Capitalism and the Family
It is hard to think of a human social institution that has undergone more change in less time than has the family in the last several decades. Although the magnitude and rapidity of those changes are exaggerated by the unusual stability in the family from just after World War II until the mid-1960s, the 40 years since have seen a continuing evolution in a variety of ways. The changes in the form and functions of the family have provoked an assortment of responses from the political left and right, with the former largely tolerant or sympathetic to those changes and the latter critical of them.
What has been lost in the standard left-right debate is the crucial role played by the market economy in many of those changes. The result is that many on the right who offer at least lip service to the market order continue to resist the cultural changes that it has made possible (and that cannot be undone). Meanwhile, those on the left who embrace the dynamism of culture refuse to see or credit the dynamism of the market for making those changes possible and sustaining them. Those of us who value the dynamism of the free market and its power to expand the range of human freedom could do well to apply those ideas to the recent changes in the family and begin to see the ways in which those changes have resulted from the creative powers of the market and have thus expanded human freedom.
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Jeff Riggenbach - 9/6/2007
A slightly updated and much drier version of the chapter "All in the Family" from my book In Praise of Decadence (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998). The original version of the chapter appeared in Reason magazine in June/July 1984 under the title "Family Fever."
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