Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., once said the conservative interest in life begins at conception and ends at birth. By that I took him to mean that religious conservatives are furiously preoccupied with bringing each and every pregnancy to term. But they lose that apparent passion for children when it comes to subsidizing indigent parents. He had a point.
The progressive community, on the other hand, has a rampant appetite for child-rearing subsidies for the poor. Most recently this has taken the form of an ever-louder call for federally subsidized childcare.
As a non-partisan social progressive and fiscal conservative, I find myself with one foot in each camp. Which foot is in which camp varies from issue to issue. Both sides are wrong on this issue, subsidized daycare, but for different reasons. Conservatives are right to oppose subsidized daycare, but their rationale lacks compassion. Plain and simple, they don’t want to pay higher taxes to subsidize a poor (or middle-class) person’s decision to have a child.
Liberals are wrong to support federal subsidies for poor and moderate-income families, for three reasons. The first is today’s American government bungles just about everything it does (including and most especially, war, but additionally social services). The second reason is, the more dependent America’s poor and lower-middle classes become on federal subsidies, the less likely they ever are to pull themselves out of poverty. The last reason is, there are already plenty of people in this country (some would say, too many). The more we subsidize childbearing, the more overcrowded we are undoubtedly going to become.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia recently offered what amounts to little more than a bribe to Russian women to produce more children. Putin ordered the Russian parliament to more than double monthly child-support payments (which now run about $55) and declared women who choose to have a second baby will get a government grant of $9,200 U.S. That is a more than twice the average Russian annual income of $4,000.
But Russia has something we Americans do not: a declining population.
Quite the contrary, we are growing at an alarming rate and suffering all manner of environmental and “quality of life” shortfalls as a result. The Federation for American Immigration Reform Web site reports, “Since 1970, our population has grown by over 85 million people. Over half of our current high rate of population growth is due to new immigration and the children born to immigrants here. More people means more demands for resources, more pollution, more energy use, and more waste. More land is required for agriculture, causing deforestation and soil erosion. More homes, factories, and roads must be built, destroying habitat for other species. If our population continues to grow, we won’t reach any of our environmental goals. Our best efforts to conserve water and energy, reduce pollution, control sprawl, and preserve green spaces will continue to be overwhelmed by population growth.”
And as comprehensive as that paragraph seems, it does not include these facts: Increased population brings with it increased suburban sprawl, longer commutes, more traffic, increased job competition and downward pressure on wages.
So why offer federal subsidies for something we already have plenty of (to wit, people)? It makes no sense. I recently interviewed a Democratic congressman who supports daycare subsidies. She pointed out that among Western, industrialized nations, only the United States and Australia fail to provide federal subsidies for daycare. But the countries most famous for these “family-friendly” benefits (the Scandinavian countries and France, for example) also have stagnant or declining birth rates. Our country’s immigration policy (both legal and illegal) puts us in the exact opposite position.
Rep. Frank is a brilliant rhetorician. But if he were to turn his tart tongue on his fellow progressives he might have said something to the effect the progressive interest in life begins at conception and ends at bankruptcy. He would have had a point there, too.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)