David Brooks writes in his New York Times column:
Affluent, intelligent people are now more likely to marry other energetic, intelligent people. They raise energetic, intelligent kids in self-segregated, cultural ghettoes where they know little about and have less influence upon people who do not share their blessings....
Liberals are going to have to be willing to champion norms that say marriage should come before childrearing and be morally tough about it. Conservatives are going to have to be willing to accept tax increases or benefit cuts so that more can be spent on the earned-income tax credit and other programs that benefit the working class.
Political candidates will have to spend less time trying to exploit class divisions and more time trying to remedy them — less time calling their opponents out of touch elitists, and more time coming up with agendas that comprehensively address the problem. It's politically tough to do that, but the alternative is national suicide.
I don't think affluent kids are as segregated as Mr. Brooks says. If they go to private school, there are other students there on financial aid. They have household help that may be from a different background. They may have extended family members who have different circumstances.
I also would like to see more detail from Mr. Brooks about what being "morally tough" in enforcing "norms that say marriage should come before childrearing" consists of. Forced abortions for unwed women who become pregnant? Forced adoptions for the offspring of unwed mothers? Shotgun marriages? Plenty of children of unwed mothers — Jesus of Nazareth, Alexander Hamilton — turned out to be successes.
In 2011 the federal government spent $78 billion on the earned income tax credit. That's more than the entire federal government spent in 1957. Granted, there's been some inflation over that period that has eroded the value of a dollar, but even so, $78 billion is a lot of money, and in some states or cities the earned income tax credit is also boosted by state or local earned income tax credits. Mr. Brooks doesn't say how much more he would like to spend. Nor does he address the perverse incentives created by the phase-out of the credit, which pushes some employers to pay a portion of employees' salaries "off the books" so that they don't lose the credit. It may also deter employees from getting education or training that could bring their wages to a higher level without a subsidy. Because it varies based on family size, it may encourage the very unwed motherhood that Mr. Brooks wants to be morally tough against. The credit also subsidizes big employers who pay low wages, enabling them to hire employees for less than they would without the credit. Where's the justice in taxing some $75,000 a year-earning person who works hard so that the Walton family that owns Walmart can pay low wages to employees that the government then supplements with the earned-income tax credit? I understand it's better than welfare, i.e., paying people not to work, which is what there was in many cases before the big expansion of the EITC in the1990s. But why is it better than a free market?
Reasonable people may disagree about the best policies on unwed motherhood or on whether it is advisable to raise taxes on higher-income earners to increase the earned-income tax credit for low-wage earners. If you disagree with my view on it, I, unlike Mr. Brooks, won't accuse you of favoring "national suicide."