Welcome to TP Ideas‘ weekly roundup of the best conservative writing! Every Friday, we take a look at three pieces by right-leaning writers that constructively articulate core elements of their worldview. The goal isn’t to find conservatives telling us how right liberals are, but rather to pick out writing that helps liberals understand where their ideological foes are coming from.
So let’s get started.
1. “3 Inadvertent Truths In Feminist ‘Rules For Dating Daughter’ T-Shirt” — Mollie Hemingway, The Federalist
Mollie Hemingway is one of the more cantankerous conservative writers over at The Federalist, and this week she set her sights on a meme of a “feminist father’s” rules for dating his daughter that lit up the internet. Hemingway set out to find the hidden conservative messages in the meme, beginning with the paradoxical fact that the father is making the rules even as he claims not to:
You’ll note that while the message is supposedly that the daughter makes the rules, there are in fact three additional rules after “I don’t make the rules.” And what this really shows us is the importance of having a dad around to provide the guidance he kind of claims he’s not providing.
If the father is out of the picture or not around to discuss rules, relationship outcomes are in fact less desirable. As the National Fatherhood Project puts it:
“Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree.”
They also have data suggesting that the absence of a father is tied to greater risk of abuse, neglect, malnutrition, obesity, delinquency and incarceration, aggressive behavior and relationship instability.
So just the presence of this father is a powerful, powerful message to the daughter and to those she might date. And his mere presence is a positive factor in all sorts of outcomes.
Hemingway also notes the implication that men and women’s preferences for sex do not entirely line up, making women the primary “gatekeepers” for initiating sex, as well as the implied need for men as protector figures (the tone of the picture suggests the father remains the ultimate enforcer of the daughter’s rules). Whether or not you buy the rather elaborate arguments about social dynamics conservatives have spun from these observations, Hemimgway demonstrates a knack for finding the place in liberal ideology where beliefs can twist back upon one another in odd ways.
2. “In Defense Of Inherited Wealth” — Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week
Michael Brendan Dougherty is a Catholic conservative with a deep traditionalism streak, who writes regularly for The Week. When one of his colleagues wrote an attack on inherited wealth as a tool of feudalism, Dougherty responded this week with a defense of inherited wealth as a driver of productivity. But he also went further, and sketched out a theory of how inherited wealth acts as a kind of social glue, linking efforts of parents and children in a common purpose, and providing a sense of meaning through the passing on of legacy:
We imagine that we can take away the economic component of family life and leave the emotional bonds therein undisturbed or even improved. That is a fantasy.
People get immense satisfaction out of their work when they know they can pass on the fruit of it to people they love, with whom they have blood kinship and bonds of memory. This is not just the case for John D. Rockefeller or Steve Jobs, but even middle-class savers. How much productivity comes from this motive? We should all fear finding out.
Abolishing or strictly curtailing inheritance will create incentives to consume more of your wages in this life, rather than invest them for a future. It will perversely increase spending on “inheritance-like consumption,” such as education or other networking opportunities for children. It will also drain the meaning out of unpleasant toiling. When you work, budget, sacrifice, and save with the intent of passing on the fruit of that labor, you can imagine your children being able to start their lives free of debt, with better educational opportunities, or more leisure than you yourself had.
Imagine instead that Harry Reid or Ted Cruz will disburse all the surplus wealth you produce in your life. Are you inclined to work harder? Your comfort in this is the 1/120,000,000th of a say that your franchise grants you in steering the executive branch.
This is a reminder that how conceives of the legitimacy and trustworthiness of government power is one of the chief temperamental differences between liberals and conservatives. But more deeply it also grapples with the complexity of human psychology, and the mercurial nature of a lot of the incentives we operate under.
That said, judging by Dougherty’s own previous writing, his argument works better as a preference for lots of little private inheritances throughout society, rather than a defense of our society’s current small population of massive inheritances. And like Thomas Piketty’s proposed wealth tax, the purpose of taxing inheritances over a certain threshold is not to fill government coffers so much as it is to prod individuals sitting on extreme concentrations of wealth to disperse that money back out into society.
3. “It’s Past Time To Reconsider The Place Of College” — Matthew Cochran, The Federalist
With two entrees, it’s a big week for The Federalist. The second piece comes from Matthew Cochran who argues that the student debt crisis is a second-order effect of our culturally unsustainable fixation on higher education as something appropriate and necessary for all Americans. To flesh out his argument, Cochran relies on two anonymous online letters: one from a “A Dedicated Professor” arguing that the value of college goes far deeper than economic achievement, and one from an “Alumnus” angry that his alma mater is asking for a donation after leaving him $40,000 in debt:
College has both an internal heritage of intellectual edification and an external reputation for upward economic mobility. Dedicated Professor, however, repeatedly indicates that these two goals can often be at odds, contrasting “superficial gains” with “the meaning of being human” and disconnecting “success” from material production. The consequence of this tension is that the more we perceive college as the only appropriate one-size-fits-all destination for every American, the more colleges have to try to pursue both ideals, and the less they succeed at either. This is borne out by the fact that Alumnus now recognizes the blatant falsehood of promises of upward mobility and Dedicated Professor recognizes the severe disconnect between the achievement of a degree and the kind of education he extols.
It is hard not to sympathize with Alumnus. Though much of Dedicated Professor’s critique is, strictly speaking, correct, it is the kind of critique one invariably receives after graduation rather than before enrollment. Alumnus is justifiably angry because he was sold a bill of goods. The glowing descriptions of education offered by Dedicated Professor are not how college was marketed to the millions of young graduates confused about why they cannot find a job. Parents were never urged to spend $150,000 to send their child to a five-year “dialogue between teacher and students, student and student, academy and the world.” Poor and disadvantaged students striving to become more successful than their parents were never told it is smart to take on a massive debt they may never be able to discharge for the sake of “looking beyond the superficial gains of power and influence to see consequences and effects on the meaning of being human.”
Cochran’s argument is less impressive on the economics specifically: he blames the subsidy effect of student loans for rising costs, even though the government’s retreat from directly financing affordable public education over the last few decades relieved much of the market pressure on private colleges to keep prices low. But Cochran also shows an admirable practical populism: when he says college is not for everyone, he doesn’t mean some people are too stupid. He means there are lots of forms of valuable knowledge, and more to one route to intellectual growth — no one needs a degree to read literature at the library, pursue an art form, or dive into the wonkery of the blogoshpere. And lastly, that college should stop selling an economic promise it is increasingly unable to deliver.