A man in his late 20s squeals his car to a stop at the side of the road on a darkened street. He jumps out and starts to run. He sprints past some shady characters making a deal under a lamppost, darts around people loitering in front of a convenience store. He pauses in front of an elementary school as the sound of sirens echoes in the distance.
Finally he dashes into the building and into the auditorium — where he slides into a seat next to his wife who is looking at her watch with a raised eyebrow. The man begins to cheer enthusiastically as his young daughter dances across the stage.
There are plenty of things we should run away from in this country, but one thing we should be running toward is the family.
Countless organizations, politicians and government agencies are shouting that we must run away from the plagues of poverty, drug addiction, crime, unemployment and violence. Unfortunately, many of those same individuals and groups are also running people away from the family — the most obvious and historically proven solution to such problems. Policies that penalize married couples through the tax code or limit parental choice in education are just the beginning.
It is stunning that some of the entertainment and intellectual elite, who often make the loudest calls for improvement in our inner cities and struggling communities, spend an equal amount of time undermining the sovereignty and strength of America’s families.
Technology, affluence and a solve-every-problem form of big government have lulled us into believing that we can outsource the power and influence of family to other entities and institutions. Such a mindset atrophies the muscle that is at the heart and soul of American society and has been the bedrock of successful civilizations for millennia. The family, not government, holds the keys to solving our nation’s most pressing problems. For example, the poverty rate for married couples in 2014 was 8.2 percent, compared to 35.9 percent for single-parent families.
Neal A. Maxwell observed, “I fear that, as conditions worsen, many will react to the failures of too much government by calling for even more government. Then there will be more and more lifeboats launched because fewer and fewer citizens know how to swim.”
Government functioning as family is a failed proposition. Research shows that children from single-parent homes are twice as likely to be arrested and three times as likely to go to jail before age 30, compared to children from married families. The best way to reduce our burgeoning prison population is not through government but through strengthening families and communities.
The more we look to government-centric solutions, the more we undercut, undervalue and underutilize the family. The government has a role to play, to be sure. But government should play a minor role and should never become the leading actor, writer and director in the lives of citizens — especially those who are struggling. The government cannot love, and it does not have the ability to nurture our better natures — it can never supplant the power of family.
Strong families are a driving force for good. If we want to improve education, cut crime, reduce poverty and solve our nation’s problems, we need to strengthen families. And not just our own families — the families in our communities, too. We can pave the way for economic prosperity, grow the private sector and improve the lives and futures for children across the country. When we strengthen one, we strengthen another. That’s the power of the family.
Society has long recognized family as a critical social engine, and research increasingly illustrates that the family is likewise a powerful economic engine.
Sutherland Institute has, in conjunction with the American Conservative Union, released the Family Prosperity Index, which is a compilation of 60 key indexes covering areas including overall economic strength, family self-sufficiency, health, education, incarceration rates, upward mobility and the stability of families. The index reveals clear correlations between strong families strong economies and strong communities.
The goal of public policy at every level of government, from local to federal, should be to make government’s influence smaller while fostering a society with bigger citizens, stronger families and more heroic communities. While there are many ills in our society that we should rightly run away from, the one thing we should be running toward is more powerful, resilient and prosperous families.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.