Judge Judy Republicans

I think that moniker is a little more fitting - if a little less marketable - for Ross' and Reihan's hoped-for constituency than "Sam's Club" Republicans. After all, the problem with the working poor, as GNP has it, is not that they're capable of finding shopping bargains and living within their means. It's that they're sinking in a welter of family dysfunction and economic distress - and end up like the plaintiffs on Judge Judy. Why are they sinking? GNP blames the elites for getting jiggy with it in the 1960s and 1970s and setting a bad example for those without the resources to cope adequately with extra- and pre-marital sex, contracepted intercourse, divorce, re-marriage, and so on.

Now, in an extra twist of the sociological knife, the yuppies and elite boomers and wealthy urbanites have actually gotten their act together more, are bringing up their kids well, and often sticking together in later, more durable marriages. The poorer Red Staters, meanwhile, are still getting abortions, raising criminal kids, doing drugs and generally failing to stay afloat. I exaggerate, of course. The book adds layers of explanation to this, including, critically, the impact of Bell Curve style assortative mating and social stratification. But this is the gist.

GNP's answer is to shift financial resources to working poor families, specifically those with children. To put it uncharitably, they want to tax those who have gotten their act together and give the money to those who haven't yet. With the extra cash from wage subsidies or child credits, these poorer folks might then have the resources to keep one parent at home, and be better citizens all round. At least that's the hope.

And hope is the operative word. The newly working poor may also keep their sexual adventures, poor parenting, multiple spouses - and their wage subsidies as well. Who can say? Since GNP doesn't actually condition the new money on any behavioral changes - they balk at reserving child credits for the married, for example - there isn't much leverage for social improvement, and one fears that the scheme could end up as essentially a bribe for an electoral demographic the GOP increasingly needs. Say it ain't so, Ross.

But my deeper question is really about how things like family breakdown can actually be put back together by government. I'm not sure they can. Yes, you can remove actual disincentives for marriage and work, as in welfare reform. But using government to remoralize society on this kind of scale? A fundamentalist religious revival has made no dent on the poor morals of the red states, so why would wage subsidies? And if this remoralization doesn't work out, aren't you just left with a vast redistributionist scheme?