The Bookshelf: Old Voices and New Alliances

Conservatives, who sometimes can be seen as wanting to turn the clock much farther back than the last decade, will need to identify ways of applying core principles in ways that avoid falling into sheer revanchism. Old-fashioned liberals who wish to recover a circa 2013 version of the Democratic Party will have to lay out what, exactly, they would change to prevent the same cultural trends from playing out all over again.
To get us out of the self-consuming ouroboros of frantically chasing experiences rather than investing in home and relationships will require a greater attention to virtues of thrift, local commitment, and a lower bar for what “living comfortably” looks like. Choosing to do hard things—to start a family, have kids, invest in local institutions, and put others before ourselves—requires a formation in values that lie outside the market. 
The belief that childrearing is prohibitively expensive could be understood as a fruit of our collapsing civil society. Some people today don’t even consider that extended family, neighbors, churches, and other little platoons can, at least theoretically, provide real support to parents. They fall into believing that the only places to turn for help are the market and the state. Parents without community support then shift more burden onto themselves.
Demographer Lyman Stone projects that, on the current course, as many as one in three young adults in the United States might never marry and as many as one in four will never have kids. That’s a lot of kinless Americans. Given the importance of marriage and family for what Jefferson called “the pursuit of happiness,” this would be a tragedy. So let’s find new ways to make it easier and more appealing for young adults to get married.
Crucially, Kaplan sees the fragility of American life not just in the low-income neighborhoods of inner-city Philadelphia, but in the isolation of otherwise well-off suburbs. His goal is to resurrect the idea of the neighborhood as a specific place with a distinctive sense of community. It’s a cultural narrative that runs counter to a mentality that prioritizes mobility over stability.
Being pro-family must also mean being pro-housing reform. If we want more neighborhood children playing in our front yards, we should be pushing their elected officials to make it easier for developers to build, baby, build.
Don the jersey, embrace the pageantry, and invite friends over for seven-layer dip.
In a post-industrial society where marriage and fertility are expressions of values, rather than buttresses for economic security, policies that strive to make it as easy as possible for people to get married and have children should be at the forefront of the agenda. Broader state investment alone cannot take the place of a pro-family culture, from media outlets to religious institutions to schools.
A healthy culture, nearly every Public Discourse reader would agree, needs strong families. There is a growing number on the right—and I count myself among them—who recognize the family as possessing an inherent economic logic, in addition to its essential culture-shaping role. Families are influenced by market forces, starting from the very fundamental decision of whether to form a household or not. This requires some amount of getting our hands dirty in the nitty-gritty of politics and policy design.
As conservatives become more interested in family policy, they should avoid two extremes: rebutting any use of government, on the one hand, and on the other hand, assuming that trillions can be spent without negative repercussions. A social insurance model like the Family Security Act 2.0 strikes this balance: it provides modest but worthwhile support and preserves families’ authority to determine their own work-life balance.
Borrowing a family policy prescription from Helsinki or Budapest is bound to disappoint. A distinctly American family policy platform must be seen as expanding choice, not constraining it, and working with our national character, not trying to reshape it, all while understanding family as the essential institution in society, one that stakes an unavoidable claim on our public resources.
What role does economic policy have to play in advancing a conservative agenda? Should the American right move away from a commitment to an unfettered free market and embrace nationalism, protectionism, and more government support for families?
“One Billion Americans” is more than a cheeky provocation. It is a reflection on what it might take to restore American vitality, and the policy steps needed to get us there.
In The Age of Entitlement, Christopher Caldwell chronicles our increased willingness to eat our seed corn and inability to propagate the future. But the questions he raises require a treatment other than borrowing the frameworks of progressive theorists and drawing different conclusions that suggest an inescapable logic of racial resentment.
In Alienated America, Tim Carney paints a picture of a nation riven by a social capital divide, a divide that has led to the rise of populism and socialism. Our task is to rebuild civil society. This work need not wait for enabling legislation, the seizing of the means of production, or a national declaration of fealty to Rome. It can—and should—be undertaken today.
“Economic piety” has led to an overemphasis on consumption, writes Oren Cass in The Once and Future Worker. If we value family and community life, we need a labor policy that is explicitly intended to sustain them.
Facing an increasingly divided nation, the conservative movement must offer policies addressing the reality of life in urban centers.
To engage and shape the culture, we must understand the power of storytelling—and respect its limits.