State, market and family

_ Dr. Jörg Guido Hülsmann, professor, University of Angers., senior fellow, Mises Institute. Interviewed by Oskar Hugo, editor, konflikt Magazin. 18 June 2022.*

Dr. Hülsmann, almost two years ago you gave a lecture entitled “How the state is destroying families” at the symposium “Family on the brink – causes and ways out”. The statistics in terms of birth rates, marriages and long-term relationships speak for themselves: the family as the core unit and seed of society is on the decline in Europe. Why do you think this is so?

For two main reasons. On the one hand, increasing prosperity enables an increasingly individual lifestyle. On the other hand, the cost-benefit ratio of family life is also being changed by numerous state interventions. The welfare state is designed by its very construction to make the family economically redundant. But other state interventions also have a very similar effect, even if they do not necessarily aim to destroy families. I am thinking in particular of the monetary policy of the central banks. In the public perception, central banks ensure that the value of money is stabilized. In fact, however, they stabilize the decline in the value of money. They pursue inflationary policies.

Since the Second World War, price levels have risen steadily, and this has long-term economic and cultural consequences that I have discussed in my books. [1] In particular, inflationary policies create a major incentive to borrow, a major problem for young families and a major reason for their failure. In addition, debt creates the need for regular monetary income. Today, two incomes are very often required to maintain the credit-financed standard of living. The convulsive gaze at the monthly paycheck narrows and shortens not only the economic view, but the view of life as a whole. This, too, is not favorable for family life, which is designed for long periods of time and has to respond to the diverse needs of parents and children and grandparents.

You mainly blame the state for the general contraction of the family. Understandably, an overflowing welfare state also replaces family solidarity between the generations: Anyone who knows that the state is looking after them does not need to fall back on the family as an economic necessity. Does family have to become an economic necessity again for it to come back onto the scene? After all, even Marx criticized the family as necessary for the maintenance of capitalist society.

Marx and Engels recognized this causal connection very correctly. Their reasoning error – or delusion – lies in the assumption that the creative achievements of family and capitalism can be replaced by state organizations. But that’s just wishful thinking. The state creates nothing. It is one big machine of destruction. It always demands new sacrifices and always consumes more moral and material goods than the it can produce.

In contrast, family life is designed to produce all these goods. It is a productivity workshop, so to speak, which also produces those basic goods on which business life is based: love of truth, love of justice, sense of sacrifice, friendship, solidarity, diligence, punctuality, etc. But only a voluntary family association can achieve this. And the will to embark on the family adventure – and its constraints and personal dependencies – naturally develops under the impression of the existing alternatives and constraints.

But one can also argue from the other side. The sociologist Richard Sennett emphasized that the flexibility that is required of people today if they want to get ahead in the labor market not only causes them mental damage, but also makes family life considerably more difficult. Where should the family still have a place in this “culture of new capitalism” [2] described by Sennett, in which relationships, places of living, jobs and personalities must always remain interchangeable, fragmentary and temporary? In a world of constant reinvention, can anchors of stability like families simply not be tolerated? Or is capitalism wrongly blamed here?

I think the latter is the case. To answer your question correctly, one has to distinguish between capitalism (or the market economy) and interventionism. Capitalism is a socio-economic order of human interaction based on private property and private law. This capitalism grows out of family life and families have nothing to fear from it. It is true that the economic dynamics of unleashed capitalism enable the well-to-do people to break out of family ties as well as from all other social ties. But under normal circumstances, egocentrism and hedonism will always remain the exception. Its long-term emotional, social and economic costs are too high. Those who coolly weigh things up and look far away will readily see that family life facilitates the balanced and sustained growth of the whole human personality. The loving cooperation of husband and wife guides and supports this growth – in a similar way as do monastic, artistic and scientific communities that are lovingly committed to a common goal, the formation of beautiful personalities.

Things are different in the case of interventionism. Here the state suspends private property and private law more or less at will. It tells people what to do and what not to do with their own lives and possessions. It forces them to participate in all sorts of “systems” – political system, monetary system, pension system, school system, health care system, etc. This form of deprivation of liberty formats and homogenizes interpersonal relationships. It makes all individuals and organizations dependent on the paternalistic state. The teacher in a state school system is not tied into a primal web of personal contracts and friendships. He is part of a great machine and is treated and viewed as such. His career is standardized. That makes him interchangeable. The same applies to his students and also to the doctors and patients of a state health system, etc.

