Forget the Debt Ceiling — Raise Our Moral Ceiling, by Jerome Hudson

hudson_smAs the White House lobbies to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, why not instead help raise its moral ceiling? After decades of rewarding bad behavior, it’s in the government’s best interest — and perhaps even its duty — to promote the morals and values that made our nation great.

At present, the Obama Administration wants Congress to raise the debt ceiling so our government can borrow more than the almost $14.3 trillion currently allowed by law.  Conservatives want any debt increase tied to spending cuts, and a recent vote shows Obama lacks the political capital to ram through an increase as he might have in the past.

But increasing borrowing authority is no solution to our nation’s woes. How will a little bump curtail unfunded entitlement liabilities some estimate to cost over $100 trillion?

Instead of raising the ceiling for more debt to support unwed motherhood, broken families and failing government-run schools, we should raise America’s moral ceiling to promote the institution of marriage, hard work, saving and quality education.

In the long run, reinvigorating these virtues could effectively cut spending by lessening the need for government entitlements now certain to bankrupt America.

There’s been a precipitous moral decline in America since the 1960s. No subgroup seems to have been affected more than families in the black community, where the notion of family has been redefined.  Marriage no longer holds the same appeal and divorce rates have skyrocketed. Two-parent homes and academic performances suffer chronically while crime and illegitimacy flourish.

How — after Herculean efforts such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, set-asides, public housing projects, “The War on Poverty” and the rest of the Johnson Administration’s Great Society programs — do millions remain mired and dependent almost entirely on the state? Instead of curing inequality and racism, more government seems to have compounded problems.

In his 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, future senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan expressed alarm that approximately a quarter of black households were headed by women. The 2000 census raised that number to 45 percent. The black unwed birthrate is 72 percent (compared with 41 percent overall), black unemployment was over 16 percent in April and there are the persistent problems of drugs and the allure of crime.

The result? Profound impoverishment and neighborhoods in which shattered families are often housed by HUD, doctored by Medicaid, taught by Head Start and fed by food stamps. Misery and the most shrunken scope of existence endorse a poverty that is economic, moral and spiritual.

So much of our nation’s debt exists from the massive safety net our government has created. We have turned our society on its head in an idle attempt to cope with the now shameless scores of unmarried women of all races giving birth to illegitimate children. We all know that two incomes are better than one, and that children are less likely to fall into poverty themselves when they see their mother’s and father’s unwavering commitment to work.

Congress can pass no law to mandate solid marital relationships and President Obama cannot sign an executive order to raise academic achievement. But the President can play a larger part in reinvigorating our broken values system. Congress can create tax breaks for married couples and welfare reform that discourages single parenthood. And vouchers can help raise the quality of stagnant school systems.

The stakes are too high to ignore. As W. Bradford Wilcox and Chuck Donovan pointed out in Christianity Today last December, statistics show America’s moral breakdown is expanding from the lower class to the middle class. If trends hold true, it will create a larger gulf between the lower and middle classes on the one hand and the nation’s wealthy, more proportionately married, households on the other, and likely force the government to expand its entitlement safety net and necessitate further borrowing.

Raising America’s debt ceiling is certain to push our nation closer to insolvency. Raising its moral ceiling can make people happier, more productive, increase saving and possibly help work down our debt.

With the latter, there is nowhere to go but up.

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Jerome Hudson is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.

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