Should Business Care About the Family?

This article was originally published in the “CAPITOL BUSINESS : The Business-Government Connection” section of the Sacramento Union on March 14th of 1991.

    The Conference on the Preservation of the Family ended a couple of weeks ago and community leaders from throughout California met with policy makers to discuss the fate of the family.  Considering the increasing emphasis regarding the family, the question arises – why should business be concerned about the family?

    Isn’t family a private matter?  Shouldn’t we focus on items which are more tangible?  Who cares if half of our employees get divorced?  Does it impact us if our women employees are not making ends meet at home because most divorced husbands are not timely with their child support payments?  Is it our concern that these women have to worry about child care?

    As you begin to ask these questions, the original inquiry of whether business should be concerned about the family becomes absurd.  Obviously, if there is strife in our employee’s personal lives, they cannot merely leave those concerns at the door when they come to work.  These issues directly influence their productivity.

    Furthermore, the funding of the new social programs being proposed to help the family will be placed squarely on the shoulders of business, such as a mandated health care system for all Californians.  Yet, there are more subtle reasons why business must be concerned about the welfare of the family.

    “Capitalism sprang from a set of well-defined ideas that were the product of the Western mind in both their intellectual heritage and cultural environment”, as economic Professor Steve Pejovich of Texas A&M observed, “the result was an unheard of degree of individual liberty and economic affluence in the West.”  For example, as our own David Swoap noted when he was the Federal Undersecretary of Health & Human Services, “It was the saving patterns of families, and the virtues inculcated by them, which made capitalism possible by making capital available.  Destroy the one, and you destroy the other.”

    Families are critical to the economy.  Estimates vary, but up to 60% of our gross national product is generated by family firms.  In addition, up to 75% of our private corporations, partnerships and proprietorships are family dominated.  In fact, Allan Carlson in his treatise, “The Family and Free Enterprise”, asserts that “the free enterprise system and the modern family are intimately linked in a complex web of cause and effect. . . . (Democratic capitalism through) its devotion to human freedom, its creation of wealth, and its demand for personal responsibility – made the modern family possible.  And the modern family – by its channeling of the unleashed individual toward natural and necessary social tasks, by it mobility, by its unique motivational psychology, and by its linkage to an inherited moral code – made the free enterprise system possible.”

     As once said, the family is the seedbed of economic skills, money habits, attitudes toward work, and the art of financial independence.  It is our conveyer of traditional values and our front line in the battle to instill those values in each succeeding generation.

    The importance of the family and our stable social order to business is difficult to overrate.  As true today as in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt eloquently summarized it’s significance:

There are exceptional women, there are exceptional men, who have other tasks to perform in addition to, not in substitution for, the task of motherhood and fatherhood, the task of providing for the home and of keeping it.  But it is the tasks connected with the home that are the fundamental tasks of humanity.  After all, we can get along for the time being with an inferior quality of success in other lines, political or business, or of any kind; because if there are failings in such matters we can make them good in the next generation; but if the mother does not do her duty, there will either be no next generation, or a next generation that is worse than none at all.  In other words, we cannot as a Nation get along at all if we haven’t the right kind of home life.  Such a life is not only the supreme duty, but also the supreme reward of duty. Every rightly constituted woman or man, if she or he is worth her or his salt, must feel that there is no such ample reward to be found anywhere in life as the reward of children, the reward of a happy family life.”

Bruce Lee expresses the views of the California Business League, a trade association dedicated to restoring quality government.  His column appears monthly in the Forum.  If you have comments or an item for the column, write Capitol Business, P.O. Box 60267, Sacramento, CA  95860.