Thrift – Telling the Story of a Cultural Movement for Today

I have a special treat for you. David Blankenhorn sat down with Andrew Yarrow in our New York offices and they talked up “Thrift: The History of an American Cultural Movement.” Tired of reading? You’ll find this fascinating podcast here.

Andrew Yarrow has written a delightful book, laying bare, root and branch, the forgotten story of the early 20th century Thrift movement. If you like returning to the source where practical and creative people tackle new challenges, you are in luck. The Thrift movement took its recognizable shape from about 1890 to 1930. Its crazy quilt history reads like the original crowd sourced solution to the bewildering issues raised by the maturing of the industrial age and America’s nascent consumer culture. Andrew also has a few important things to say about how that impulse for reform, thrift, is relevant for our economic security in our eerily similar age.

I particularly love the chapter on the movement visionaries, entitled “Allies and Strange Bedfellows.” What a spectacular group of eccentrics and entrepreneurs! And how surprised we are to learn that many of the institutions they dreamed of, designed and built, still endure. Their call to arms remains both familiar and more urgent than ever. 

Andrew’s writing is as smooth as butter and as economical as you could hope to find given the wide variety of sources and insights required to bring this story out from the shadows. And like the proverbial Dutch boy’s thumb, it fills a critical and contemporary need – and makes you glad that he was there to fill in the gap. 

In addition, the University of Massachusetts Press has made this arresting volume even more attractive by including so many of IAV’s collection of images from our Thrift Catalogue. Picture and text together evoke for the reader both the proverbial wisdom and ethical passion of Thrift as  “the philosophy of common sense” – as Teddy Roosevelt labeled it. We really do come away with a rich sense of the imaginative reach of this simultaneously hardwired and yet to be attained American ethic.

Thank you Professor Yarrow.

Should We Legalize Sports Betting?

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, the new commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Adam Silver, says that he favors allowing legalized sports betting throughout the United States. The announcement both surprises and confirms. It surprises because no leader of any major U.S. sports league, either college or professional, has ever expressed anything other than opposition to sports betting. But Mr. Silver’s about-face also confirms a trend – for some time now, big-time sports and big-time gambling have been quietly exploring ways to make money together.

So we can thank Mr. Silver for making the idea official. And we can welcome this opportunity to consider anew whether commercial sports betting is a good idea. Let’s ask ourselves four questions.

First, what positive good for society might be gained by legalizing sports betting?  Tellingly, Mr. Silver is silent on this point. Other than trotting out the idea that legalized gambling is good because plenty of people already do it illegally – the argument of commercial gamblers everywhere since gambling began – Mr. Silver is in the uncomfortable position of advocating a major change in American sports without being able to offer a single positive reason why.

Don’t blame Mr. Silver. He offers no reason because none exists. Like all forms of gambling, sports betting is the sterile transfer of money from some people’s pockets into other people’s pockets, producing nothing new and nothing of lasting value. Its economic impact is similar to throwing your money on the street so someone else can pick it up – it redistributes wealth without creating it. And because this nonproductive activity nevertheless uses up time and resources, it almost certainly reduces our national standard of living.

The commissioner apparently thinks that the NBA can make money from sports betting – that his league can pick up some of that money thrown on to the street – and on that point he may be right.  But let’s realize that there is no larger motive behind his move.

Second, will legalized sports betting create new harms for people who’ll be encouraged to place bets?  On this issue, too, Mr. Silver is oddly silent, as if such a question is none of his concern. But shouldn’t it be?  If sports gambling becomes both legal and encouraged, more people are likely to gamble. And as more people gamble, more are likely to hurt themselves, their families, and their communities through excessive gambling. An already significant social problem – you can see it portrayed in the 2005 movie “Two for the Money” – would almost certainly get worse.

Third, will legalized sports betting encourage cheating and game-fixing?  Do basketballs bounce? An incontrovertible truth of U.S. sports history – and the main reason why all league officials until now have opposed sports betting – is that gambling and corruption, soliciting bets and enticing players and referees to cheat, go together like ham and eggs.  Amazingly, Mr. Silver essentially wishes this issue away, implying that more gambling, so long as it’s legal, will result in less cheating.  It almost certainly won’t.  (In a nearly comic touch, Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee who went to jail for betting on games that he officiated, recently endorsed Mr. Silver’s proposal.)

Finally, leaving aside issues of cheating, would legalized sports betting change the meaning of American sports?  The answer is yes, and here in my view is the deepest reason why commercial sports betting is harmful. Betting on games subtly but profoundly shifts our focus away from the game itself – the sport for the sake of the sport – and instead encourages us to experience the game as a means of measuring and grasping for money.  In doing so it violates everything that, as children, drew us to sports in the first place.

Remember, when you place a bet with a bookie, you usually aren’t even betting on who’s going to win the game – you are betting against a point spread established by the bookie. The game itself becomes something of a tangent.  Is this what we want our sports to mean to us?  Not the thing itself, but the commercialization of the thing?

And not just any old commercialization.  Let’s also remember that sports betting is fundamentally an income transfer from the betting public to professional bookies. Over time, the bookies always win. (Mr. Silver knows this; he just wants his cut.) In this sense, legalized sports gambling will publicly identify the meaning of American sports with something very close to a fleecing operation.  How can such a change be good for our sports or our society?

Mr. Silver would have us believe that the main issue is whether the activity is legal or illegal.  But that’s not true. The main issue is the activity itself.  Sports gambling is not harmful because it’s illegal.  It’s illegal because it’s harmful.

What Good is Marriage?

That marriage is a good thing for individuals and society can no longer be assumed. Yes, most Americans still aspire to marry and do marry. But recent research shows that growing numbers of Americans, especially younger ones, are either uncertain about marriage or express mistrust of the institution. Moreover, while marriage apparently remains a good fit for most upscale Americans, in much of non-affluent America marriage as a stable institution is primarily recognizable by its absence and by its wreckage.

So we’re called to think anew about this institution whose fundamental validity previous generations largely took for granted. Let’s start with the basic question. Why would someone today want to marry?  What good might marriage do?

The main fact about marriage is that it’s different from, and larger than, the love that is shared by the lovers. Sexual love is one of the most powerful feelings on earth. Sexual intercourse affects us even at the biochemical level, so that when lovers report that they feel “addicted” to one another, they are doing more than speaking poetically. Sexual love is a primal, potent human feeling.

Marriage is the social invention that surrounds and helps to guide sexual love. To private love, marriage adds a public structure. To an anarchic, drug-like feeling that is certain to ebb and flow over time, marriage adds rules and roles intended to help it survive over time and serve larger goals.  In short, sexual love is a feeling and marriage harnesses that feeling to what scholars call a social institution.

Now, let’s admit that “social institution” is not a phrase likely to set the heart racing, particularly when discussing sex and love.  But let’s also recognize and respect what goods are created – what is made more attainable – when sex and love are guided by a working social institution.

