Politics and the Family
Family is the Basic Unit of Society

Are the Biggest Institutions Destroying the Smallest?
Column Four
by Richard Eyre

Column 1   Column 2    Column 3

Most everyone, it seems, pays lip service to the concept that the family is the basic unit of society – the fundamental building block, the smallest and most critical institution out of which all other institutions are made.

From the science of matter to the science of management, we have to understand and maintain the smallest unit if we want to ensure the proper functioning of the larger entity. How self-destructive it would be if an organization began to destroy its own cells or if corporate executives started undermining their own workers.

The principle and warning applies directly to today’s society.

The larger institutions of our country, as they pursue their own preservation and expansion, are undermining, superseding, and otherwise destroying the basic institution of the family in a hundred ways. Every part of society – from banks to businesses, from media to manufacturers, and from government agencies to news agencies to ad agencies – must come to realize that as they weaken and undermine families they are ultimately destroying themselves. None of them can exist without the foundation of stable households that are the demand engine and the end consumer of every good or service that they produce and provide. The survival of all the large institutions we have created depends entirely on the survival of solid individual households and families.

Some argue otherwise: “Who needs families?” they say. “Individuals are consumers, individuals are employees, individuals are what make up society. Who cares if they are married or if they live together as families?”

Statistics and common sense provide the answer. Married individuals earn more, produce more, and consume more than single individuals – 30 percent more. Try to imagine any business school or government surviving a 30 percent decline in sales, in production, or in tax base. And try to imagine a society reproducing and successfully raising its work force and its consumer base without functional, nurturing families.

Parents provide a huge service to society by raising its next generation, its next work force, its next taxpayers, its next universe of consumers. Current estimates of the cost of raising a child to age eighteen are in excess of $200,000. Yet we do little to repay families. In fact, there are punishments ranging from higher taxes to job and career disadvantages.

In earlier times, children were an economic advantage to parents – they helped on the farm and with the other manual labor or households. Today children are a huge economic drain on their parents and neither government nor business does much to ease the burden or support the effort. The bottom line is that we all depend on families. And as surely as we depend on them individually, we depend on them institutionally.

Short-term vs. Long-term Gain

When larger institutions have policies or practices that weaken or harm families, it is almost always a classic example of trading long-term viability for short-term gains. It is a macro example of choosing instant gratification over permanent stability.

  • A bank makes credit too easy and increases short-term profits but generates bankruptcies and family financial instability that diminish the bank’s long-term deposits and profits.
  • A business downsizes and reduces family-related benefits and thus raises its current income, but it suffers in the long run because it loses employee loyalty, morale, and stability.
  • A movie focuses on violence and irresponsible, recreational sex and produces a box office hit on a relatively low budget. But life imitates art, and kids make mistakes that hurt themselves economically as well as emotionally, and theaters as well as every other part of commerce eventually pay the price.
  • A TV news show focuses on the steamy and the shocking and gives much more attention to “alternative lifestyles” than to family lifestyle. Curiosity and titillation help the Nielsen rating but undermine the families that we’re counting on to provide the next generation of viewers.
  • A merchandiser/advertiser disguises wants as needs, helping create a narcissistic, hedonistic society of instant gratification. People buy more and product companies earn more in the short term, but at the expense of family stability and long-term prosperity, both in households and in businesses.
  • A business refuses the options of flex time, job sharing, and maternity leave in the name of avoiding disruption and inconvenience but ends up losing some of its most competent employees, who decide to put family first.
  • A neighborhood sports team (or a college or pro league) decides to schedule more of its games on Sunday to increase attendance but makes parents choose between sports and family time or church time, eventually weakening families and undermining future community support for the team.
  • A legislature creates a marriage tax penalty (makes it so a married couple is taxed more than the same two individuals living or filing separately). It increases short-term tax reserves but undermines the family’s ability to raise the next generation’s tax base.
  • A high school teaches every imaginable class related to career and occupation but pays no attention to family or parenting skills or to ethics. Kids are prepared to go out and get a job but not to raise the kids or establish the home that will support and supply the school and the general economy.
  • A law firm encourages and supports and recommends divorce as the common solution, lining their pockets with fees but splitting up the families that constitute the communities in which they exist.

Most of us don’t have any direct influence over the banks, businesses, media, or merchandisers that are undermining (or at least failing to support) our families. But we are voters, and this is an election year, and what we can do is look for candidates who will address these issues and use their influence and voice to attempt to persuade the larger institutions to take better care of the smaller.

And someday, if we really want a way to turn public priorities toward private families, how about this: Give parents one additional vote (in local and state elections) for each of their under-eighteen children. This kind of parental power at the ballot box would cause politicians to pander to families like never before and would no doubt unleash a stunning list of creative, family-friendly ideas and proposals.

Join me next column when we will explore the devious (even diabolical) plan that is afoot to destroy families throughout the earth. And please read the earlier columns in this series when you have time.

2004 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.