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Jim Daly Christian Blog and Commentary

The Government as Family

  • Jim Daly
    Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2011 Nov 16
  • Comments

Posted by Jim_Daly Nov 15, 2011




The late Nobel laureate in economics, Milton Friedman, warned many years ago that the more government does for the family, the less those in the family are likely to do for themselves.Friedman1.jpg

Do you agree?

Dr. Friedman was not alone in his concern about the negative impact government subsidies can have on private households. History tells us that unintended consequences often accompany even well-meaning bureaucratic intervention. Over thirty years ago a contemporary of Friedman, Martin S. Feldstein, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, offered a similarly dire prediction – one with even more specifics. He wrote:

Welfare programmes introduced and expanded to help poor families might weaken the family structures… in more subtle ways, government programmes that substitute the state for the family, cause behaviour that weakens the development of future population; fewer births, more unmarried individuals, more unmarried couples and more divorced parents…Medicare and Medicaid introduced to help the elderly and poor might lead to an explosion in health care costs.

Three decades removed from Dr. Feldstein’s prognostication how have things turned out?  Each one of his predictions have come true:

  • The average American home is comprised of 2.6 people. (Down from 4.5 in 1930).foodstampsvintage.jpg
  • The marriage rate is 14.4 per 1000. (Down from 24.2 in 1940)
  • The divorce rate in 1970 was 9.2 and peaked in 1980 at 22.6.
  • Unwed motherhood has jumped from 5 percent in 1960 to 40 percent.
  • Medicare costs represented 0.7 percent of the GDP in 1970. It is now 2.7 percent. Medicaid jumped from 0.2 percent to 1.8 percent.

Parents know all too well that sometimes “helping” your child could actually wind up doing them great harm. Enduring certain difficult circumstances has a way of shaping a person’s character. I remember learning as a kid that a diamond is nothing but a hunk of coal that was put under extreme pressure.

It’s one thing to help lift someone up and help get them back on their feet. It’s a whole other thing to provide a steady stream of support that leads to chronic dependency.

It’s easy to try and politicize the subject of government assistance but the bottom line of bottom lines is this:

God never intended the government to supplant the role of the family. Good government complements family life (Romans 13:4) – it doesn’t assume control of it and command those responsibilities designed for individual households.

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