Redeeming Economics: How Federal Budgets Affect the American Family

John D. Mueller, Lehrman Institute Fellow in Economics at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, presented the following lecture at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., on April 11, 2012.

I'd like to thank the Family Research Council for its gracious invitation to deliver this lecture, and to Rob Schwarzwalder for both his generous introduction and his leadership. The topic I'd like to discuss this afternoon is "Redeeming Economics: How Federal Budgets Affect the American Family." ISI Books recently published my book, Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element. As I will explain, the original element missing from modern economics is the one that describes our interpersonal relations of love and hate. I should add that my relationship with FRC goes back a long time. In fact, the substance of several of the chapters originated in articles and research published in FRC's Family Policy journal. I see Bob Patterson in the audience, who developed it from a monthly newsletter into a first-rate journal. Though I've attended many events here at FRC, I think my last formal presentation was in 2008, when I presented a paper on "Causes and Cures of Demographic Winter" for a panel when the film "Demographic Winter" was screened here.


I'd like to accomplish three things today which might at first sight seem unrelated.

First, I'd like to offer "a brief, structural history of economics," in order to show that the most important element of the original scholastic economics has been missing since its deliberate omission by Adam Smith, and how its absence has caused several major problems with today's neoclassical economics, particularly its understanding of marriage and the family. I'll illustrate with two such problems: the first offered by Steven D. Levitt and John J. Donohue III's famous claim that legalizing abortion in the 1970s must have reduced crime rates starting in the 1990s, and the second explaining the failure of existing economic theory to explain the "demographic winter" which has already engulfed the rest of the developed world.

Second, I'd like to pose the question, not "WWJD?" but "WDJD: What Did Jack Do?" referring to Jack Kemp, for whom, as Rob mentioned, I worked for ten years before and during both Reagan administrations. I believe that posing this question will help us understand why the fiscal policy devised by Jack Kemp and implemented by Ronald Reagan was both politically and economically successful, and also why conservatives since abandoning it have so often seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The third and final part of my talk might be called "Benefits or Babies: The Obama and Ryan Budgets and the U.S. Birth Rate." I'll show that the choice our government is now making is whether the United States will join the rest of the developed world by sinking into "demographic winter" and steadily declining in relative size and importance, or else maintain the demographic component of American exceptionalism.

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