The first good is permanence. We all know that many marriages today fail, but for anyone who wants love that will last, marriage remains the best idea out there. This truth is beautifully captured by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who in 1943 told a couple on their wedding day that “It is not your love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, your marriage that sustains your love.”  If I could give every American only one sentence to read about marriage, it would that sentence from Bonhoeffer.

The second good is faithfulness. Viewed as an institution, marriage is largely a set of rules, and one of marriage’s central rules is to have sex only with your spouse and, more generally, to be true and devoted to your spouse.  Do we at times experience this rule as a burden?  Yes.  Do some of us break it?  Yes.  Does the rule almost always contribute importantly to better, richer, and more lasting love?  Yes.

The third good is children. Anthropologists tell us that a primary purpose of marriage across history and cultures is to protect children and promote their well-being. And current scholarship abundantly confirms the general rule that the two-parent, married-couple home is the best environment for raising children.  Warts and all, marriage is by far humanity’s most pro-child institution.

The fourth good is social bonds, or what economists call social capital.  Marriage helps me to thrive by placing me within a thick network of established mutual obligations and caring relationships. Marriage is a powerful connector.  It brings together not only two individuals but two extended families and two networks of friends. Does marriage as a formal structure add power to these relationships?  You bet it does. The late columnist William Raspberry used to say that he’d be uncertain if his daughter asked him to lend money to her boyfriend, but would reach for his checkbook if his daughter asked him to lend money to her husband.  Form matters.

The fifth good is wealth. Studies consistently show that marriage is a wealth-producing institution.  It’s true that higher earners are more likely to marry in the first place (researchers call this a selection effect), but it’s also true marriage in and of itself tends to encourage people (especially men) to work harder and earn more. Even more importantly, the marriage commitment creates incentives for the spouses to divide labor, plan for the future, and cooperate with one another over time in ways that build wealth.

The sixth good is civil society. Marriage tends to be associated with, and helps to produce, a range of character traits that are valued by individuals and society – including obeying the law, being trustworthy, and being a good neighbor and citizen. Marriage certainly does not guarantee these traits, or hold any monopoly on them. But marriage clearly contributes to them.

The Beatles said, “All you need is love.”  But that’s not all you need!  For fullness, transcendence, and staying power, the smart move is to put a ring on it.

Of Thee I Sing

If you want to know America, study the words of our national anthems. In his terrific book This Land That I Love, John Shaw offers at least eight songs that qualify as true American anthems, or “songs that people sing together on ceremonial or celebratory occasions when they want to evoke, share, or express a public emotion about nationhood.”  The earliest is “Hail, Columbia” (1789) and the most recent is “This Land is Your Land” (1940).  In between are “The Star-Spangled Banner” (1814), “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (1831), “Dixie” (about 1859), “America the Beautiful” (1895), “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (1899), and “God Bless America” (1938).   

What’s so remarkable about America is that we’re a nation based largely on ideals. What makes us one people is not our language, or our ethnicity, or our family backgrounds, or our religious creeds. Our essential unifying bond is a set of civic beliefs – which is why anyone can become an American. Our anthems reflect this astonishing fact.      

The most celebrated ideal in these eight songs is freedom. All but one (“Dixie”) stress it. We hail those “who fought and bled in freedom’s cause.” We sing of “a sweet land of liberty.” Our voices “ring with the harmonies of Liberty.”  We go “walking that freedom highway.”  There are many other examples. According to our anthems, if America must be sung in one word, that word is freedom.   

Yet two of these anthems link our nation to freedom’s opposite. “We have come over a way that with tears have been watered / We have come, treading our path of the blood of the slaughtered.” And “By the relief office I see my people / As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking / Is this land made for you and me?”  

I’m glad that these hard sentences are in our anthems. I like living in country big enough, and free enough, to include in its pantheon the painful truths told by James Weldon Johnson in his African American national anthem and by Woody Guthrie in his anthem of America’s ignored and dispossessed. Our foundational songs tell us that American patriotism is more than mere celebration.   

Four of these anthems praise America’s natural beauty.  I sing to America that “I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills.” God bless America “from the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam.” America is beautiful “from sea to shining sea.” That “golden valley” was made for you and me. What a huge, continent-sized country we live in – and how beautiful!    

Most of our anthems invoke the divine.  “In Heaven we place a manly trust, that truth and justice will prevail, and every scheme of bondage fail.”  We’re a “heaven rescued land” whose “motto” is to trust God. We sing to “our fathers’ God, Author of liberty.” We pray that “shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand.”  And of course, we sing “God bless America, land that I love.”   

At the same time, like the theme of freedom, the theme of America’s relationship to God comes in several flavors in these songs.  Sometimes we’re simply grateful for God’s blessings. Sometimes we ask for divine protection and guidance.  Sometimes, in my view, we come too close to suggesting that God especially favors America. 

 But sometimes, instead of believing that God today is on our side, we pray that tomorrow we can be a better people – perhaps more worthy of being on God’s side. From “America the Beautiful”: “America! America! God shed his grace on thee / Till selfish gain no longer stain the banner of the free!” And: “America! America! May God thy gold refine / Till all success be nobleness and every gain divine!”  There is no complacency here, no confidence in our collective rectitude, only a challenge in the form of a prayer.   

“America the Beautiful” is my favorite American anthem. It was written by Katherine Lee Bates – a professor of English literature at Wellesley College who likely had socialist political leanings – during a cross-country trip from Massachusetts to Colorado in the summer of 1893. It was her first trip west, and she clearly fell in love – as I did during my first extended trip west – with America’s skies, mountains, prairies, and “waves of grain.” She originally called her song “America,” but to me the eventual popular title, “America the Beautiful” is even better.   

Yet what I love most about this song is its confident hope that, with God’s help, this remarkable American experiment in ordered liberty can make us better tomorrow than we are today. “America!  America! God mend thine every flaw / Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!”  My admiration for this song continues to grow. 

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News

Is Marriage Over?

Should we give up on marriage? Some very smart people have apparently reached this conclusion. The latest and possibly most prominent is my friend Isabel Sawhill, whose new book is Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage.  Her basic premise is that “marriage is disappearing in America.” Accordingly, we should replace the old ideal of “don’t have a child outside of marriage” with a new ideal of “responsible parenthood,” which means “not having a child before you and your partner really want one and have thought about how you will care for that child.”

I admire Isabel Sawhill deeply, but I respectfully disagree with this recommendation.

First, American marriage isn’t disappearing, it’s fracturing along class lines. In upscale America – about one-third of the society – marriage is thriving. Most people marry, few children (fewer than 10 percent) are born to unmarried mothers, and most children grow up through age 18 living with their two married parents. Among the more privileged, then, marriage clearly functions as a wealth-producing arrangement, a source of happiness over time, and a benefit to children.

Indeed, scholars today increasingly identify America’s marriage gap – in which the affluent reap the benefits of marriage while the non-affluent increasingly do not – as an important driver of rising American inequality.  Wouldn’t it be odd, and sad, if American elites, at the very moment in which the role of marriage as both an indicator and producer of high status in their own lives is crystal clear, decided to throw up their hands in resignation when it comes to marriage in the rest of the society?

