Moral Systems, Maternity Leave

Basically nobody has a moral system. People are generally creatures of moral sentiments. I mean this in the sense Hume does. For the majority of people, morality isn’t a super rational rectilinear set of principles, it’s kind of an ambient sense of the world developed by various factors and mostly based on impressions. (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) Who actually operates off of a moral system?

People who spend a lot of time thinking about them, unsurprisingly. Philosophers, moral theologians, social psychologists, yadda — a developed sense of reflective morality is the solution, according to Dr. Heidi Ravven, to the perplexing tendency of people to be manipulated by situations and impressions:

“And even that intellectual intervention is socially and situationally driven; it is not willed but must be enabled through social structures on the group level and the broadest kind of learning and rigorous self-analysis and self-reflection on the personal level, the philosophical education of desire of the kind spelled out in Spinoza’s Ethics. So Spinoza may indeed have got it right, that in the end all virtues depend upon and emerge from a more fundamental intellectual virtue, the openness and honesty that make independence of mind possible.”

Even Ravven acknowledges it’s probably a pipe dream to expect large scale reflectiveness of this kind. She argues there are major structures in society that can foster better parameters for behavior, though, since they’re going to impact people in that way anyhow: the state is among them. I agree with that assessment. This is why it’s important to me to double check policy suggestions to see if they track with any kind of moral sense, or if they’re just shills for various items of class interest disguised as something else. In the latest YG Network publication you can find a great example of just that latter thing.

YG Network kind of frames itself as a conservative populist outfit; fair enough, I guess. They claim they are all about creating a thriving middle class. In their latest offering, Room to Grow, they propose some ‘common sense conservative solutions’ to extremely complicated problems that are probably better served by serious contemplation than knee-jerk deferral to everyday wisdom, but I digress. Here is their position on maternity leave, served up by a former CATO person, so there’s that:

“Consider the “Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act,” also known as the FAMILY Act, legislation to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act dramatically. Rather than the current mandate on larger employers to provide unpaid leave, the FAMILY Act would create a new federal entitlement program under which qualified workers would be entitled to 60 days of family and medical leave per year. When on leave, workers would receive two-thirds of their average pay from the federal government. This new entitlement would be funded with a dedicated payroll tax and administered through the Social Security Administration.

Proponents claim this program would inexpensively provide needed assistance to those lacking paid leave, and would particularly benefit women by providing paid maternity leave. But while it would assist some women, it would also disrupt the employment con- tracts of the majority of working Americans who currently have leave benefits. This new federal entitlement would en- courage businesses currently providing paid leave programs—including more generous leave packages—to cease doing so.”

The argument is this: if all women are entitled to paid leave for childbearing, the women at the top who already have generous maternity leave packages might — might!! — lose their cushy set-ups. To put it more squarely, Sheryl Sandberg might get what Lorraine at Wal-Mart gets, in the horrible event that Lorraine gets anything at all. So we can either make childbearing while working possible for all women, or make it impossible for the poorest, who work the jobs with the lowest income and worst benefits, so that the wealthiest women with the highest paid jobs and best benefits can cruise into baby-having comfortably.

This does not even make internal sense. If the moral purpose of maternity leave is to ensure women are free to have families, then it surely shouldn’t be left up to chance. But the YG Network admits companies are hostile to motherhood:

“Given that women, particularly of child- bearing age, are more likely to take extended medical leave, employers may be reluctant to consider them for senior positions with significant responsibilities. This is particularly unfair to women who do not want or are unable to have children. The expectation that they may take off three months may unfairly hamper their career prospects.”

Their solution is this: since companies are hostile to childbearing, the government should press on with those child tax credits that notoriously benefit the rich more than the poor, and leave poor women to fend for themselves in low-income jobs with horrible benefits while rich women rake in the tax credits and kick back with their cushy maternity leave packages. So the poor remain at the mercy of companies admittedly hostile to their interests, and the wealthy breed at their leisure. Great.

You can see very clearly that this is not a pro-family or pro-life policy plan. It aims to secure the interests of the wealthy by ignoring the needs of the poor, and in doing so disciplines an underclass into resisting family life (because they can’t afford it.) It is not reflective in that it doesn’t drill down to the moral core of its own question, that is, what obligation does a state have to promote the concrete availability of family life? Instead it presupposes its own conclusions (the wealthy are absolutely entitled to the luxury of family) and glosses over the people it throws under the bus. Pro-life? Hardly.

I hope we can gradually work up a pro-life set of policies that aren’t wrapped up in impressionistic party politics. It’s just going to take a lot of reflection to unearth the decidedly anti-life premises that masquerade as pieces of an allegedly pro-life ‘system’ of thought which is, at the final analysis, neither a system nor pro-life.