In the Arena

Inconvenient Truths

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Two important stories this morning in unlikely places. Jason DeParle of the New York Times, a liberal mainstream bastion, has a terrific piece about the terrible social and economic effects of having children out-of-wedlock. Irwin Stelzer of the Weekly Standard, a conservative mainstream bastion, has a smart piece about the depredations of the banksters–and he suggests, wisely, that Mitt Romney might profit from saying something substantive about the fetid state of international finance. Taken together, these pieces are clarion reminders of the political discussion we should be having this year, but aren’t.

Liberals don’t like talking about the effect of morality on poverty–even though the data have been glaring for years. Certainly, the loss of manufacturing jobs has been part of the growing gap between rich and poor. And so has the plutocratic greed that Stelzer hints at in his piece. But it is also quite clear, as DeParle writes, that children who are born to intact families have a much better chance of succeeding in life than those who don’t. And DeParle shows why, in intimate detail: fathers matter, not just in terms of providing a paycheck, but also in child-rearing, providing the ┬árich learning–and extra-curricular–environment that leads to success. Any honest debate about the growing gap between rich and poor needs to address all three elements: the job losses caused by global economic shifts, the Information Age plutocracy and the decline in morality among an increasingly broad swath of our lower middle classes. DeParle cites estimates that the out-of-wedlock explosion accounts for 40% of the increase in income disparity–that sound like a lot, but no matter. A remoralization of America when it comes to out-of-wedlock births is well past due.

As for Stelzer’s article: any honest debate about the financial crash, the sluggish economy and the future of American capitalism has to include a detailed plan about how to deal with the bankers who have profoundly distorted, and pillaged, the system. Sadly, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney have addressed the “moral hazard” that accrues from having banks that are too big too fail (Jon Huntsman was the only candidate in either party to offer a plausible plan for breaking up the banks.) Obama’s stand is disappointing; Romney’s is business-as-usual. He hasn’t provided policy details on anything in this campaign. He proposed massive, ridiculous tax cuts without laying out the loopholes he’d close to pay for them. He won’t talk about immigration. He won’t talk about the government’s specific role in goosing the economy. He won’t release his tax returns. But his failure to talk about how he’d regulate Wall Street is particularly gaping void.

We know Obama’s plan, sort of–it’s the deficient Dodd-Frank bill, a morass of regulation concocted by regulators, rather than clear legislation laying out the rules of the road for big banks. Romney says he’s against that. Good. But what’s he for? It’s time for some Republican–other than Huntsman–to call out the financial sector for its reckless greed and immorality. A remoralization of America when it comes to Wall Street is also well past due.