Tucker Carlson is right. But his method is wrong.
Tucker Carlson’s monologue on January 2 set off a firestorm of negative commentary. I want to say for the record: I agree completely with Carlson’s closing statement, “If you want to put America first, you’ve got to put its families first.” I also want to say for the record: I disagree with the wrappings in which Carlson presented his important message.
Talk About the Family, and Only the Family
Here is why he is profoundly correct: A free society needs adults who can take care of themselves, follow the rules, and use their freedom without bothering other people too much. Yet, we all enter the world as helpless babies, incapable of taking care of ourselves, or following rules. But we are quite capable of bothering other people. How do we transform people from helpless infant to self-regulating adults? Inside the family. The love of mothers and fathers teaches children to have regard for others, to care for themselves and to control themselves.
This was the theme of my first book, Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village. Without mothers and fathers caring for their children in a personal and loving way, we can’t have a free market, or a free society. We will have a collection of individuals, all looking out for themselves, doing whatever they can get away with. People like that can cause a lot of problems. They need external controls because they cannot control themselves.
The family is really indispensable to the project of sustaining a free society.
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At the same time, I must disagree with the manner in which Tucker Carlson presented his argument. He made his arguments in the context of defending numerous other policy points. I have learned from experience that if you want to talk about the family, you have got to talk about the family and nothing else.
Losing the Larger Point
That is because most of our thought leaders do not want to confront family issues. They prefer to change the subject. If you give them the slightest opening, they will skate away from the family issues. The commentary on Carlson’s monologue demonstrates this point.
Carlson offers an economic explanation for the decline in marriage. He says:
Male wages declined. Manufacturing, a male-dominated industry, all but disappeared over the course of a generation. All that remained in many places were the schools and the hospitals, both traditional employers of women. In many places, women suddenly made more than men.
This paragraph leaves an opening for people to start yammering about economics and feminism and trade and just about anything but family. Mr. Carlson’s larger point about the importance of married mothers and fathers slipped away.
Another crucial bit of slippage is over the question of who is to blame. Carlson stated:
But our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems.
I happen to believe that there is a lot of truth in his point here. The leadership class, the people actually making the big decisions in this country, are isolated, educationally, socially, and even geographically, from the rest of the country. (I say this as an educated person who gratefully lives in “fly-over country.”) But, naturally, those people resent being told that they are the problem, that they don’t care, and that they are culturally blind.
Missing a Holistic Approach
Naturally, this gives them an opening to glide away from Carlson’s crucial points. Jim Geraghty at National Review, said:
Leaders may want those things for us, but we should have no illusion that they can provide those things for us. Dignity, purpose, self-control, independence, and deep relationships have to come from within, and get cultivated and developed by our own actions. Good parents and relatives, teachers and communities can all help cultivate that, but it all starts with the individual — and if the individual isn’t willing to try to cultivate that, no one else can cultivate it for him.
I applaud individual initiative as much as the next person. But Geraghty assumes the basic unit of society is the individual. This is not true. Mother and father collaborating to care for their own children is the most basic unit of society. Kids in foster care are individuals. Is that really the kind of existence we wish for children?
We must not create a victim class of angry citizens. We must not tell them falsehoods about the power of governments or banks or elites over their personal destinies. We must not make them feel helpless when they are not helpless. … This is still a land where you can determine your own success more than can any political party or group of nefarious elites. The fundamental building block of any family is still your love, your discipline, and your fidelity.
This analysis dodges the question of whether poor public policy is contributing to family breakdown. People who have been kicked out of their families by no-fault divorce are in fact, victims. So are welfare recipients whose marriage decisions are distorted by marriage penalties built into social assistance payments. So are children whose minds are poisoned against both self-discipline and fidelity by sex “education” in government-funded schools. (Who gave the State the right to teach children how to put condoms on bananas? Where are the libertarians when you need them?)
Defend the Family and Nothing Else
My doctorate is in economics. I spent the first 15 years of my professional life defending free market economics. When I realized that the market actually depends on the family, I did my best to convince my colleagues. Most of them were completely uninterested.
If you want to defend the family, stick to the subject. Defend the family and nothing else.
Since then, I’ve spent twenty years defending the family. I’m convinced: if you want to defend the family, stick to the subject. Shut up about immigration or the free market or trade policy or Donald Trump or anything else. Defend the family and nothing else.