Friday, January 24, 2020

Maxine Eichner's "The Free-Market Family"

Maxine Eichner is the Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University Of North Carolina School Of Law. She is the author of The Supportive State: Families, Government, and America's Political Ideals.

Eichner applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Free-Market Family: How the Market Crushed the American Dream (and How It Can Be Restored), and reported the following:
A reader of page 99 of my book would read a critical part – but only a part – of the story I tell in The Free-Market Family about how the US economy is failing American families. Page 99 summarizes research showing the importance to newborns of having a parent stay home during their first year:
[W]e know that parents taking longer paid leaves of up to a year reduce children’s death rates, and that leaves beyond six months improve mothers’ mental health, which leads to better parenting. Furthermore, significant research suggests that children suffer small but significant cognitive setbacks when parents return to work before a child reaches one year. Based on the incomplete knowledge we have today, the least risky course, and the one that gives children their best chance to thrive, is to allow a parent to take that first year off.
Empirical research like this is a key part of my book. But a reader who read only page 99 would miss what the book does with this research: namely, it considers how well our US system, which largely expects families to get what they need through the market, does in getting families the resources they need to thrive compared to the systems of most other wealthy countries, which take a more active role in supporting families.

In this inquiry, Free-Market Family shows that our system does a disastrous job in supporting US families. That’s true for the parental leave issue addressed on page 99: few US children have a parent stay at home with them during their first year, while almost all children in many other wealthy countries do. And far fewer US children get other important conditions we know serve children best, including high-quality daycare and prekindergarten, and regular loving care and attention from a parent all during childhood.

Furthermore, the book shows that the vast economic inequality our system has spawned means many US adults won’t ever form the stable partner relationships that most badly want. Our system also causes US parents to work harder, get less free time, and enjoy their kids less than parents in other wealthy countries. And when families aren’t sound, citizens aren’t sound. Hence the rise of the opioid epidemic, our skyrocketing rates of mental illness, and the decrease in US lifespans.

Finally, the reader of page 99 would miss the Free-Market Family’s critique of US policymakers’ treating the end goal of the economy as rising GDP. The correct end of the economy, the book asserts, is ensuring that all Americans have the resources they need to live good lives. Living good lives isn’t possible though, for children as well as most adults, unless families are sound. Ensuring that all Americans have the resources they need to support thriving family relationships must therefore become a key goal of US policymaking.
Learn more about The Free-Market Family at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue