Center for Community and Economy Newsletter – January 20, 2011

1.Reclaiming the Productive Home

By Allan Carlson

One of the great transitions in human history attracts little direct attention today, despite the fact that several social policy debates are currently roaring over its consequences.

The change was the separation of the place one works from the place where one lives, the most important social result of the Industrial Revolution. Prior to 1800, in all cultures and all places, the normal human pattern was to live and work in the same location, be it on the small peasant farm; the artisan’s village or town shop (where the workplace would commonly be on the first floor and living quarters on the second); the fisherman’s cottage; or the nomad’s tent. In these environments, work and family time, productive activities and child care, and the complementary tasks of husbands and wives blended with a seamlessness too little appreciated in our time.

The rise of the modern factory system did produce a cornucopia of cheap consumer goods and a rise in living standards; yet the price paid was a shattering of the close bonds between family life and economy. Also lost was the continuous interaction among families – adults and children alike – that shaped the vital life of a true village.

Many of our contemporary “social issues” derive from this great transformation. To begin with, adults – both husbands and wives – faced new, strong incentives and pressures to leave their homes and become part of the factory (and office) work force. The once-complementary roles of men and women in a family enterprise transitioned into disputes over “gender roles.” Children, who had commonly been little economic assets on the family farm or in the family shop, suddenly became liabilities. Unless sent into the mines or the textile mills, they no longer were “productive.” Indeed, “child care” became a pressing issue.

Over the last two centuries, various efforts have been made to deal with the consequences of this revolution in human affairs. The 19th-century Victorians created the role of the stay-at-home mother supported by the employed (and usually absent) father earning a “family wage.” During the middle and late 20th century, public policy shifted toward “gender equality” in employment, “companionship” rather than “procreative” marriages, the two-earner household, and subsidized day care.

Such efforts have only tried to lessen the damage done to families by the Industrial Revolution. They have focused on treating symptoms, without challenging the basic premises of the revolution itself. As a consequence, basic problems of family and community continue to fester.

And yet, the early 21st century has opened real prospects for a kind of counterrevolution that would restore harmony between the family and the economy, renew productive homes, and transform even modern suburban developments into real communities.

In practice, what would this mean? Some of the specifics are already clear:

• We can see home schools, where families are reclaiming the vital education function from the state and regrounding parents (mostly mothers at this point) and children in their homes and neighborhoods.

• We see the “wired” home, where the Web and the modern computer make it possible to renew the family home as a place of commerce and the professions.

And yet, government regulations still maintain large barriers to the progress of this broad pro-family revolution. Zoning laws, a relatively recent product from the 1920s, remain implicitly tied to the weak “companionship model” of family life. In most places, it is nearly impossible to operate a business (with visiting customers) or a preschool or a professional office out of one’s home.

Even worse, it turns out, are the neighborhood or homeowner associations, a new kind of informal governance that has recorded rapid growth at the same time as suburban family life has declined. A product of the 1960s, homeowner associations now embrace 55 million Americans. Using restrictive covenants and liens on homes to enforce their wills, these associations are – in housing analyst Spencer MacCallum’s words – far more “arbitrary, unresponsive and dictatorial” than zoning boards in their control over the lives of residents. Commonly prohibiting everything from home offices to swing sets and picket fences, homeowner associations – in one critic’s words – provide neither liberty, nor justice, nor domestic tranquility.*

The iron grip of state boards governing the professions of law, accounting, medicine, dentistry and so on also limit the prospects for family renewal. Once practiced out of homes, these professions reorganized following industrial models in the 20th century: Massive professional schools have replaced apprenticeships just as mass clinics have displaced the office in the home, changes aided and abetted by state regulation. With modest exceptions, modern technologies of learning, communication, research and practice no longer make this necessary.

What is the solution? In one word: liberty. We need to tear back the web of regulations that prevent families from being full, rich and productive. Specifically:

• At the state level, we should abolish those regulations of the professions – medicine, law, dentistry, accounting and so on – that favor giant institutions and prohibit decentralized learning such as apprenticeships.

• At the local level, zoning laws should be loosened or even abolished, to allow the flourishing of home gardens, modest animal husbandry, home offices and businesses, and home schools. In place of zoning, the more flexible “nuisance laws” of the early 20th century should be restored as guardians of neighborhood tranquility.

• At the neighborhood or “development” level, “restrictive covenants” that bind families to the failed “companionship” lifestyle should be loosened, if possible. Homeowners associations in new developments should be discouraged.

From this new birth of freedom, we can even imagine the lonely contemporary American suburbs reborn, with small shops where ghostly living rooms once stood; with lawyers, doctors and dentists again working out of home offices, assisted by able young apprentices; with productive gardens and modest animal life; and with the midday laughter of homeschooled children where only silence had prevailed. This is an environment where the great breach between home and work might heal, and where marriage and the child-rich family, embedded in real community, might flourish again.

The author, Dr. Allan C. Carlson, is director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Community and Economy, president of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, and an associate professor at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Dr. Carlson founded the World Congress of Families in 1997. He has written for numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Intercollegiate Review, and is the editor of The Family in America. He is the author of nine books, including The Natural Family: A Manifesto (Spence, 2007), which he co-authored with Paul T. Mero. 

*See Spencer Heath MacCallum, “The Case for Land Lease Versus Subdivision: Homeowners’ Associations Reconsidered,” in David T. Beito, Peter Gordon, and Alexander Tabarrok, eds., The Voluntary City (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002): 371-79.


2.Sutherland to host immigration debate Friday

Sutherland Institute is hosting a debate on immigration Friday, Jan. 21, at the Show Barn at Thanksgiving Point. The event will start at 7 p.m. and end no later than 10 p.m. The public is invited, and admission is free.

Representative Stephen Sandstrom has agreed to lead a debate team affirming the position “Resolved: Utah should enforce federal immigration laws.” Sutherland President Paul Mero will lead the debate team in opposition to this resolve. Representative Sandstrom’s team members will be Rep. Chris Herrod, Ron Mortensen, Arturo Morales and Lynette Weed. The members of Mr. Mero’s team will be Senator Curt Bramble, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Senator Luz Robles and Doug Wright.

This debate is expected to be lively, informative, civil, and – since it is being held shortly before the start of the 2011 Legislature – relevant. Some seating is reserved, but the rest will be open to the public.