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Family and Cultural Issues Affect Economics

October 3, 2011

Neither Left nor Right but Catholic


By Stephen M. Krason

            Most American presidential elections seem to hinge on economics. Even the current crop of Republican contenders, who claim to be pro-life and pro-family, are focusing much of their attention on the economy. While the ongoing recession makes that understandable, we do not see much effort on their parts to show the connection between the economy and life, family, and related issues. It seems as if they are oblivious to the connections, or if they see them they judge there to be no political advantage to mentioning them.

            What are some of the connections? Let’s take abortion and government funding of  contraceptive family planning efforts. This is especially pertinent now, as HHS is about to foist onto private religious institutions—Catholic institutions will be hit the hardest—the requirement that they provide contraceptive and sterilization services in their employee health plans. The resistance to this latest scheme of statist oppression has, rightly, been on the grounds of religious liberty. The objection should go much further, however. Since the 1960’s, American public policy has continued on an anti-natalist path. Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalized abortion—for all practical purposes, up to the point of birth—the U.S. has been deprived of between 50 and 60 million persons. It is difficult to estimate the number of people who were not born due to contraceptive use over the last fifty years or so, but it is certainly many millions more. Going strongly against the grain of the anti-natalist mind-set, Julian Simon demonstrated convincingly in his 1981 book, The Ultimate Resource, that population growth causes economies to thrive, and population stagnation causes their decline. Population stagnation means fewer people to buy products, and fewer people to be economic innovators and entrepreneurs. It also means a heavier tax burden on a smaller number of people to sustain government programs and desired public services. Witness the pressures on European welfare states because of their population implosion. Excessive tax burdens make economic dynamism even less likely.

            Further, the evidence is now overwhelming that readily available abortion has meant serious consequences for women’s health—both physical and mental. That has meant a greater economic burden to the country. It has affected health care costs—both private and public—and has resulted in other hidden economic costs due to the loss of women’s services.

            The sexual license that stands behind much of abortion and the contraceptive ethic has been a main negative feature of American culture since the 1960’s. On one hand its economic consequences have been evident. The explosion of illegitimacy has resulted in heavy economic and social costs in welfare and in dealing with the juvenile delinquency and crime that are found much more abundantly among persons born out of wedlock. If one adds to this the family breakdown due partly to no-fault divorce, these costs are magnified, along with the loss to the economy caused by the decline in purchasing power of suddenly single mothers.

            Other economic costs of sexual license and family breakdown are not so readily apparent, but still painfully real. Sexual license means irresponsibility, and why should we expect those irresponsible in this area to be responsible in others? Children of illegitimate birth and broken families are more likely to experience a range of social pathologies. Among other things, many have less educational achievement, become less dependable and responsible workers, and have less job stability. This all hurts the economy.

            As far as another large cultural issue, homosexual rights, are concerned—or maybe “special privileges” would be the better word since there are no genuine civil rights that persons with same-sex attraction do not have that others have—we can discern similar effects on the economy as with aborted women and for similar reasons. Practicing homosexuals have much higher rates of health problems and lower lifespans than the rest of the population (the morbidity situation of male homosexuals is especially bad, but this applies to lesbians too). If homosexuals “marry,” by the way, this does not change—few are really interested, they tend to continue to have multiple partners, and the medical pathologies are still present to some degree because same-sex sexual coupling simply has inherent dangers. Health care costs are affected and the economy suffers because of loss of services. Moreover, as with other kinds of sexual aberration, if there is disorder in one area of a person’s life, it is reasonable to expect that it might occur in another. Man, after all, is not fragmented into different, mutually exclusive parts. Would it not be easier for the person engaging in sexual excess to engage in such economic excesses as greed as a businessman or materialism as a consumer? Such things, of course, affect and hurt economic life.

            Although the evidence is still somewhat tentative and uncertain, if homosexual couples are allowed to adopt children, it is not so clear that the children will not tend to have some of the same problems—with the same economic effects—as illegitimate children or children victimized by divorce. After all, sound social science evidence confirms what common sense and the wisdom of the ages has shown: children simply do better when a father and mother are both rearing them.

             Finally, what about the availability and promotion of such morally objectionable reproductive and medical technologies as in-vitro fertilization and embryonic stem-cell research? This has become as much of a political non-issue as contraception. The problem, from a strictly economic standpoint, is not just the burden on health care costs but also the fact that when people put their funds into these—and despite the iffy chance of success, IVF involves a large financial commitment from a childless couple—they divert them from something else. When foundations or biotech companies invest in these technologies, that is investment that is not made in other, perhaps important, medical research areas. Perhaps other parts of the health care sector are economically hurt as a result. As far as embryonic stem-cell research goes, the burdens on taxpayers increase—and the economy is thus hurt—as researchers run to government for funds since their private sources have dried up because of their poor success rate in finding the miracle cures they claimed were coming.

            Some of these cultural malaises affect the character and tone of the political society, and this can have marked consequences on the economy. Family breakdown leads to crime, and this often causes the deterioration of communities. When this happens businesses won’t invest and the economy of an area will languish.

            These are just some consequences of family and cultural issues on economics. The current Republican candidates—or at least those who have not bought into the individualism that has spawned these problems—should keep in mind the educative function of politics and help the public see the connection. Even if they don’t win, they might aid the cause of both cultural restoration and economic revival.


Stephen M. Krason is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Co-Founder and President of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

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