Added to this is the destructive nature of interventionism. A growing economy also opens up new alternative and development opportunities for those who are forced to participate in the state systems. But when the state is rampant and throttles and suffocates the economy with its taxes and rules, then people have to keep reinventing themselves if they just want to maintain the previous standard of living despite the increasing burdens. Those struggling to survive must focus firmly on today. He often cannot afford to be considerate of the future or of other people. The attachment to others is then often no longer an anchor, but a brake pad. It is indeed difficult for families to thrive in such circumstances.

It starts with getting to know each other: in social media and dating apps, the modern human looking for love becomes a commodity. His desirability and desire is expressed in strictly quantifiable terms like Tinder likes and Instagram followers. Is this erroneous development, this transformation of all people and relationships into commodities (Freudo-Marxists spoke of “reification”) an inevitable development within the market economy, or did it just take a wrong turn somewhere in the course of its development?

I also attribute this development primarily to the culture of interventionism. Getting to know means getting to know someone. This is a time-consuming and difficult process with an uncertain and often undesirable outcome. If you really want to get to know others, you have to give them a lot of your own time. One has to make advance payments, one has to make sacrifices. One must be ready to question oneself, to adapt oneself, so that the contact and confrontation with the mysterious other can succeed. The literary scholar and cultural philosopher George Steiner addressed this risk and its imponderables about thirty years ago in a beautiful book entitled “Von Realer Gegenwart”. [3]

Today, many teenagers and young adults are unwilling—and sometimes completely unable—to engage in such things. Tinder and other dating apps are manifestations of their unwillingness and inability. But the origin of this development, I believe, lies in the breakdown of family life. In the family you learn to get to know each other. You learn exactly those skills, attitudes and appreciations that lead to finding, recognizing and building paths to others. This begins with the meals together, in which hearing, listening and speaking are brought into a subtle balance with the intake of food and the consideration for authority, curiosity and other dimensions of being human. Where family life no longer takes place, this ability withers away and even dies an early death.

Many political parties, regardless of their orientation, promise their voters to make career and family compatible. But can the division of labor in the family work at all if neither partner resigns in terms of career? Although feminism was originally intended to fight for women’s freedom of choice, most women no longer really have a choice between family life and work. Not only for financial reasons, but also because of social pressure. Feminist Betty Friedan called this phenomenon “feminist mystique”: women are no longer forced into family life, but into working life. [4] Are economic measures conceivable that could free families from this dichotomy between family and career?

Unfortunately I don’t have a miracle solution to offer. Choosing between family and career is a perennial issue in women’s existence, and it probably always will be. And I am speaking here quite expressly of the female existence. It is significant and unfortunately not often enough appreciated that this problem is almost exclusively recognized by women as such, while men generally agree with women, but hardly ever recognize it as their own problem.

Of course, there are a few women who seem to be able to square the circle. But it must also be underlined how many prerequisites these women have: a lot of intelligence, enormous drive, great organizational skills and high income, to name just the most important ones. In addition, almost all “wonder women” of this variety come from upper and very higher social classes. The other representatives of the fair sex, and that is probably more than 99 percent, have to decide between family and career. And in the case of these normal women, the choice for a career presupposes that they find a spouse who takes care of the children. Or it leads to the fact that no one really takes care of the children.

Due to the creeping impoverishment, which is not least the result of rampant interventionism, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a family afloat on a single income. As a result, more and more women have to go to work. At the same time, the age difference between the generations and regional mobility are increasing. As a result, fewer and fewer grandparents are there to raise the children instead of the mothers. The result is the gradual neglect of girls and boys that we spoke of earlier.

The way out of this mess is neither easy nor quick. But they all require the state to be drastically and sustainably cut back. If you want to get out of a self-dug hole, you first have to stop digging.

Notes

[1] Hülsmann J.G. (2013). Krise der Inflationskultur. FBV. URL: https://antaios.de/detail/index/sArticle/150404 

[2] Sennett R. (2006). Culture of the New Capitalism. Orient Blackswan.

[3] Steiner G. (2010). Von realer Gegenwart. Edition Akzente Hanser.

[4] Friedan B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique. W.W. Norton.

* Republished with kind permission from the original publication on: Hugo O. (2022). konflikt fragt: Jörg Guido Hülsmann – Staat, Markt und Familie. konflikt Magazin. URL: https://konfliktmag.de/konflikt-fragt-joerg-guido-huelsmann-staat-markt-und-familie/ 

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