Conservative policymakers are expressing greater enthusiasm for supporting American families than at any point in recent memory. “You should be able to raise a family on one single income,” declared Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters last year. But Republicans eager to do more for families will have to overcome the libertarian assumptions that shape GOP policy. The free market doesn’t care about your family, and no amount of small-government mental gymnastics can change that fact.
Raising children is extraordinarily costly, but employers don’t adjust wages based on workers’ family size, nor do children generate income on their own. In our modern, post-industrial economy, no one needs a big family to help on the farm or for security in retirement. Exposed to market pressures, people who want children face an ugly dilemma: either accept a lower standard of living, or sacrifice family life (whether by delaying childbirth or spending less time with the children you do have). This dilemma gets worse the more children you want, which is precisely what defenders of the economic status quo on the American right tend to obscure.
The nexus of libertarian ideologues and pro-business interests that dominate right-wing economic policymaking is the most significant barrier to genuinely pro-family policy. Defenders of free-market orthodoxy gaslight pro-family conservatives into believing their differing priorities are, by some happy coincidence, achieved through the same means. They will, for instance, claim that corporate tax cuts happen to be the best way to help the family by appealing to abstract concepts like “economic growth.” Step outside the intellectual ouroboros of conservative think tanks, however, and one finds that the growth-enhancing effects of corporate tax cuts are relatively modest.