Earlier this summer we watched in amazement as the Heritage Foundation turned the otherwise non-controversial subject (among wonks that is) of reforming farm subsidies into a regressive tax cut. Today, I’m puzzling over item one on the Heritage Foundation’s Marshall plan for marriage:
Eliminate marriage penalties from federal programs. Married couples tend to be better off financially than their single or cohabitating counterparts. Policymakers should encourage such beneficial economic decisions by removing financial disincentives to marriage from tax and welfare policies.
The causal link here is pretty questionable. But the basic logic seems badly flawed. Married people are better off than unmarried people, so we need to give the married people extra subsidies? Lawyers tend to be financially better off than janitors, but that’s not a reason to subsidize lawyers. How many extra marriages, at the margin, is subsidizing married people supposed to generate, and how does that compare to the amount of money that will be spent subsidizing the already-richer already-married? Some other ideas on the list like “[i]mplement state-driven divorce reform that encourages reconciliation” have more merit but seem mighty hand-wavy.
It seems to me that if you want to think about family policies that will really make a difference, you need to look at some different models for promoting/subsidizing parental leave time, especially if you can encourage men to participate. In general, subsidizing childrearing makes a lot of sense (positive externalities!) and alleviating financial stress on parents could reduce divorce.