Give parents a choice, but also destroy gender roles

In response to critiques against child allowances, mostly due to the newly expanded child tax credit under Biden, Elizabeth Bruenig wrote a piece about allowances, specifically around notions from the critics that it supposedly both reduces employment and reinforces the traditional gender role of stay-at-home mothers. While there are controversies around the particular people she picked to push back against in terms of the critiques, her simple message of “Who cares?” is a great response.

Before delving into the moral aspect, the first claim is just false. Decades of “sloppy” analysis, as Matt Darling puts it, led to this horrible idea of welfare reducing work in the aggregate based on bad programs that basically encouraged poverty traps. Darling also pointed to evidence showing that work requirements do not actually encourage greater labor participation. And the 90s welfare reforms have made the poorest families, especially single-mother families, even poorer! It also flies in the face of the Nordic nations, all of who have higher employment rates, even when only considering women, compared to the US despite considerably greater amounts of welfare in the form of cash benefits.

So empirically, it’s a wash. Of course, this still won’t satisfy the Marco Rubio’s of the world who aggressively came out against Mitt Romney’s child allowance proposal. And you know what? Mitt’s counter was fantastic: he said his child benefit should remain within the realm of family policy, not employment policy. I agree! We should keep welfare to welfare matters while keeping labor proposals separate, which from my stance as a social democrat would involve active labor market policies (ALMP) practiced in the Nordics like assisting job searches, public sector positions, subsidies, training, etc. In the end, even though child benefits are handed to the parent/caregiver, this is still about the child, not the work status of their guardian.

As for the second issue surrounding gender roles, although I would consider myself a feminist, I’m not steeped in theory and obviously we’ve now shifted to a morality issue. What I will say is that this is not the 60s or 70s where questions of getting women into the labor force exist, which was a literal barrier back then. Women in most developed countries now make up a great deal of the workforce, especially in the Nordics as well as (funny enough) typically English countries such as the US, Canada, and Australia. However, virtually all developed countries have a child allowance regardless of whether they are liberal or conservative, and just from my own observation, it doesn’t seem to have had any effect on “traditional” roles. Indeed, all they rightfully do is reduce child poverty.

We should provide all parents with child allowances and universal public child care, or caregiver allowances if they chose to opt out of child care, thereby socializing the costs of child rearing. This is still biased toward women in this day and age, but it would provide a choice, and if they choose to stay home, then really, who cares? And if we want to (and we definitely need to) lessen this bias, then give men the same kind of paternity leave as maternity. Give men the option to reduce their work hours, work part-time, or just stay home as well if they wish to focus on their family. The Emancipation of Man by Olof Palme made this point back in 1970 when he noticed gender norms still being reflected even during the height of social democracy in Sweden. Women indeed worked more, yet many were in public sector work, healthcare, and education, along with remaining the primary caretakers of children. His response was that culturally we need to encourage men to step down from the role of main breadwinner, workaholic, and type-A personalities which today we would deem “toxic masculinity.” Encourage them to spend time with family and/or take up work traditionally not associated with men, and in that regard push employers to stop treating men and women differently. Work to rear boys at an early age away from stereotypically aggressive tendencies and “male activities” (and conversely for girls too). The end result should be roughly some sort of equalization that effectively blurs gender roles to the point of irrelevance, or in other words, the liberation of both women and men from these arbitrary gender constraints!

While it’s my hope we achieve such a state, that is the real and very difficult challenge moving forward after reorganizing the way we provision family policy and welfare. In the meantime, who cares if women (or even now hopefully some men) stay home due to the new benefits? If it’s their conscious choice, let them be.

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