Second, changing what we support from “marriage” (a social institution) to “responsible parenthood” (a piece of advice) means downplaying the role of society and putting all responsibility on the individual. According to many scholars, a primary reason why humans invented marriage in the first place was to create a social structure that fosters responsible parenting. But now we’re supposed to ignore the structure and simply remind people to be responsible? Is that a realistic strategy for producing more responsibility?

Individual responsibility doesn’t begin and end with the individual – it also depends for its success on social institutions that encourage and guide it. Certainly we want people on our highways to drive responsibly. But does that mean we can or should stop stressing the importance of getting a drivers license and following traffic regulations?

Third, abandoning marriage as a social standard will do nothing to address the actual problems caused by the weakening of marriage. Several decades ago Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously described the futility of what he called “defining deviancy down,” by which he meant imagining that we’ve addressed a problem simply because we’ve re-labeled it as no longer a problem. It doesn’t work that way! An abundance of evidence tells us that marriage matters, whether we say so or not. Put another way, if society’s elites decided tomorrow to stop promoting marriage (except for themselves!), what problem will be solved or reduced?

Fourth, upholding marriage doesn’t mean that you can’t uphold anything else.  People who advise giving up on marriage usually favor something else. Isabel Sawhill wants more effective use of contraception. So do I. Others want better jobs or more educational opportunity. So do I. On reason for seeking these changes is that they’d likely contribute to a stronger marriage culture! Certainly there’s no reason to imagine that fighting for any or all of them means that you can’t also fight for marriage.

Finally, one reason for Sawhill’s resignation is her worry that liberals and conservatives will never come together on marriage. But she shouldn’t give up now! A new, broadly based marriage coalition is within our grasp.

Conservatives are long-time champions of marriage. To help lead a new and broader marriage coalition, the only thing conservatives need to do to is make their peace with gay marriage – a process that is already occurring. (And I speak from experience: I used to oppose gay marriage, but I’ve changed my mind.)

Liberals can help lead this new marriage coalition on the basis of their deepest values, such as the fight for a more equal society, as regards both sexual orientation and social class. For the first time in decades, liberals today can unashamedly embrace marriage – marriage for all who seek it and marriage as one important creator of wealth and opportunity for those at the bottom.

And consider this new-coalition possibility: Gays and lesbians, having fought bravely and successfully for the right to marry, can now by their leadership and example help the nation as whole to rediscover marriage’s promise. But how sad if, on the very eve of their astonishing victory for marriage, the nation’s elites decided to declare with passivity that “marriage is disappearing.”

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News.

Think Tanks, Fundraising, and What Money Shouldn’t Buy

A recent front-page article in the New York Times revealed that many foreign governments now make large donations to U.S. think tanks, which in turn help those governments gain access to U.S. policy makers, largely by producing and disseminating research that is friendly to those governments.

Strobe Talbot of the Brookings Institution, one of the Washington-based think tanks cited in the story, insists that the substantial money the organization receives from foreign governments doesn’t influence its work. In a letter to the Times, he states that “no one, inside or outside the institution, tells our scholars what questions to ask or what answers to propose.”

However, that’s not what many foreign governments apparently believe. An internal government report from Norway says: “In Washington it is difficult for a small country to gain access to powerful politicians, bureaucrats, and experts. Funding powerful think tanks is one way to gain such access, and some think tanks in Washington are openly conveying that they can service only those foreign governments that provide funding.” A government ministry in Qatar says that its large gift to the Brookings Institution will help in “reflecting the bright image of Qatar in the international media, especially the American ones.”

Moreover, the conflict of interest in this situation is real, irrespective of people’s motives and standards of conduct. Foreign nations seeking to influence U.S. decision makers gave lots of money to U.S. think tanks, which in turn did work that, by anyone’s reckoning, helped those nations achieve their goals. Even if all the players were acting entirely as disinterested seekers of truth, as Talbot suggests, there would still be something wrong.

What’s the right thing to do? Should these organizations be required to register as lobbyists for foreign governments, as some have suggested?  Probably not. If I take your money specifically to represent you to decision makers, then I’m a lobbyist. In some cases these think tanks walked right up to that line, but they don’t seem to have crossed it.

Should think tanks refuse to accept donations from foreign governments, as Congressman Frank Wolfe of Virginia has now recommended? No. There is nothing inherently wrong about a think tank accepting money from a foreign government. (Disclosure: My think tank, IAV, has accepted donations from Oman.) It’s also worth remembering that there’s no such thing as a donation without expectations. As long as we have think tanks, we’re going to have donors with motives.

To me, two changes are needed. The first is more disclosure. If you’re a think tank engaging with U.S. policy makers, and you’ve accepted money from a foreign government with a vested interest in the matter, you should be required prominently to disclose that relationship – even if you and your boss are convinced that the money isn’t influencing your work!  This is a simple, obvious reform that’s already being discussed in Congress.

The second change is harder. Put simply, the mission of a think tank should drive funding, not the other way around.  But like many universities, think tanks increasingly act as if their mission is to increase their funding and size. As a result they’ve become, first and foremost, giant fundraising machines for which the prime imperative is constant expansion. If you run a think tank or university today, it’s likely that your main activity is raising money and that your main goal is getting bigger. Asked about the Brookings Institution’s heavy focus on foreign donations, one scholar said: “Brookings keeps growing and it has to support itself.” That’s the idea.

But think tanks should question this idea. It concerns more than foreign governments buying influence. Arguably the most harmful trend in think tanks today – and in our public life generally – is hyper-partisanship. What feeds it? There are many factors, but a major one is the growing domination of money. There are many donors willing to pay think tanks to become PR shops for already-defined political agendas – and plenty of think tanks willing to make that deal with the devil, in part because of their conviction that success is fundamentally defined by dollars.

In our case at IAV, our staff and budget are small and our office is distinctly unfancy, unless your tastes run to second-hand books and hand-me-down furniture. Working this way has obvious disadvantages, but to me it’s worth it. At least we do our own work rather than someone else’s. At least we spend most of our days on something other than trying to make the organization bigger. At least we still live out the dream of having the tank serve the think rather than the other way around.

 This article appeared originally in the Deseret News.

Can Regular Bettors Become Regular Savers? You Bet!

Large and growing numbers of American households don’t save much. This is not good. Saving money over time – spending a bit less than you earn each week – has always been the fundamental American strategy for rising into the middle class and staying there.

Most non-savers are poor people and people of modest means.  It’s true that saving is easier if you aren’t financially strapped, but it’s equally true that not saving is a good strategy for staying poor!

The most important thing to know about saving is that it’s a habit: The essential practice is regularly putting away small sums of money.

On the other hand, Americans spend billions of dollars each year on lottery tickets. This is not good.  Lotteries are giant, state-run fleecing operations in which people buy hope for cash. Virtually all regular lottery players lose money – if you want your dollar to do you some good, buying a lottery ticket is about as productive as setting the dollar on fire in order to warm yourself for a moment.

Most regular lottery players are poor people and people of modest means. In fact, spending money each week on lottery tickets is a good strategy for staying poor!

The most important thing to know about playing the lottery is that it’s a habit: The essential practice is regularly spending small sums of money on the tickets.

Does anyone see the connection here?  Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas saw it. That’s why in 2010 he invited me and my colleagues at IAV (the think tank I direct) to develop a new program called “Kansas Saves.” The basic idea was to create convenient opportunities for regular lottery players to save money, while still being eligible to win prizes.

Picture how it would work:  If you walk into most any convenience store today in Kansas (or for that matter in most states), you can buy a lottery ticket.  But what if, in that same store, alongside the traditional lottery tickets, you see a new kind of ticket for sale?  It’s called a savings ticket.  If you buy one, two things happen.

First, the money you spend on it remains your money – every penny goes directly into a savings account in your name and controlled by you.  After that, each time you buy a savings ticket, the same thing happens – everything you spend is added to your savings.

Second, you’ll be eligible to win prizes. No, you won’t win mega-millions.  The prizes are donated by businesses and civic organizations.  But you might win a car, or a free weekend vacation, or tickets to sports or music events.

So in one way, buying a savings ticket is like buying a regular lottery ticket – you may win a prize.  But in another way, it’s completely different. You’ll never lose. Every ticket wins because every ticket helps to increase your wealth over time.

We conducted a statewide survey documenting the extent of under-saving and non-saving in Kansas. We did focus group interviews with Kansas lottery players, who overwhelmingly told us that they liked the idea. We travelled the state talking to civic leaders, finance and credit union leaders – a credit union seemed to make sense as the institution to hold the deposits – and lottery managers. In consultation with GTECH, the gaming technology company already working with the Kansas lottery, we developed the idea of the “Kansas Saves” smart card – a combination debit card usable for purchases, savings account card to transfer money into your savings account at the point of ticket purchase, and loyalty card to keep a record of ticket purchases and account balances.  We were excited!  We thought everything was ready to go.

At the last minute, Governor Brownback killed the idea. He never told us why.  Instead he went in exactly the opposite direction, implementing a plan that he’d inherited from his predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, to build state-operated casinos in Kansas – yet another opportunity to encourage Kansans to lose their money rather than save it.

Governor Brownback missed his chance, but one day this idea will become a reality. As public policy, lotteries are a dishonest farce.  And the idea of using the lottery infrastructure to help steady losing bettors become steady winning savers is too good to ignore forever, even in our age of political dysfunction and hyper-partisanship. Evidence that such a program would work is already in.  My friends at the organization Doorways to Dreams, in their pioneering work with credit unions, have already shown that prize-linked savings programs can help people of limited means build assets over time and can win political support from both sides of the aisle. Where is the state governor out there who wants to do something good for the people?

The article appeared originally in the Deseret News.

Wilbur’s Big Idea

Our story begins on a fine day in April of 1913 in the small town of White Cloud, Kansas, when a ten-year-old boy named Wilbur Chapman meets a visitor named William Danner.

Wilbur’s parents were missionaries. Both had found their life’s calling as part of a YMCA-inspired youth religious revival which, according to one historian, “swept like a prairie fire” over Kansas in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Inspired by their faith, the young couple dedicated their lives to a new organization called the Gospel Missionary Union.  By April of 1913, Wilbur’s father, Charles, was home on leave, having spent more than a decade selling bibles and preaching the gospel in Ecuador and Columbia.  His mother Manie, whose health had become too poor to remain overseas, supported their work in many ways from their home in White Cloud.

One thing she did was start prayer groups to seek God’s help in caring for the world’s lepers. When she thought the time was right, she wrote to the head the American Mission to Lepers, a man from Boston named William Danner. Come visit us in White Cloud, Mrs. Chapman wrote. We’ve been praying for the lepers. If you’ll visit our churches, she said, I believe you can raise $250, enough to care for ten lepers for a year.

A good and dedicated man, Danner went to White Cloud. He stayed in the Chapman home. He befriended young Wilbur. He visited four local churches – in a town of about 750 people – and raised a total of $225 for the Mission. A disappointPete the Pig 2ed Mrs. Chapman apologized to him for not meeting their goal of $250.

At the train station before dawn, waiting to head back East, Chapman recalls that he took three silver dollars out of his pocket and “slipped them into Wilbur’s hands as I said good by, asking him not to show these to anyone till morning.”

Several weeks later Danner got a letter from Wilbur. In the fall, Wilbur wrote, I’ll use the three dollars to “buy a pig, and feed him, and see if he will not grow big so I can sell him for enough to support a leper for a year … Mother’s tenth leper! Do you see?”

Danner saw.  In November he got a second letter. Wilbur had saved the three dollars all summer. Now he’d bought the pig. Moreover, the pig was becoming a local celebrity! People had learned about Wilbur’s idea, and many children in town were eager to help Wilbur feed “the leper pig.” The pig was growing. Wilbur had named him Pete.

In the spring of 1914, Wilbur sold the pig and sent $25 to the American Mission to Lepers, finally raising White Cloud’s contribution to $250 and completing the pledge for “Mother’s tenth leper.”

That’s how the story begins.  Moved by what Wilbur had done, Danner shared the story with friends at a prayer meeting.  One of those friends worked at the Sunday School Times, a national publication serving Sunday School teachers.  He asked Danner to write a story for the Times about Wilbur and the pig. Danner agreed.

The story caught on. Sunday School teachers across the country began collection drives in which children would contribute coins to “feed Pete” so as to help the lepers. Soon the American Mission to Lepers was distributing thousands of metal (later, plastic) “Pete the Pig” banks for children to fill with coins. By 1919, 11,000 “Pete the Pig” banks had been distributed to U.S. Sunday Schools.  By 1938, the number had reached 100,000, and contributions to the American Mission to Lepers from U.S. Sunday School children had exceeded $1 million.

Today this story is all but forgotten.  But it’s worth remembering.

Feed Pete PinWhen you were a child, you probably had a “piggy bank.”  Do you wonder who conceived this idea and what made piggy banks so popular?  There’s no single answer.  For example, earthenware “penny pigs” were popular among British children in the late 19th century.  But one important answer, at least regarding the U.S., is the success of the “Pete Pig” campaign which grew out of Wilbur Chapman’s big idea in 1913.

That big idea can be summed up in one word: thrift.  It comes from the word “thrive” and it’s one of the English language’s oldest and most important words. It’s particularly relevant to problems facing us today. Thrift is an ethic, stemming ultimately from the idea of stewardship. The best definition of thrift is wise use. The opposite of thrift is waste. In practice, thrift usually means working hard and honestly, being frugal and saving all you can, and giving back all you can. Like Wilbur did!

David Blankenhorn is the author of Thrift: A Cyclopedia.  Follow him on Twitter at Blankenhorn3.  This article appeared originally in the Deseret News.


How Culture War Thinks

Why is our public discussion so dominated by rancor and divisiveness?  Why do our politicians increasingly resemble silly children throwing food at each other?  Why do our “news” programs on TV so often consist of people dealing out abuse and accusations?

There are many likely causes of what a recent Pew Research Center study calls rising “political polarization” in American society, but one of them is intellectual, concerning not so much what we think as how we think. Let’s call this phenomenon polarized thinking, and let’s reflect on its dangers by understanding its features.

First, polarized thinking reflects the notion that only some values matter.  What are the basic ethical concerns that human societies appear to value most? The psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind points to six: care for others, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sacredness. American liberals today tend to focus largely on care and fairness, while conservatives usually make more room for the other four.  But polarized thinking goes further. It says that my preferred values are everything and yours are nothing.  It’s like a right-handed person saying not only “I favor my right hand” but also “Left hands are no good.” It’s crude thinking. Try walking around one day using only one hand.

Second, polarized thinking is typically binary thinking, in which everything divides into two mutually hostile forces – left versus right, believers versus secularists, good people like me versus bad people like you. In his book On Human Nature, the scientist Edward O. Wilson suggests that humans are hard-wired “to dichotomize, to classify other human beings into two artificially sharpened categories.”  But this way of thinking should be resisted.  As Wilson says, it’s artificial. It’s simplistic. The world is extravagantly plural, and thinking about it in binary categories just won’t do.

Third, polarized thinking undermines doubt. Many people today appear to view doubt as a weakness. Some religious leaders even suggest that it’s a sin, that doubt will endanger your soul.  But the older I get, and the more I read and think, the more I’ve come to view doubt as my friend. Doubt can keep me honest. Doubt keeps me curious. By always reminding me of what I’m not completely sure I know, doubt can protect me from arrogance and self-righteousness. Yes, truth is objective, but we can only approach it subjectively – we see through a glass darkly. To treat doubt as a friend is to recognize this basic fact of our humanity.

I know there are plenty of people today who’ve already discovered the truth and whose main mission now is explaining it to others, but I seldom find them to be helpful.  Or interesting. I’ll take a good question over a final answer any day.

Fourth, polarized thinking tends to replace the clash of ideas with accusations of bad faith. Instead of focusing on content, we get name-calling and speculations about wrong motives. It’s profoundly anti-intellectual.

From 2008 to 2011 my former teacher Michael Ignatieff was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.  In Fire and Ashes, his book about the experience, he describes how little it mattered what he actually said about the issues. What mattered were the personal attacks levelled against him.  He describes them, correctly in my view, as attempts to deny standing. The charge is not “What you say is wrong” but “You’re so personally flawed that you have no business saying anything.”

Ignatieff, a professor who’s written widely on politics and political theory, was genuinely shocked by the brutality and effectiveness of this procedure. I’ve been in the public debate myself – most controversially on the issue of gay marriage – and when the same thing happened to me, I too was genuinely shocked.  And distressed.

Finally, polarized thinking turns opponents into enemies.  It says not only “I disagree with you” but also “You and I have nothing in common” and “You are a threat to me.”  The result of this transformation is that civic engagement itself becomes pointless and the normal practices of democracy fall into disuse.  Why bother? Why listen to someone from whom you can learn nothing?  Why compromise with those whose only aim is to cause harm?

Here we get to the heart of the matter. There’s a reason why we call it “culture war” and why one of the most frequently used words in politics today is “fight.”  It’s harsh and aggressive and intended to be so.  It works well enough in times of actual war. But it’s no way for citizens to treat one another.  It’s no way to participate in civil society. It’s no way to run a democracy.

This article appeared originally in the Deseret News.

How Does the Right Brain Run Free? A Response to Adam Bellow’s Proposal

The prominent editor and publisher Adam Bellow has a big idea. He wants to bring together a new generation of conservative artists and story-tellers to challenge liberalism’s dominance of American literature and popular culture. Toward that end, he wants to build a national network of institutions, credentialing activities, and funding streams to produce conservative-themed art and entertainment. With Liberty Island, his new online gathering-place for conservative creators, and his ambitious manifesto (“Let Your Right Brain Run Free”) recently published in National Review, Bellow is prepared to lead the charge to, as he puts it, “carry the culture war into the field of popular culture.”


I know and respect Adam Bellow. And I agree with him that part of the shallowness of U.S. popular culture today is that it’s so often a jukebox for liberal clichés.  But I believe that his new idea is misguided, for two reasons. 


The first is that Adam’s main goal – creating art specifically to influence politics – is wrongly conceived. Good art frequently deepens our political views, much to our advantage, but marshalling political zeal to create politically-themed art is a recipe for mediocrity and failure. It’s hoping to achieve through politics what can only be achieved apart from politics. Intellectually it’s pretending, as the literary critic Lionel Trilling put it, that “the recalcitrant stuff of life” with which the artist must wrestle can somehow be rendered into “pellets of intellection or crystallizations of thought, precise and completed, and defined by their coherence and procedural recommendations.”  Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.  


Or at least, that’s what the artists I admire seem to believe.

William Faulkner said that “the only thing worth writing about” is “the human heart in conflict with itself.” There it is again: the disorderly, unruly stuff of life. Faulkner’s engagement with it was nearly the opposite of political labeling and advocacy. Can one imagine Faulkner going to his desk each day hoping ultimately to make clearer why people should vote this way, or join that cause, or believe in this political ideal?  I can’t. 


To me, the greatest American song-writer of recent generations is Bob Dylan. His philosophical and political views infuse much of his work, including some of his most famous songs. But as he’s made abundantly clear to anyone who’ll listen, he detests the idea that his music is linked to a political agenda. Which is one reason why, in the opinion of many critics, his music means so much to our culture, including our politics. It’s an irony, isn’t it? 


In his writings, the literary scholar and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis points to what we can call the principle of indirection. Some things we want we can’t get directly. We want to be happy, but happiness is both highly elusive and usually the fruit of other pursuits, such as duty, excellence in one’s vocation, and loyalty to family and friends. We want art that promotes our politics, but art is larger than politics and usually can’t be achieved through political mobilization. If we aim only at the thing, we miss the thing.


The second reason why Adam’s project is wrong-headed is that, even to the degree that it succeeds, it will likely do more harm than good to American civil society.


Adam seeks to create a new American subculture defined by its commitment to conservative-themed arts and entertainment. Alas, similar segmentations have already occurred in other domains of American life. Conservatives can already get all their non-fiction from conservative book imprints such as Sentinel, all their news from conservative news outlets such as Fox, and all their expertise from conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation.


One result, admittedly, is a larger number of conservative authors, personalities, and analysts. But the larger result for the subculture (and today’s liberal subculture has the same problem) is life in the echo chamber. All you hear are things you already believe. Genuine questioning – the essential requirement for the life of the mind – gets replaced by the clarification of orthodoxy, or what communists used to call the party line. Genuine engagement with opponents – the essential requirement for democratic civil society – gets replaced by denunciations in absentia of scoundrels out to ruin the country and idiots too dumb to walk in from the rain. Simplifications rule. The intellect stagnates. Anger is in the saddle. Polarization increases.  


