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First Things editor raps Wall Street Journal editorial on child tax credits

January 17, 2012

A Wall Street Journal editorial on January 9 derided presidential candidate Rich Santorum for his suggestion that the federal government should triple the tax credit for children. “This is social policy masquerading as economics,” the Journal argued, saying that the policy would not encourage economic growth. A larger tax credit for children, the editorial said, is “a hobby horse of the Christian right.”

R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, offers a strong response. He reminds the Journal editors: “The entire tax code reflects a tacit social policy—or more accurately a hodgepodge of social policies.” The Journal editorial, he says, reflects the libertarian belief that all of life’s important affairs can be reduced to economic terms. So while the newspaper regularly applauds tax policies that are designed to encourage savings and investment, it ridicules a policy designed to help strengthen families.

Because their ideology makes them unable to recognize the goods that ordinary Americans desire, Reno argues, libertarians are unlikely to win their political arguments: We want to live in accord with our nature as human beings, and that includes contributing to and enjoying the primitive community of the family. If free market libertarians can’t get their minds around that fact—and the fact that as we make personal choices about marriage and children we’re influenced by a manifold of social and economic incentives—then I can’t see how they will be able to formulate a governing consensus.


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