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How a Free Market Run Amok Destroys "Family Values"

We need a healthy market. But we also have to understand that some of the policies said to free it can deeply hurt the families free-marketeers claim to value.

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The United States is relatively new to being a high-gap nation. In 1960, as Charles Murray observes in his 2012 book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," there was far less distance between Americans at the top of the socioeconomic ladder and those at the bottom. By 2010, the gap had grown dramatically, and Murray found that as the American class system "came apart," so too did the families he studied. Poor people in 2010 felt less trustful of others, less supported by others and less happy than poor people in 1960 — and so did rich people.

One reason for the widening gap is cuts to public services. Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing for the homeless and disabled, Head Start — these are programs that keep poor people from losing ground. Public service cuts affect middle-class people too, of course; in fact, they are the main users of national and state parks (one needs a car to get there) and public libraries. And with poorly funded public schools, middle-class parents will increasingly turn, as they are already doing, to private schools, which will mean Mom upping her hours at the office and Dad taking on overtime, leaving less time for the family.

We need a healthy market, of course. But we also have to understand that some of the policies said to free it can deeply hurt the very families free-marketeers claim to value. Why not aim a whole lot higher?


Arlie Russell Hochschild is the author, most recently, of "The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times."


Copyright © 2012,  Los Angeles Times

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