To me, even the name of Adam’s enterprise, Liberty Island, reflects this way of conceiving the world. Conservatives, you are an isolated minority, surrounded on all sides by dullards and enemies. Move away from this foreign land. Relocate to our conservative island, where everything is good and where you’ll only find other people just like you. And you’ll really love the entertainment!


This article appeared originally in the Deseret News.  

New Casinos: “Jobs” Have Almost Nothing To Do With It

Whenever it comes to defending casinos and pushing for more of them, the theme of “jobs” is invariably front and center. In New York, which recently legalized casinos, the main political action committee promoting casinos was called “New York Jobs Now” and Governor Cuomo’s favorite pro-casino argument was that they “promote job creation.” In Massachusetts, where voters this fall will decide whether to repeal the pro-casino law passed by the legislature in 2011, by far the loudest message coming from the casino lobby is jobs, jobs, jobs.

The argument is highly misleading. To see why, let’s start with Economics 101.

If I open a business that employs people, I’m “creating jobs,” but does that prove that I’m helping the economy? Of course not. Economics 101 teaches that the question is not “Do people work here?” but rather “Does this activity contribute to economic growth?” And current economic research clearly suggests that casinos do not help the economy.

The reason why isn’t hard to understand. What expands the economy is producing things of value, and casinos produce nothing of value. If I open a donut stand, I’m producing donuts. If I build a tire factory, I’m producing tires. The only thing a casino produces is people losing their money. The economic impact is similar to throwing your money onto the street so that someone else can pick it up – it’s redistributing wealth without creating it.

But it gets worse, because what casinos do isn’t neutral, either ethically or economically. Casinos prey upon people’s weaknesses in order to separate them from their money. Slot machines and other casino games are forms of fraud, similar to loan-sharking, false advertising, and price-gouging.

Economists have much to say about the economic impact of businesses that cheat and exploit people, and it’s the opposite of what the casino lobby says.  If I start a loan-sharking business in your town, it’s true that I’m “creating jobs.” I’m also creating jobs if I open a brothel or turn an abandoned building into a crack house. But would any of this help the economy? Of course not. Such activities typically drag a community down, economically and in other ways. Bad ethics usually lead to bad economic outcomes.

Want the numbers?  In Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits, generally viewed as the definitive study of the topic, Earl Grinols estimates that every dollar of economic gain from casinos is off-set by three dollars of economic loss. If you like that ratio, you may want to consider playing slot machines twice a week as a way to improve your personal finances.

Why do casino advocates center their public argument on “jobs, jobs, jobs” when the argument is so obviously misleading?  There are three reasons.

The first is economic illiteracy. Many people, including many in public life, do not understand the difference between counting “new” jobs and assessing an activity’s overall economic impact.

Second, the argument gains undeserved ground because the economic gains from casinos flow to specific and well-organized groups – casino owners, casino employees, and state governments – while the losses, although greater than the gains, are much more widely diffused. Which wheel is more likely to squeak loudly and get the grease – the influential few who’ll gain a lot, or the general public who’ll pay through the nose over time?

Finally, I’ve learned from personal experience that casino lobbyists will say nearly anything to avoid discussing the actual reasons for casinos. That’s why even the act of publicly engaging their talking-points about “jobs” drives people like me nuts, because once the cameras are turned off and the public has been fed its pabulum, none of the inside players even remotely believe that “jobs” are what this debate is really about.

Rest assured that, in the real world, casino owners are not philanthropists seeking to provide you with employment. They are predators seeking to take your money in exchange for nothing by enticing you to played rigged games of chance in which they always win and you always lose.

It’s the same with the politicians who legalize and promote casinos. You can be confident that they aren’t doing it to spread economic sunshine. They’re doing it because they see in casinos a big sign made specifically for them that says “Free Money.” A few decades ago, when casinos were run by mobsters, they regularly gave suitcases filled with cash to the politicians who protected them.  The same thing happens today, except that the pay-offs are legal and are called taxes.  But the process is the same and so are the ethics. And “jobs” have almost nothing to do with any of it.

This article appeared originally in the Deseret News.


American Power and Iraq

The current crisis in Iraq is so messy, and all of its likely outcomes so tragic, that it’s hard to know what or even how to think about it. So let’s start with first principles, to get some grounding.

Pacifism says that all use of force is wrong.  Realism says that force is justified if it advances your interests. And the Abrahamic religions, which have helped to shape international law in these matters, say that the use of force must be governed by clear ethical rules that are accessible to all.

I believe in this third approach, often called the just war tradition. I admire pacifism, but cannot accept it.  Realism strikes me as a weak conceptual framework, ultimately powerless to stand up to the idea that what I selfishly want will be good for everyone – too unsuspecting of what St. Augustine called the effects of sin on the intellect. So it seems that we’re stuck with trying to think through the right and wrong reasons for the use of force.

Shortly after 9/11, I was one of 60 co-authors of What We’re Fighting For: A Letter from America, in which we cited just war principles to defend the use of military force against the murderers of September 11 and those who assisted them. The letter generated a worldwide reaction, most of it highly critical of us, including a “Letter to the American People” purportedly from Osama bin Laden and almost certainly from al-Qai’da. At the same time, what ultimately resulted from these exchanges were face-to-face meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders which continue to this day in the form of a “Shared Values Initiative” sponsored by IAV and the Sultanate of Oman.

In late 2002, the decision facing America was whether to invade Iraq. I was one of 9 co-authors of Pre-Emption, Iraq, and Just War, in which we cited the very same just war principles to oppose the about-to-be-launched U.S. attack on Iraq. The Bush Administration at the time was advocating a doctrine called “pre-emption,” which says that it’s acceptable to attack your enemy before he has a chance to attack you. Just war principles largely preclude any such notion (although some pro-invasion writers turned intellectual somersaults trying to suggest otherwise) and we said so in our statement.

Looking back, I think our reasoning holds up. Many of the assertions offered to justify attacking Iraq – the Iraqi regime is linked to al-Qai’da, the regime has weapons of mass destruction – turned out to be erroneous. And that’s precisely why just war theory guards so strongly against the notion of pre-emption – when war fever is running high and when you’re predicting the future, it’s easy to get basic facts wrong. Indeed, it’s common. Here is arguably the main reason why the just war tradition says “I can attack my attackers” but refuses to say “I can attack those I believe will attack me in the future.”

Which brings us to today. After more than a decade of U.S.-led war, after thousands of deaths and billions spent on the Iraqi government and military, Iraq is now tearing itself apart via a Sunni versus Shia sectarian war. There is slim reason to believe that the various Iraqi factions have ever been, or will soon be, willing to share power, which is the only basis for the nation’s survival with some modicum of justice. Finally, al-Qai’da and its offshoots – the very people who were said to be involved in Iraq in 2002, but weren’t – are now very active indeed in Iraq. The word “failure” seems barely adequate as a description of the policies that have produced these results.

