The Corner

Family-Friendly Liberalism

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes:

Beyond the gay marriage battle, we need a bargain: Liberals should acknowledge, as Obama has, that strengthening the family is vital to economic justice. Conservatives should acknowledge that economic justice is vital to strengthening families.

It depends on how you define “economic justice.” I don’t believe that a highly progressive tax system, for example, is “vital to strengthening families.” Replace the phrase with something like “a flourishing economy,” on the other hand, and I’m sold.

Dionne continues, “Conservatives often say that tax policies should be more helpful to families raising children.” Actually, conservatives don’t often say that—but they should. He continues:

I agree. But this can’t be yet another excuse for cutting taxes on the wealthy. New tax benefits for families with kids have to be concentrated on those in the middle and the bottom of the income structure, where modest amounts of additional relief could go a long way.

An expanded child tax credit that reduced income-tax and payroll-tax liability—which has just won the welcome endorsement of Steven Hayward—would inevitably have its greatest effect on the middle class. Below it on the income scale there wouldn’t be much tax liability to erase. Above it the money would not matter much. I would oppose any attempt to keep affluent parents from getting the credit, though, both because phasing it out would increase effective marginal tax rates (and thus damage incentives to work, save, and invest) and because the fundamental rationale for the child credit applies to rich parents, too. Compared to rich childless people, they’re contributing more to the future of entitlement programs.

Dionne also writes that “our national policies on sick leave and family leave are among the most anti-family in the developed world. When faced with a choice between the needs of the family and the needs of employers, we nearly always tilt toward employers.”

The rationale for a family-friendlier tax code does not apply here: There’s no government intervention to correct, just private contracts. Also, this type of family-friendly mandate offers the least help to those families most disadvantaged by the current bias against parenting, since women with several children are less likely than women with one or two children to have full-time paid employment.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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