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February 2000
Volume 18, Number 2

The Myth of Pro-Family Policies
William L. Anderson

It was 1934, and government- caused mass unemployment supposedly was being solved by a near mass takeover of the economy by that same government. However, "Do you have a job?" was not the only important question that Uncle Sam had for his subjects. He also wanted to know, "Are You Training Your Child To Be Happy?"

In the midst of all the economic trauma of 1934, the US Department of Labor Children's Bureau introduced American parents to Publication No. 202, which bore the title of the above question. This "Lesson Material in Child Management" was from "Mother" Frances Perkins's department, but the information contained in the booklet seems to have some good advice for parents.

For example, it told parents to make sure they keep a regular feeding and sleeping schedule for babies. "Start your baby with good habits," the booklet said, "Then the bad ones will not form easily." This is sound advice, as one who has gone through the experience might attest.

The booklet also emphasizes that children should obey their parents, pick up their toys, not play in the street, and go to bed at regular hours. Parents should not nag their children and should learn to differentiate between times when a child simply makes childish mistakes and when a kid is being willfully disobedient. It even recommends spanking on occasion.

There is no doubt that much of this booklet would be rejected by the current gang in the It Takes a Village White House. First Lady Hillary Clinton in the 1970s argued that children should have more legal rights in fighting parental "oppression," so now the government plays a different tune in what it recommends for children.

For example, take the pamphlets and textbooks the Centers for Disease Control has developed for teenagers. Called "Programs That Work," they encourage youngsters to engage in sexual relations under the guise of "safe sex." For those students who might wish to abstain from having sex, the pamphlets suggest that they be humiliated by being forced to attend school-sponsored sessions on the use of condoms.

However, students who do not have moral objections to having sex or are on the borderline are urged by the CDC to let go. The government urges youngsters to "brainstorm ways to increase your spontaneity," to "store condoms under your mattress, eroticize condom use with your partner, use condoms as a method of foreplay," and on and on. The same government that said it wanted your child to be happy, well-adjusted, and obedient now says it wants your child to experience sexual gratification at any time and any place, and those who disagree are to be punished. That must be what statists call progress.

Before going further, we need to emphasize that while the values promoted by the 1934 pamphlet are superior to the sleaze disseminated by the CDC, it changes nothing about our analysis. Prior to the Franklin Roosevelt presidency, it was unheard of for government agencies to engage in such "personal instruction" during peacetime. The Roosevelt administration also began the peacetime "tradition" that plagues our society today: the US government as chief propagandist. This is due in part to the fact that Roosevelt and his advisors found political benefits in promoting and expanding government. It is also because many of those who wrote government propaganda were unemployed writers, photographers, and other highly-educated people who found themselves on the Works Progress Administration (WPA) payroll.

World War II gave the government propaganda machine a boost as writers, actors, and movie directors joined forces to convince Americans of the righteousness of the "cause." By the end of the war, Americans had seen dozens of "training" films and newsreels, along with the so-called public service announcements broadcast on radio and were thoroughly immunized to the dangers of government propaganda.

As Robert Higgs pointed out in Crisis and Leviathan, once government has triggered a crisis, it also helps trigger public demands to end the emergency. However, once the crisis has abated, government shrinks, but not to its previous level. This includes not only the regulatory state, but also the "information" or, more accurately, the propaganda state.

That role as chief propagandist has continued ever since. Social mores, have changed, however, no small thanks to the government, and it seeks to push the project further. But the answer to the CDC's latest outrage is not for the government to engage in propaganda about abstinence or "family values." Even if a future "conservative" regime were to change the direction of government propaganda, it would still be propaganda.

In short, it is not the content of the propaganda that makes the message of government so repugnant. Rather it is the simple fact that government is permitted to use its vast powers to bombard the public with words and pictures in order to distort truth and influence people to do things they never would have done on their own.

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William Anderson teaches economics at North Greenville College.

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