“Are you aware that all jobs require you to do things you’d rather not do? That’s why they have to pay you.”
There is something about Mitt Romney that often has me thinking of classic science fiction stories.
Maybe it’s the somewhat robotic mien, the perfect hair or the way he seemed to be aiming a laser-beam stare at Sen. Josh Hawley during last month’s debate on accepting the results of the presidential election.
Maybe it’s just my desire for stories that make sense and end well.
Back in 2019, Romney expressed a sentiment, shared by Joe Biden, that no one but Donald Trump would be able to cover the nation in such a strong reality distortion field and so, whenever Trump left office, we’d go back to normal political discussions about marginal tax rates, defense spending and welfare reform, and the political temperature would go down significantly.
So, as I wrote at the time, Trump is The Mule.
That’s the character in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels who had a special power to make people feel whatever emotions he wanted them to, and rose to be the dictator of the galaxy. The Mule slipped through the a supposedly foolproof system designed by the psychohistorians of the Foundation, just as Trump was not sufficiently anticipated by the authors of the U.S. Constitution.
Clearly, Trump’s Sith mind tricks haven’t worn out yet, though Romney seems immune. Not only did the former president foment a violent rebellion at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, he continues to control the behavior of such worthies as Utah’s other senator, Mike Lee.
This month, Romney, or my weird interpretation of him, is channeling sci-fi novelist Robert Heinlein and his tales of the Howard families. That was a secretive foundation that, looking to increase the human lifespan, found men and women from families where people tended to live a long time and paid them handsomely to get married and have children. Lots of children.
If one of these couples needed money to start a business, buy a new house, or something, they’d have another baby. They called it “Ringing the cash register.”
The idea was to breed a new kind of human, eugenics really, softened by the fact that there was no coercion involved and nothing about it invoked the power of the state. But the mix of sex and money in the lives of the characters led to some unconventional arrangements, open marriages and serial monogamies, on Earth in the early 20th century and on far-flung planets well into the future. Much of it involving a character who went by the name of Lazarus Long.
All of which came to mind recently when Romney announced his new plan to have the federal government pay parents a monthly stipend to help them raise their children. His Family Security Act would make cash payments of $350 a month for children age 5 and under and $250 for school-age kids up to age 17. It would replace other welfare programs and tax breaks, though low-income households would still be ahead financially, as well as benefit from reduced paperwork and no longer lose old-style welfare benefits if they got a decent-paying job.
It’s not enough money to encourage people to have children they wouldn’t otherwise have, just to ring Mitt’s cash register, which is good. But it would be likely to improve, if not lengthen, the lives of many parents and children. Which would not only be for the benefit of the families receiving the payments but also the whole of society.
Romney may have figured out what is wrong with a system that Martin Luther King rightly called “socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.” As a long-time vulture, er, venture capitalist, Romney knows that rich people are never expected to do what’s good for society because it’s good for society. They have to be bribed to do good things, through tax breaks, subsidies, no-bid government contracts.
Poor people, on the other hand, are expected to behave in socially responsible ways without reward because, well, they’re poor.
It is not socialist to determine that if you want someone to do something, you have to make it worth their while. That’s the essence of the market.
We know we all benefit when all parents raise their children well, feed them, send them to school, provide them with health care.
It’s time we started paying for it.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, looks forward to Mitt Romney’s Mandalorian phase.