- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

By Jennifer Roback Morse
Spence, $27.95, 273 pages

When Adam Smith wrote "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776 and praised laissez-faire economics, in which competition is unfettered and government interference is minimal, no one imagined that another economist 225 years later would apply the same term to describe the frail and fragmented family unit of her time. Sadly however, the close familial relationships found during Smith's age, which were considered far from super-human, have all but dissipated in recent years. It is this loss of kinship bonds, once the bedrock of a free and civilized society, that now threatens our individual rights and freedom.
Jennifer Roback Morse has written "Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work." The author is both a mother and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Rochester in 1980, and upon completing her degree spent five years teaching economics at Yale University, then moved to George Mason University.
A firm supporter of the free market and a defender of libertarian political theory, the writer now questions whether or not the self-regulated and individualistic qualities of a free society, are values that apply to the personal domain. Her greatest concern is preserving the structural framework of a free society that of individual self-restraint and self-monitoring. However, she recognizes that without a proper home environment one that teaches "personal self-governance" as well as respect and cooperation the role of the state will continue to swell, and the freedom we enjoy will likewise collapse.
The author argues that those values crucial to a free society cooperation, respect, forbearance are most effectively implanted by a traditional, loving family. While she acknowledges that it is not impossible to raise a happy, civilized child in some form of a "modern alternative to the family," she suggests that these alternatives are generally not adequate substitutes. A child raised by single or divorced parents, for example, cannot absorb the same values that are offered by loving married parents simply because they are denied a two-parent household.
A baby is impulsive and self-centered. It is up to the parents, therefore, to instill values of trust and self-restraint in their child. A child must learn from example and from experience, and one who does not witness a relationship that includes patience, admiration, and teamwork between his mother and father is less likely to acquire those qualities himself.
The author does not propose government intervention as a solution to this familial erosion. Rather, in concert with her libertarian viewpoint, she suggests that in order to reach and sustain a truly free society, some demands must be placed on individuals specifically marriage partners and parents. But she fails to acknowledge additional ways in which the government could help restore the familial fabric simply by abstaining from additional hampering. For instance, the writer criticizes the idea of government programs as a substitute for fathers; yet, she says nothing of the tremendous tax burden weighing on the American family, making it increasingly more necessary for both parents to work outside of the home.
At first glance, the book does not seem to offer a novel thesis and in many ways it doesn't. The same debate over the rise of the "laissez-faire family" and the ways in which women in the workplace have undermined the family unit, has made its way into books and onto magazine covers several times already this year. Still, while much of what the author endorses might be reckoned repetitious, she does examine the argument through a different lens. Perhaps as a result of her economic perspective, she recognizes the greatest threat of the laissez-faire family ironically is the loss of freedom.
The writer breaks down the family unit to its most essential building block love. Love, she argues, is the foundation of a marriage. And marriage is not only the declaration of a lifelong partnership, but also the assumed preparation for a child. Why not focus on the materials that are imperative to preserving a structure? Love is essential to marriage, and marriage is essential to raising a well-mannered and good-natured child.
Love is analyzed from an economic perspective, and it acknowledged that sometimes heavy costs accompany love. Yet, the author argues, it is not only in an individual's best interest to be in a loving relationship, but also is necessary for the survival of a free society. At times the book reads more like a marriage-counseling guide than a public policy book. While the the relationship between love and scarcity is examined, the author's cost-benefit analysis of love sometimes can sound like a marriage counselor trying to assuage a frenzied couple.
Jennifer Morse's work does differ from some of her contemporaries' writings, such as Mary Eberstadt's Policy Review article "Home Alone" or Cathy Young's Reason magazine article "Sex and the Census," which were both inundated with sad statistics about children who grow up with full-time, out-of-the-home, working mothers. Her book would have benefited from some additional facts and figures something to drive home the unfortunate realization that many children are brought up by day-care centers rather than mothers, and that many serious problems do arise as a result of lack of parental involvement.
On the whole, however, the author grabs hold of a serious issue one that is a threat to our future and our freedom. She remarks on the diminishing relationship between "sexuality, intimacy, and childbearing." But, unlike some of her more socially conservative contemporaries, she does not suggest that a woman should stay at home. The writer's thesis is successful because she focuses on the ability for each individual family to recognize and follow through with their responsibilities as adults, married partners, and parents.

Sabrina Savodnik is an associate at the White House Writer's Group.

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