Soulmates, Paradoxes, and the Significance of the Family for American Political Economy

In June of 2009 one of the most prominent conservative governors in the United States disappeared without notice. Where he went—and what he later said about it—illustrate a profound cultural shift in public and private attitudes regarding marriage. This shift, documented and explored by leading American sociologists, confronts a popular misconception about marriage, namely, that romantic, individualized conceptions of marriage have strengthened marriage. Analogously, significant work by social scientists on how children are faring in the “post-marriage” culture, and trends in the self-reported happiness of men and women, also present paradoxically in light of accepted myths about marriage and family in America. In this paper I will do three things. First, I will present three key sets of findings that challenge common misconceptions about the family in America. Second, in light of these findings and appealing to recent demographic work, I will argue that the real “fault-lines” in American society are “familial” and not political, raising questions about the dynamic relationship between patterns of marriage and family formation on the one hand, and political ideology on the other. Finally, I will argue that new evidence on economic mobility uncovered by the Equality of Opportunity Project in 2014 supports the provocative thesis, advanced earlier by Nobel-laureate Robert Fogel, that the family contributes “spiritual” capital necessary for economic success, without which egalitarian goals are worthless. I begin with the story of Governor Mark Sanford. Sanford was elected to lead South Carolina in 2002; a fiscal conservative, he was elected to a second term in 2006. He became famous in that second term for rejecting a portion of Federal stimulus money earmarked for his state in 2009. In 2010 a Democratic watchdog group named him one of the 11 worst governors in the U.S., while the libertarian Cato Institute ranked him the best governor in Ameri
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