Perhaps if our forces had acted differently, or stayed longer, the results would have been better. Perhaps the U.S. should have used, or should now consider using, targeted military force in neighboring Syria, where al-Qai’da and its kin for years have created havoc that is now spilling over into Iraq.

Perhaps. But for me the main moral of this story is the importance of restraint. We didn’t understand Iraq in 2002 and we don’t seem to understand it much better now. We’ve made some heavy footprints there, but the idea that U.S. power can decisively influence Iraqi sectarianism seems from the beginning to have been largely a fantasy. The current crisis seems likely to end very badly, and it’s hard to see how anything that our military could reasonably do in the coming weeks and months would be likely make things better.

The article appeared  on 6/27/14 in the Deseret News.

Fathers Are Hardwired to Connect, But More Are Disconnected from Families

Here is the good news: on Father’s Day 2014, fathers and their distinct contributions to children and society were celebrated far and wide, from self-proclaimed fatherhood nut David Blankenhorn to Johnson & Johnson’s brilliant short film, “Distinctly Dad,” featuring Yale child psychiatrist Kyle Pruett, who ends the video by saying “One of the most difficult things for fathers to realize is how irreplaceable they are.” (The Johnson & Johnson film has almost 1 million YouTube views.)

And there is a lot to celebrate about fathers, as shown by two research documents co-sponsored by IAV: the new research summary, Mother Bodies, Father Bodies: How Parenthood Changes Us from the Inside Out, and the edited series of original essays, Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives.


It starts even before birth, when men may experience a surge in the hormone prolactin, which is the same hormone that helps mothers make milk.

Then, right before birth, he may experience a surge in cortisol, which is a stress hormone that some researchers believe focuses new dads on their expectant babies. Finally, after birth, there is a drop in testosterone. This is significant because lower testosterone is associated with more responsive parenting. But these changes seem to be dependent on the father’s contact with the mother and children. As Ross Parke explains in his chapter in Gender and Parenthood, one study showed that whereas women’s hormonal levels were closely linked with time before birth, men’s hormonal levels were linked with their partner’s hormonal levels. Moreover, fathers who have more experience with babies have lower testosterone levels and higher prolactin levels than first-time fathers.

In other words, so long as men hang around their mates and children, men’s bodies are wired to connect with their kids.

We also know that fathers are capable of providing the kind of parental care—scholars call it “authoritative parenting”—that is associated with the best outcomes for children. Authoritative parenting describes the powerful mix of affection, involvement, structure, and clear and consistent discipline that research suggests is associated with positive psychological and social outcomes for children. Authoritative parenting is contrasted with permissive, authoritarian, and neglectful styles of parenting.

Psychologist Ross Parke and colleagues conducted studies in which they watched fathers interact with their newborns. Their finding? Fathers “touched, looked [at], vocalized, rocked, and kissed their newborns” just as much as mothers did. Fathers were also just as responsive to infants’ behaviors and verbal cues.

But for all the ways in which mothers and fathers can parent similarly, numerous studies also suggest that fathers engage their children in distinctive ways. For instance, one Israeli study of eighty first-time-parent couples found similarly high levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin in both mothers and fathers when the child was six weeks old and then six months old. But there was one difference: whereas women with the highest oxytocin levels demonstrated “affectionate parenting behaviors,” men with the highest levels were most likely to demonstrate “stimulatory parenting behaviors.”m-d-studies

Numerous studies show that dads engage their children with a morephysical, playful, and challenging style than mothers do. And again, we’ve learned that fathers’ style of engagement can be beneficial for children. One striking finding is that fathers who engage their kids in lots of positive play have children who score highest levels popularity with peers. Another is that toddlers are more likely to engage in new activities, interact with strangers, and develop a sense of independence at the urging of fathers than their mothers. As Kyle Pruett put it, “We’ve come to understand that fathers don’t mother and mothers don’t father. Fathers can’t really be replaced, in full, especially by somebody who doesn’t feel like a father.”

To put it another way, the more science reveals, the better we understand how fathers are biologically primed for parenthood, and how children may benefit from their fathers’ distinct parenting style.

But now for the bad news. For all the promising research about fatherhood, a new research analysis shows that 70 percent of fathers without a college education have had a child outside of marriage. Among fathers with at least a four-year college degree, it’s only 24 percent. This is troubling because, according to the Fragile Families study, 61 percent of parents who were unmarried at the time of their child’s birth were no longer romantically involved five years later.

In other words, while better-educated parents fret about too much involvement and structure in their children’s lives—see the debate on helicopter parenting versus free-range parenting—less-educated parents struggle to keep their families intact. Just as the biological sciences are revealing how fathers are hardwired to connect, more less-educated fathers are becoming disconnected from fatherhood. Just as we are learning about the benefits of “partnership parenting,” many fathers and mothers feel that partnership parenting is out of reach.

When it comes to fathers and children, there is a connectedness gap: children from better-educated families enjoy strong bonds, while children with less educated fathers do not.

m-d-strongThis is vitally important because, as the Mother Bodies, Father Bodies, report notes, we know that disrupted connections between fathers and children may have important consequences for children. The report points to a study by psychologist Bruce Ellis and colleagues, which found that only 5 percent of teenage girls became pregnant if they were raised in a home with their father. By contrast, 10 percent of teenage girls became pregnant if their father left when they were school-age, and a stunning 35 percent of teenage girls became pregnant if their father left before they turned six. Moreover, they point to another study of more than 1,000 families found that children with fathers who are actively engaged in their children’s lives perform much better in school than do children with less-involved fathers.

For Americans concerned about declining social mobility, a focus on connecting parents—and especially fathers—to their children is a promising starting point, as Brookings scholar Richard Reeves points out. There is broad agreement that children do better when they enjoy good relationships with their parents. Moreover, married fathers typically enjoy a closer relationship with their children than do unmarried fathers. Thus, we should raise awareness among the poor and working class about the biological changes that involved fathers can experience, the benefits of authoritative parenting, and the power of partnership parenting.

We should not settle for a two-tiered society in which the children of better-educated fathers enjoy the advantages of close connections to fathers, even as the children of less-educated fathers wonder where dad is and who mom’s next partner might be.

David Lapp is an Affiliate Scholar at IAV, and co-director of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project.

Becoming a Father

Let’s start with the obvious:  Becoming a father changes a man’s outlook.  It focuses his attention.  It typically encourages him to work harder and think more about the future.  It tends to make him less selfish.  He’ll tend to spend less time staying out late, tomcatting around with his buddies, and more time trying to be a regular citizen and a good guy.  Many studies have documented these changes.

