I had not previously been aware of the “AEI/Brookings Working Group on Poverty and Opportunity,” which brings together scholars from the best think tank on each side of the isle to propose approaches to poverty that can win trans-partisan support. Their new report is discouraging on poverty policy but very encouraging on marriage.

The report addresses three areas of need: marriage, jobs and education. On the latter two, the report offers a combination of unhelpful platitudes and policy solutions that we have tried for years with no record of success. It's hard to find a policy with a more consistent track record of failure than government job-training programs, but throwing more money at government schools without any structural reform is one of them.

On marriage, however—which the report puts first—the news is very encouraging. Admittedly this is a problem for which there are no quick and easy fixes, so if you want to dismiss what they say here as “unhelpful platitudes,” you can. But I would disagree, because in this case the platitudes are not unhelpful. They establish that we do, in fact, agree on something that a lot of people (who make their livings by engaging in controversy) seem determined to insist that we disagree about.

The report recommends that we, as a society:

  1. Promote a new cultural norm surrounding parenthood and marriage.
  2. Promote delayed, responsible childbearing.
  3. Increase access to effective parenting education.
  4. Help young, less-educated men and women prosper in work and family.

Again, there is no quick and easy way to do these things. But establishing that the aspiration to do them has cross-partisan support is a big step forward.

I've been observing for some time the emergence of a bipartisan consensus that the breakdown of marriage destroys the poor. We may not agree on the definition of marriage, but we increasingly agree that the dissolution of marriage as a bedrock social institution is a bad thing, and hits the most vulnerable among us hardest.

The approach of some of my Christian friends has been to insist that we cannot form partnerships to strengthen the institution of marriage with anyone who disagrees with us about its definition. Admittedly, the plausibility of this path has been hindered by foolish people who surrender on the definition in hopes that this will help them form partnerships to strengthen the institution. That is the fool's way. The wise way to do this is to build partnerships precisely amidst our disagreement about what we are strengthening. Among other things, it's the best way to help them realize they're wrong about the definition.

Greg Forster is the author of six books and the co-editor of three books, including John Rawls and Christian Social Engagement: Justice as Unfairness. 

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