!) behaviour stopped at puberty. Um, brides could be awarded to local bigwigs or to those in neighbouring villages (either case, payment in cattle). Incest is another Western and *human* taboo, whereas in animal breeding we reinforce desired traits by inbreeding. A big meh.

        Childraising was primarily the responsibility of the women, but men did their part as well. For instance, men-children would be sent to live with uncles — in what modern whites might call indentured slavery, but white historians might call apprenticeships. Even today, this is so. Your point?

      2. HotFlash

        And furthermore, your ‘money quote’ for me is “as a graduate of a women’s college in the 90s, the biggest “gap” in achievement there seemed to me (with a few very notable exceptions) between girls whose fathers were actively invested in their success and those whose fathers were not involved in their lives at all (a friend of mine at the time noted the former were the men who couldn’t give a crap about equality for their wives but who would make damn sure their daughters had it). ”

        Well, gee! Female success depends on daddy’s juice? Daddy loves you? So nice for you! Otherwise, who’s your daddy? Or what?

        I think you may have gone to the wrong college.

        1. Dune Navigator

          Hey, hands off the seven sisters of the Pleiades!
          Sorry, too much Hamlet’s Mill this eve.
          Dune Navigator

  7. Steve H.

    From ‘The Transition to Parenthood’ by Belsky & Kelly:

    Severe Decliners: Judging from our data, 12 to 13 percent of all new parents become so divided by differences that they begin to lose faith in each other and in their marriage.

    Moderate Decliners: The 38 percent of our couples who fell into this category managed to avoid a dramatic marital tailspin during the transition. But at its end these couples were more polarized than they had been at its start.

    No Change: The 30 percent of our couples in this category conducted a holding action. They overcame enough of their differences to prevent a marital decline, but not enough to gain a new sense of closeness.

    Improvers: For 19 percent of our couples the process of overcoming transition-time marital gaps and divisions brought them closer together.

  8. washunate

    Great read.

    I might add something on this comment that touches on a larger issue:

    Run federal ads in red states lauding progressives’ “culture of responsibility” and touting the morning after pill.

    I think this offers a glimpse into why poverty is such a deeply entrenched problem. The problem in our society is not red states or think tanks like AEI. The problem is Democrats and the educated intellectuals who make excuses for them. The whole left/right, red/blue dichotomy is a fiction, a farce, foisted on us by authoritarian politicians and the overpaid technocrats who go along to get along.

    It wasn’t some Republican think tanker or evangelical Christian that pushed for prescription only access for teenagers to emergency contraception. The Democrats did that. The Obama Administration even went to court to defend their paternalistic anti-science belief that the morning after pill should be more difficult to buy than Oreos and Big Macs.

    On issue after issue, educated liberals like to blame ignorant or evil actors on the right, when they themselves are the ones whose anti-science and pro-inequality actions are the difference makers.

  9. Alison Brennan

    We learned in the 1960s that “shaming” unmarried mothers had the greatest negative impact on the children of the unmarried mothers. We want to start shaming children again because?

    1. flora

      Why? Because some unctuous moralizers at AEIb want to escape their own consciences when it comes to taxes, minimum wage, schools, jobs, offshoring and opportunity. Much better to blame the poor for their poverty – obviously a character flaw in the poor. A deserving person would never be poor! (Never mind the tax code or minimum wage levels that enrich AEIb’s funders.)
      About all the married couples with children who are in poverty; married parents who work minimum wage jobs who are still living in poverty…..
      Not a peep from AEIb .
      Prof. Black does an excellent job of peeling these AEIb hypocrites from top to bottom.

      Thanks for this post.

  10. Felix_47

    It seems the article implies there is a shortage of Mr. Rights. How about Mrs. Rights? Is there also not a shortage? The fairest thing we could do is randomize pairings in the US. People are assigned a spouse by a lottery. That way a white hedge fund billionaire might just have to marry a welfare mom with seven kids. That would make a big difference in poverty. And even better……perhaps we could have all females donate eggs to a government egg bank……the Army is talking about that now……..and all males donate sperm to a government sperm bank and then fertilization would be done randomly by computer. After donation all women and men would be sterilized and then if they want a baby they go to the bank and they are given random fertilized eggs. That way racism would vanish in one generation. So many of the worlds problems stem from patriarchy……..the notion that “my kids” are the continuation of my lineage and represent me……and I choose a spouse like me that will reinforce the physical, mental, and prejudicial traits that I represent. The more kids I produce from my germ cells the higher my status. Perhaps we should be getting no choice at all if we want an egalitarian society.