Becoming a father also changes a man’s body. Both the sexual bond with the mother and the conception of the child appear to reduce a man’s testosterone levels, which makes him more cooperative and less ornery and aggressive (see above). According to a new study, Mother Bodies, Father Bodies: How Parenthood Changes Us from the Inside Out, by my colleagues Kathleen Kline and W. Bradford Wilcox, a fascinating cluster of brain and hormonal changes, all of them pro-social, appear to help shape and guide men’s transition to fatherhood. Some of them occur before the child is born! Everyone knows that becoming a mother changes a woman’s body.  But who knew that becoming father also changes a man at the biological level?

Third, becoming father changes a man’s society. There are many individual exceptions, of course, but married fathers tend to be more likely to contribute positively to society and less likely to hurt others and themselves.  Even taking into account what researchers call selection effects – the fact that while married fatherhood makes men behave better, it’s also true that better-behaved men are more likely to become married fathers – many careful studies have found that in-the-home, bonded-with-the-mother fathers do significantly more than other men when it comes to helping society and staying out of trouble.  For starters, their own children, compared to children from one-parent or stepfamily homes, do better in school, get into less trouble, and lead happier lives.

Consider the problem of teen pregnancy. Numerous studies find that a father in the home is more important that nearly any other factor – more important than race, income,  neighborhood quality, or mother’s educational status – when it comes to the girl’s avoidance of teen pregnancy and early sexual activity. Why?  Partly because of the father’s outlook:  He wants to protect his daughter. And partly because of his body:  A father’s pheromones – chemical substances secreted by the body that serve as stimuli to others – seem to slow down the onset of puberty in his daughter. Who knew? It’s probably impossible in this case to disentangle the social from the biological dimensions: the two seem to sway together, like elegant dancers.

Finally, becoming a father changes a man’s relationship to the eternal. True fatherhood – not the act of insemination alone, but the way of living – links me as a man to what the great psychologist Erik Erikson called generativity, the sense that I’m a part of new life and therefore part of the ongoing renewal of the world.  In this way, fatherhood makes life meaningful. It can connect a man to the transcendent, helping him to recognize and respond to some of life’s most important questions.  Why am I here?  Do I matter?  What if anything will I leave behind?  For me and for most men, burdened with frailties and shortcomings, becoming a father is as close as we’re likely to get to participating with God in creation.

American fatherhood is currently splitting into two.  If you’re growing up today in upscale America – if both of your parents graduated from a four-year college – the odds are strongly in your favor that your father lives with you, is married to your mother, and is highly motivated to help you succeed and thrive. But if you’re in the 70 percent of America that is not upscale, the odds of you having such a father in your life are strongly against you and getting worse all the time.

The U.S. today is a place of growing inequality and, for so many, diminishing opportunity. We’re becoming two societies, separate and unequal.  And the great dividing line between the haves and have-nots today is not the color of your skin, or where you live, or the language of your parents, or the God you worship.  It’s whether you have a hands-on, married-to-your-mother father.

That’s why, for Father’s Day 2014, we honor American fatherhood not only by marveling at its meaning and honoring its presence, but also by looking at the many places and hearts in our society where it so desperately needs to be, but isn’t.

 This article appeared originally in the Deseret News

Fatherhood from the Inside Out

A sexual act can make one a progenitor, but becoming a  father is a much more primal and layered process. The natural and social sciences are teaching us that transformation into fatherhood is almost “contagious,” in that you “catch it” from spending time with your mate and child.

Men’s biology is hardwired to assume the responsibilities and develop the capacities to nurture, respond, guide and protect their children. We explore this in our new report, Mother Bodies, Father Bodies:  How Parenthood Changes Us from the Inside Out.  For instance, the science shows that as new fathers spend time with their mates and children, they typically experience hormonal changes that biologically prepare them for parenthood. Human and animal fathers can experience a cascade of hormonal changes in cortisol, estrogen, testosterone and prolactin even before the child is born.

The changes that take place in men and women when they become fathers and mothers are similar, but asymmetrical. Unlike the dramatic whirlwind that begins at conception, when it seems that the Great Mother emerges from the depths to take charge of a woman’s body, psyche and identity, the changes that take place in dads are more subtle. On the outside, men often look the same, but as the changes of fatherhood grow within them, they become more focused on their families, and less distracted by external attractions. Additional adjustments in the bonding and nurturing hormones continue to take place as fathers care for their offspring, even affecting the very circuitry of the brain.

Fathers and mothers can both parent well. Thankfully, nature builds a good bit of redundancy into the system.  In most modern families, both fathers and mothers contribute financial support and share domestic chores and childcare, albeit in different proportions. Still, males and females also tend to parent somewhat differently and there is a certain synergy in that.  Fathers tend to have a more physical, stimulatory approach to their children that encourages them to engage the world.  (Think of the father roughhousing with or tossing his toddler into the air.) Mothers more than fathers focus on supporting, soothing, and helping a child to feel safe in the world.

The combination of both styles seems to benefit children across a range of emotional, health, and life achievement outcomes. As a psychiatrist and sociologist, we see the particular benefits of a father’s firm presence especially in the teen years, when the risk taking, novelty-seeking inclinations of adolescence combine with surges in sexual drive and physical strength. Girls living in households that include their fathers are less likely to engage in early sexual activity or become teen parents and boys are less likely to be involved with violence or get into trouble with the law. The quality, closeness and active involvement of an adolescent’s father seems to protect against depression in both boys and girls.

Our report finds that the contributions that fathers and mothers make together to their children are, depending on the outcome, additive, redundant, and unique. They do some of the same good stuff, some extra, and some special. They also tend to shift in their parenting roles throughout the family life cycle as they respond to their changing children’s needs, the economic requirements they face, and their own preferences. There is not one snapshot that captures the way in which fathers and mothers parent together. You have to watch the full-length feature film to sense the richness and the varied roles they take in their children’s lives.

But one near constant is that mothers tend to be the gatekeepers to children’s relationship with their fathers: mothers who welcome and encourage fathers into their children’s lives are more likely to encourage fathers to be engaged dads. So it is especially important that mothers appreciate and welcome dad’s involvement.  The quality of a father’s relationship with his child is often colored by the quality of his relationship with the child’s mother.

Indeed, the one institution that predicts more than any other whether a child will have two committed parents is marriage. And most adults long for a long term enduring relationship with a spouse. It is just that combination of commitment, mutual respect, sex, physical tenderness and affection between two parents that seems to cement strong families and set the stage for optimal outcomes for children

So the growing marriage gap—between more educated parents whose children have married fathers in the households and less educated parents whose children often do not—represents an obstacle for children’s wellbeing. At this time when we celebrate the importance of fathers in children’s lives, let us also work towards renewing the capacity and opportunity for men and women across all educational and social classes to form and maintain the long term enduring relationships in marriage that provide the firmest foundations for their children to flourish.

Kathleen Kovner Kline is the chief medical officer of the Consortium, a community behavioral health agency in Philadelphia, and an affiliate faculty member of  the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.  W. Bradford Wilcox is a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and the director of the Home Economics Project at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies. They are co-editors of Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives (Columbia University Press, 2013).

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