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The Good Place: A society to match the scenery (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and neighboring)


Paying the piper: fragmented families cost billions
   The good life and the market state


In the old republic of virtue we had moral crusades to try to get people to do the right things for the right reasons. In the new market state in which we more and more live, moral crusades seem too, well, moralistic.

So we get economic crusades. We are lectured not about the content of our character, but about how our actions impact the public purse.

Though it’s never been hard to see the connection between good marriages and the good life, those people whose attention has been on other things, such as fighting the threat of morality (judgmentalism} in the public discourse, may still believe that such practices as divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing are merely private matters.

They would be mistaken. The market state is also a nanny state. As more of your behavior can be tracked through the miracle of computing, many things that were once in the private real have become public. If you over-indulge your fondness for hot fudge sundaes, for example, you increase your chances of saddling your neighbors with the medical costs of treating your obesity or diabetes, and we can track just how much your indulgence is likely to cost us.

So now we have moral crusades about fast food. The school where I work just paid all staff members $25 to complete a risk assessment survey. This survey allows the health insurance company to target specific interventions to people who are at risk of increasing medical costs for the group. It’s all quite voluntary and pleasant, for now. As with all modern bureaucracies, they speak as though they care about me, but their presentation led off with lots of charts about how some bad habits are affecting the bottom line.

In the market state, the only measure we have in common is dollars. So it makes good sense that a new report calculates the financial costs associated with divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing to be $112 billion per year. Georgia State University economist Ben Scafidi completed the study with sponsorship by the Institute for American Values, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, Families Northwest of Redmond, and the Georgia Family Council, an ally of Focus on the Family.

“Marriage is more than a moral or social institution,” according to the study. “It is also an economic one, a generator of social and human capital, especially when it comes to children.” The figures will be unsurprising to ordinary people. Most people try to organize their own lives around stable marriages, understanding that this has obvious practical as well as spiritual benefits.

The practical and spiritual are not, after all, unrelated. In his important essay ”Discipline and Hope,” Wendell Berry shows some of the linkages between moral values and ecological values and economic values. “Morality is long-term practicality,” he concludes.

Unfortunately, we now live with millions of people who feel empowered to make up their own rules when it comes to morality. Unsurpisingly, many of them make costly mistakes. Fortunately, most of them remain very interested in money. Therefore, we share enough common ground to permit a conversation to continue.

Because talking about money is safer and easier than talking about morality, I expect more and more conversations about such topics as casual sex and cohabitation to be grounded in dollar talk.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey

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