    1. clinical wasteman

      Yes to the points about patriarchy and, for want of better words, narcissistic eugenics, but apart from that…
      why for a start should the welfare mom have to put up with the hedge fund buffoon? (Why not, say, just assign her his wealth by lottery or other means?) The presumption that ‘pairing’ is best is classical question-begging here as in the AEIb drool.
      More generally (i.e. away from the comment & back to the article), I appreciate why BB uses the clearest-cut hypotheticals in attacking racist, class-triumphalist slander of unmarried mothers, but even rhetorical recourse to the equation “unmarriageable=’loser‘” is an accidental gift to AEIb (& their allies: see also Guardian, successive UK governments etc. every day on “culture” as the real social problem). There’s no need to simplify or apologise for the reality that people in so-called “at-risk” demographics are quite capable, thank you very much, of choosing sexual partners, friends and prospective babyfathers/mothers serially and separately. Capable, that is, of sustaining multiple close relationships, among which the biological are not necessarily the closest. In fact if the upscale cultural imagination (prizewinning novels/films; confessional columns in — sorry — the wretched Guardian again) is anything to go by, we’re better at that than our betters are. Or at least: I wouldn’t trade the deadbeat, drug-addled and dead members of my elective, non-biological “family” for any Mr./Ms. Right (or any number of same) still alive.

  11. Blink 180

    There is a well-established correlation between marital instability and a gender ratio that skews female. With the horrific mass incarceration of black men that the U.S.A. has undertaken in recent decades driving the effective ratio in the community toward 1:1.3, it’s hardly any wonder that black marriages are so shaky. I suppose the well-heeled assh*les at these think-tanks have some evidence to suggest that a change of “culture” could possibly overcome such a colossal headwind?

    Of course they don’t.

  12. Paul Tioxon

    Nazi Germany promoted household formation of married couples with the goal raising at lest 4 children per family with a massive loan program to outfit new families with all of the household goods necessary to lead a wonderful domestic life. An excerpt below from the Holocaust Museum website, but you can easily find much more material about family loans by the Nazis online. The Nazis punished abortions and rewarded marriage. HMMMM?
    “Instead, Nazi population policy concentrated on the family and marriage. The state encouraged matrimony through marriage loans, dispensed family income supplements for each new child, publicly honored “child-rich” families, bestowed the Cross of Honor of the German Mother on women bearing four or more babies, and increased punishments for abortion.

    The National Socialist Women’s Union and German Women’s Agency used Nazi propaganda to encourage women to focus on their roles as wives and mothers. Besides increasing the population, the regime also sought to enhance its “racial purity” through “species upgrading,” notably by promulgating laws prohibiting marriage between “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” while preventing those with handicaps and certain diseases from marrying at all.

    Girls were taught to embrace the role of mother and obedient wife in school and through compulsory membership in the Nazi League of German Girls. However, rearmament followed by total war obliged the Nazis to abandon the domestic ideal for women. The need for labor prompted the state to prod women into the workforce (for example, through the Duty Year, the compulsory-service plan for all women) and even into the military itself (the number of female auxiliaries in the German armed forces approached 500,000 by 1945). ”

  13. charles 2

    The part of the elite whose fortunes are closely linked to demographic growth (and that includes, for structural reasons, 100% of politicians and a big chunk of the manager/professional class) is terrified by the common sense of the other classes, who rightfully concluded that they must reduce their fertility to maintain their economic welfare.
    Whites and Asian understood that earlier than Black and hispanics and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the primary cause of the difference regarding the earlier for riding the crisis vs the latter. Ten/twenty years with one additional child makes a big difference in the saving rate and the ability to maintain good credit or maintain a savings buffer. (see

    This elite wants to have its cake and eat it : having population growth without actually have to contribute to the cost of raising children on a societal basis. Instead of paying taxes to pay for schools or kids healthcare, it wants to find a patsy husband willing (or more likely forced) to foot the bill.

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