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Government Is Not US

Here’s a letter to Farai Chideya:

Mr. Chideya:

I enjoyed your NPR interview on the challenges of adopting children. And I agree with much of what you said. But I disagree – strongly – with your drawing from the fact that the United States “is the only developed country in the world that does not have federally mandated leave policies” the conclusion that “[i]t’s about this country disrespecting what it takes to raise families.”

Neither “this country” nor we Americans as a people are synonymous with the U.S. government. And so the fact that something of value isn’t mandated by Uncle Sam does not mean that in America that something is nonexistent or even rare. Nor does it mean that we as a people ‘disrespect’ the purposes served by non-mandatory things of value.

Uncle Sam does not mandate neighborliness or hard work, and yet most Americans are neighborly and most of us work hard to support ourselves and our families. It would be grossly mistaken to conclude from the absence of federally mandated neighborliness and federally mandated diligence at work that this country disrespects neighborliness and hard work.

In the case of paid family leave, Vanessa Brown Calder finds that more than 60 percent of working women today in the U.S. have access to it. As for the other 30-plus percent, economics suggests that they likely prefer to take as cash wages that portion of their pay that would otherwise come in the form of paid leave. And so by not mandating paid leave, Uncle Sam in this case respects both the diversity of preferences across women, as well as women’s freedom to choose the particular components of their pay packages.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030