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Romney’s Family Security Act is not pro-life economics

Around 60% of abortions are done by single mothers living in poverty, so the aborting of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court has caused politicians to call for a pro-life economy. They seem to think that reducing poverty will end the need for abortions. Of course, socialists have always thought they could perfect humanity by getting rid of poverty.

The search for a pro-life economy inspired politicians to dust off Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act which he announced in February of 2021. According to his web site, the Family Security Act would “…create a new national commitment to American families by modernizing antiquated federal policies into a monthly cash benefit amounting to $350 a month for each young child, and $250 a month for each school-aged child.”

Democrats don’t like the plan because Romney would cut other programs to pay for it. Republicans don’t like it because it’s simply more welfare. Christians should oppose it because of the moral hazard it creates. Romney’s plan falls into two traps: moral hazard and the homo economicus fallacy.

Romney, like most politicians, doesn’t understand moral hazard, one of the most important principles in micro-economics. Moral hazard teaches us that if you eliminate the consequences of risky behavior, you get more risky behavior. The typical example is insurance; having insurance to pay for the damage to one’s car after a wreck motivates many people to drive more recklessly.

Hurricanes cause far more property damage today than in the past because of federally subsidized insurance. Before the 1960s only the poor lived near beaches, where land was cheap. Land was cheap because no company would insure homes built so close to the water, due to the threat of tidal waves and hurricanes. The wealthy kept their houses safely inland. Then politicians, in their infinite wisdom, decided to force taxpayers to subsidize the cost of insurance for the wealthy on properties that insurance companies deemed too risky. 

Any freshman in an intro to economics class could have predicted the results: wealthy people gobbled up beach front property and built mansions on the water’s edge or in the water. Risky? Absolutely, but they didn’t care because taxpayers helped pay the cost of their insurance. They could easily rebuild, and many have multiple times.

Monetary policies of the Federal Reserve breed moral hazard problems, too. Economists have complained for decades that low interest rates set by the Fed cause people to invest in riskier ventures than they would if interest rates were higher. Then, when interest rates rise, those bets go bust.

Abortion paid for by taxpayers took away one part of the unpleasantness of getting pregnant when women didn’t want to. There was no need to fuss with birth control. In the same way, if we take away all the discomfort of having children and pay poor, young, uneducated girls to have them, they will have more than they otherwise would.

Avoiding moral hazard requires looking ahead. Jesus warned His disciples to count the cost of following Him. “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28: 28). That’s excellent advice and could rid us of the undesired consequences of moral hazard if people would follow it. Yet politicians like Romney want us to pretend there are no costs to their policies, only benefits.

Politicians will complain that opposition to Romney’s plan is heartless, but foolishness is not compassion. Enabling sin is not compassion. Dr. Thomas Sowell explained the moral hazard in such welfare programs: “Nearly a hundred years of the supposed ‘legacy of slavery’ found most black children [78%] being raised in two-parent families in 1960. But thirty years after the liberal welfare state found the great majority of black children being raised by a single parent [66%].” Dr. Sowell wrote that decades ago. The percentage of children born to single parents is higher today among blacks than whites. Essentially, “compassion” for poor mothers increased their numbers dramatically, and with devastating consequences: the sons of unwed mothers make up the majority of criminals.

Marvin Olansky’s book, The Tragedy of American Compassion, shows that indiscriminate giving, as Romney proposes, does little more than encourage more people to quit working and live off the labor of others. And it will encourage poor, single, uneducated women to have more children for the income they generate from the government.

There is no solution to problems of unwanted pregnancies, but if we removed the incentives, fewer single women might get pregnant. In the past, concerns about morality kept single women chaste, and those who became pregnant lived with their parents. But few people care about morality today except conservative Christians, and single mothers see no reason to submit to the discipline of their parents when their sugar daddy, the federal government, will take care of them.

And Romney’s plan will hurt middle class families who must pick up the tab. Yes, Romney claims his program would be fiscally neutral by cutting other programs. But we’ve been suckers for that snake oil for decades: Congress always passes the spending, but never the cuts.

Christians can help alleviate (but not eliminate) the difficult lives of single mothers by getting to know them and supporting those who pledge not to have more children until they marry. Many churches have programs to provide free car maintenance and help with the rent. But federal programs increase the numbers of single mothers so much that the efforts of the church become like trying to drain the ocean. Romney’s plan would make the problem worse.

Finally, Romney and supporters fall into the homo economicus fallacy. Homo economicus, the hero in mainstream economics, cares about nothing in life but money. He or she places a price sticker on everything. In the context of abortion, the only algebra necessary is comparing the cost of an abortion to the cost of having the baby.

Homo economicus is necessary for the very limited calculations that the science of economics makes, supply and demand and all that. But he becomes grotesque when introduced to the more sophisticated world of political economy that most people care about because we know that people decide things for many reasons other than money: for example, love, religion, charity, morality, et cetera.

Most pregnant poor single mothers give birth. According to the CDC, “…the abortion ratio was 195 abortions per 1,000 live births.” If 60% of births and roughly the same percentage of abortions occur to poor, single mothers, then five times as many poor women give birth than have abortions. Why are so many poor women having babies and not aborting them? Clearly, money isn’t the issue. Romney merely wants to throw more money at the problem.

Like doctors, politicians should first try to do no harm and if they have caused harm, stop it. The first step to take would be to end the state’s subsidizing poor, uneducated, single mothers having babies. We have enough children without fathers. The second step is to free the economy from government chains so that it can created jobs for those young women, and reduce taxes so that working poor families keep more of their income. Third, use DNA tests to find the fathers and make them pay child support. But the only solution to the unwanted pregnancy problem, in the end, is for more men and women to become followers of Christ.

Roger McKinney is the author of Financial Bull Riding and God is a Capitalist: Markets from Moses to Marx.

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