Borrowing a family policy prescription from Helsinki or Budapest is bound to disappoint. A distinctly American family policy platform must be seen as expanding choice, not constraining it, and working with our national character, not trying to reshape it, all while understanding family as the essential institution in society, one that stakes an unavoidable claim on our public resources.
A funny thing happens when your hometown gets a Major League Soccer team. People start injecting Britishisms like “pitch,” “keeper,” and “nil-nil” into conversations, rather than sticking with “field,” “goalie,” and “zero-zero.” At games, they start holding up scarves and elaborate banners like they’ve seen in La Liga, the Bundesliga, and Serie A.
Traditions, of course, can’t be constructed ex nihilo, so these enthusiasms tend to come across as artificial affectations. The scarf tradition, for example, arose organically in the early 1900s, with English “football” fans wanting to display their allegiance while keeping warm on a cool night in Liverpool or Manchester. Bringing a scarf to a climate-controlled stadium on a summer’s evening in Atlanta is, in the patois of the Internet, live-action role playing.
It sometimes feels like something similar is happening in discussions of family policy. In recent decades, talking about “family policy” would mark you as an inhabitant of the Left, eager to adopt cradle-to-grave welfare state programs like those of the Swedes or the Danes. Contemporary members of Team Scandinavia might be writers like Maxine Eichner, Matt Bruenig, or Katha Pollitt. More recently, some conservative intellectuals have sought to bring ideas from the banks of the Danube back stateside. Typified, of course, by the writings of Gladden Pappin or Sohrab Ahmari, they argue for “Hungary-style family policy,” often in the form of generous tax incentives for families and fertility.