Life was much simpler for those of us who grew up in 1950’s America than it is for children today. We took for granted an intact family with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mom. America was the number-one manufacturing country in the world, and our society was anchored by a strong middle class. Yes, there were wealthy people in our midst; but there wasn’t the kind of distinction between the very rich and the rest of us that there is these days. With that strong manufacturing base came good-paying salaries for American workers. I still remember the pride we took in products that were “made in Texas—made in the USA.”
Those days seem long gone as I survey the American scene in my older years and consider what is on the horizon for my seven children and twelve grandchildren. It isn’t a very pretty picture, and I wonder whether the tide can be turned before it is too late. It is as though the termites have eaten away at the foundation of our house for so long that very little is left to hold it up, should a strong wind come along. And strong winds are circulating in these extraordinarily difficult times. Government debt levels are unsustainable; the bubble economy is rapidly causing the destruction of the middle class; there has been virtually no private-sector job growth nationally in the first 12 years of this new century; we lost one third of our manufacturing base from 2001 through 2010; and more and more of our children are growing up in a dysfunctional environment with fewer and fewer intact families headed by a father to help raise them.
In The Need for Roots, Simone Weil warned about what could happen to a nation when the traditional roots of its social order become so weakened that it is incapable of rising to the occasion in times of crisis and protecting its very existence as a free society. She recalled an increasingly rootless French society—fueled by the antireligious, egalitarian principles of the French Revolution—that was easy pickings for a Nazi invasion in World War II. The traditional roots of a once-vibrant Christian civilization had been under siege by the forces of the secular left for so long that the common bonds that held the nation together had come undone, leaving France vulnerable to a foreign takeover.
It was the United States that came to France’s rescue. That successful mission was aided in no small part by our ability to build up our military readiness quickly, thanks to our strong manufacturing sector. That is no longer the case.
We ignore at our peril what happened to France in World War II—not to mention the transformation in the 20th century of once-Christian countries like Russia and Germany into antireligious, totalitarian regimes. Yet for the past half-century in our own country, the countercultural elites who emerged out of the protest movements of the late 1960’s have been busily working to undermine the traditional roots that have grounded us as a people since the founding of the American Republic. And these forces have been so successful that the counterculture of the 1960’s has become the dominant culture in America today.
Long-term trends in the labor market have been particularly brutal for men. While women have gained employment, over the past decade men have lost nearly 600,000 jobs. Since the Great Recession of 2008 unemployment among men has nearly doubled. Moreover, in recent decades we have seen a significant loss of jobs in sectors that men historically have occupied. The hollowing out of our manufacturing base has taken a heavy toll on employment opportunities for American males in an industry where men make up 70 percent of the workforce. From 2001 through 2010, 5.5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost. Construction, where 87 percent of positions are filled by men, has also been hit hard.
It’s working-class men, not those who occupy elite positions in finance and government, who are suffering the most. The hemorrhaging of manufacturing and other good-paying jobs means that a rising number of young American men face dwindling prospects for earning a middle-class wage in the future. Young male unemployment stands at more than 18 percent. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans (most of whom are male) had an unemployment rate of 12.1 percent in 2011. African-American males have also suffered greatly. Ten years ago, African-American men and women had the same unemployment rate of 9.8 percent. Since then, the rate of unemployment for black males has increased to 15.8 percent, more than three points higher than the unemployment rate for black women.
With growing numbers of out-of-work young men comes a volatile mix of negative social outcomes: They are less likely to marry, less likely to be a stable parental force for the children they father, and more likely to engage in violent behavior.
One would think that Washington policymakers would see these developments as cause for concern. But for more than a decade, politicians have looked the other way as good American jobs have been shipped overseas or outsourced, or have simply disappeared. Our business tax system gives incentives to American companies to export jobs and prosperity overseas. And our welfare system discourages the preservation of intact families, thanks to the way it distributes the money.
All levels of government now have special programs designed to make sure that women and minority-owned businesses receive preferences in landing government contracts. Here in Texas, under our own Historically Underutilized Business program, a Pakistani- or Sri Lankan-owned business has a built-in advantage over white-male-owned businesses in competing for state government contracts.
Virtually every group except for white males seems to qualify for a preference in these set-aside programs. This is the case even with white males who have had their own educational and class barriers to overcome.
Pointing this out has long been off limits in polite company, but Sen. Jim Webb broke the taboo last year in an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege.” In his piece, the Virginia Democrat called for an end to most of the government’s preferential-treatment programs. Senator Webb noted the especially galling practice of making recent immigrants the beneficiaries of these diversity programs. In other words, not only are we shipping good jobs overseas but we are giving preferential treatment to foreigners who are moving here to take the jobs that remain. Even in a conservative state like my own, a business owned by a male born in Pakistan who moved to Texas has an advantage in getting state government contracts over a business owned by a native white male.
I agree with Senator Webb’s conclusion: “Our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in [the business of] picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes.”
There is a common-sense solution to the problem of lost manufacturing jobs. It is known as the Hartman Plan, and it replaces our onerous corporate tax system, with its 35-percent tax rate and its 7.65-percent employer portion of the payroll tax, with a revenue-neutral 8-percent business consumption tax that would be border-adjusted.
This new approach to taxing business would raise just as much in revenues, if not more, than the current system of taxation. The eight-percent tax would be levied on all goods and services coming into the United States, while a comparable tax credit or abatement would be applied to all exports as an offset to the company’s business consumption tax. Suddenly, the United States would become competitive again with our trading partners. And we would bring jobs home to America, particularly in industries where male unemployment is so high.
The disparity in job opportunities for men in America has both economic and societal consequences. It is a lot more difficult to be a responsible head of a household and help in the creation of a stable family if the father has lost his job or finds himself unable to make a living wage. That is why an overall strategy to put America back to work must include economic policies to help rebuild our devastated manufacturing sector and phase out government preference programs that put men at a disadvantage in finding jobs or starting businesses.
The cultural challenges facing middle-class American men are even more daunting. Hollywood once produced movies and TV shows portraying the American male as a strong, positive force for the family and the community; now it revels in trashing the last vestiges of our traditional social structures.
In the face of near-constant mockery of “middle-class values” by the cultural barons of American society, I almost despair of any hope of restoring an American culture based on Christian principles. But even more miraculous conversions of entire societies have occurred in the history of Christendom. Christians know that despair is one of the most destructive sins because it rejects the virtue of hope. So, no matter how formidable the challenge, we can’t give up.
Men, are you ready to lead?