(This is Doug) Next semester I'll be teaching the Social Justice Living and Learning Community my Economics of Compassion class. Fundamentally we'll be talking about what justice is and how it should be achieved; but, one of my primary goals is to convince students that no matter discipline they're passionate about they can bring about justice. Think of it this way:
If there is a song that is beautiful and someone asks me to sing that song I would reply, "I can't do justice to that song". This statement implies that there is a perfection in the song that I can't quite reach. If I could sing the song really well then I could do the song justice. Likewise, justice in the world deals with correction and restoration towards a more perfect ideal. For Christians this is God's Kingdom and God's glory. Like St. Ireanaus said, "The glory of God is man fully alive." Whatever we can contribute to that goal is a contribution towards justice.
Specifically, what I have noticed in teaching the class are the tremendous number of times I traipse down the path of economic programs and political discourse only to uncover that a large factor in the brokeness of poverty (lack of education, low wages, etc.) have root in a fractured, uninvolved, or non-existent family. Then, I consider that whether my students choose to become economics majors (and some have to my delight) they will be able to make a significant impact in achieving justice or bringing God's Kingdom to earth. They can do so through music therapy, counseling, family and child sciences, pastoring, or a number of other avenues. They have a tangible impact. And, the justice they bring forth is quite relational. For some reason economists are not expected to bring much in the way of relational justice, but rather top-down redistributive justice.
(This is Mark) But it has been over 40 years since one of those present at the creation of the Great Society, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, worried about the effects of governmental dependency on the structure of the family. Not to be outdone by the Great Society( and at almost exactly the same time), the American Middle Class openly embraced a massive social transformation in the acceptance of routine (no-fault) divorce. Somewhere in the ballpark of 35 - 40 percent of American children are now born out of wedlock, and divorce is distressingly common. Now, across our desks comes a new report from the (Great Society rooted) Brookings Institution, which says that there are three straightforward policy areas that should be at the top of our list for creating economic opportunity:
1 ) improving education,
2 ) improving the earned Income Tax Credit, and
3) reintroducing and strengthening the forgotten cultural sequence of (first) education, then marriage, and then (and only then) children.
Education and tax reform are the standard fare of economists and other policy wonks. Doug and I don't have any problem understanding how a school district can seek to hire and retain good teachers or how Congress can change to tax code, but exactly how are we supposed to undo 45 years of transformed cultural norms on marriage and the family?
The Brookings study isn't revolutionary. It reflects a strong consensus. (Doug here) Recently I listened to a Podcast on American Enterprise Institute on Social and Cultural Studies. The speaker was World Magazine Editor Marvin Olasky and he talked about relational justice. The timing of speech melded perfectly with the increased realization that top-down approaches to helping those in need neglected this family component. He cites President Obama's speech from 2008 on Father's Day, some of which is included below and stresses the importance of family. Statistics used by Obama? Children growing up without a father are 5 times more likely to end up in poverty and commit crime, 9 times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
This will generate several other posts. This is a significant problem and one that I hope can be rectified by a culture that seeks to be more aware of social justice issues. For my students, I hope they understand the immense purpose involved in pursuing justice through their development of expertise in other areas. For economists, I hope we can begin to realize that top-down approaches are not the solution to these deep cultural issues with family.
Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing - missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. -President Obama