This is a short post spurred by the coincidence of two articles that crossed my path the same day. Each discusses how a government uses public policy shapes choices in an effort to encourage certain sorts of behavior around the parent/child questions.
Obviously the two countries are approaching different problems in different ways and the authors of the articles are making different points. I’m not going to discuss the details of either for the moment. But these stories remind me that I have paid too little attention to the systematic ways in which government policy can shape what are often understood to be deeply personal and individual choices.
One note I will add–the US is particularly weak in family policy generally. What I mean by that is that the US doesn’t have much coherent family policy at a national level. You do hear about things like marriage promotion, say, from time to time, but this is usually more in the nature of a little public relations outburst than systematic policy. (It may be the the UK story falls into that category, too.)
Our lack of systematic family policy in the us is partly attributable to the fact that family law operates at a state law level for the most part. But even within states there is often inconsistency and incoherence. Family law has become deeply politicized (or maybe it always was) and this makes legislative action difficult. And there are structural attributes of our governmental system that make it particular difficult to formulate broad family policy via legislative action.
The end result, as I’ve noted, is that family law here often gets made by the courts. And courts focus on individual cases, which highlight specific facts. That makes broad formulations of policy a lot less likely.
Perhaps we’d be better served by a robust public debate followed by adoption of some coherent policy designed to encourage particular family forms. I’d be in favor of that if I could guarantee that the encouraged forms would be ones I liked. But there are no guarantees and perhaps that’s the heart of the reason why it’s all pretty much chaos out there.