The Home Work Reform Act

May 26, 2002

by Bruce Walker

Liberals often suggest that conservatives are divided into two antagonistic groups: social conservatives and economic conservatives. The former are bigoted, ignorant, and ready to sign petitions in support of the Salem Witch Trials. The latter are soulless ciphers who consider nothing but the financial bottom line in any equation.

This is bunk. Conservatives are the people who wish to live without the Gauleiters and Commissars of the Left running our lives. The notional "dividing line" between social conservatives and economic conservatives is bridged by the simplest of expedients: get government out.

Consider pornography and prostitution. The overwhelming majority of sensible people think both of these activities, particularly when pursued compulsively and without limits on degree, to be bad. Laws are a very ineffective way of controlling these destructive behaviors, but social sanctions, boycotts and public condemnations are quite effective.

How did America keep obscene, profane and immoral messages from movies? Public pressure from religious groups made it very bad business for movie studios to serve filth to its patrons. As a direct result of strong, organized, and private pressure Americans during the 1930s and 1940s enjoyed diverse, entertaining, brilliant, creative cinema, without foul language, nudity, or nihilism.

When the overwhelming majority of interactions between individuals are consensual and not regulated by government, then the power of social disapproval becomes even more potent. The market is much more than money. When we buy goods and services, we are really exchanging one medium of value for another we prize more. If gold was always the bottom line, then why would anyone ever buy a symphony by Mozart or, for that matter, a copy of Atlas Shrugged?

Social conservatives find their agenda advanced best by simply getting the coercive power of government - municipal, county, state, provincial, federal - out of the way. When liberals pass laws prohibiting social conservatives from exercising their rights to discriminate against panderers, pornographers, and other such people, then liberals compel social conservatives to politicize issues which should not be political questions (which is always a zero sum game) but rather market questions (which always allows every vote to count).

Economic conservatives are not heartless machines. They simply recognize that the manipulation of money through taxation, public expenditure, regulation, litigation, and monetary policies denies people freedom. What people do with that freedom is their business.

No economic conservative would challenge the right of a social conservative to organize a boycott of Disney products, for example. Indeed, an economic conservative might approve of that boycott. Any theoretical wedge between social and economic conservatives actually closes over time, because the single theme of liberalism is to reject empirical evidence.

Conservatives, whatever tags liberals may wish to place on us, believe in common sense and intuitively understand that truth and honesty are as indispensable to moral belief systems as to financial markets. We want to find out ourselves what life is all about and how we should live it.

There are many specific areas of policy in which this artificial blurring of social conservatives and economic conservatives can be dispelled. One concrete proposal, which would have great political cachet, is the "Home Work Reform Act." This measure might even woo some Greenies in the bargain.

American society has evolved through technology. The family farm was the normal economic unit a hundred years ago. This was not the consequence of any academic social tinkerer’s fertile imagination, but rather the practical problem of avoiding starvation. Although lovely in some ways, and especially from memory, the agrarian life was backbreaking, dull, and lonely.

When people left the farm for the factory, it was because the factory job was a better way to work and to live. No malicious capitalist pig roamed the countryside, snatching unwitting farm boys and dragging them into wage slavery. There were trade offs - there are always trade offs - but the practical wisdom and experience of millions of Americans was the greater truth: unless one truly loved farming, then city life was better.

After ogres like Andrew Carnegie (who rose from abject poverty to make his adopted nation a superpower and then scattered the rural areas of the country with the blessing of libraries) had their way, great pals of the average man like FDR (who was born into wealth and born into power and married into both as well) "fixed" things so that regulators would protect us from innovation, creativity, determination, and grit.

Government "help" of course simply clogs up natural processes (rather like constipation) and so when technology or demographics or economics changes how we live our lives, government "help" is required to undo problems that government "help" had created in the first place. Home work or telecommuting is an excellent example of this process, and it provides a wonderful example of how social and economic conservatives truly converge in their approaches to government.

What distresses most adults these days? Meaningless, humdrum work that makes Dilbert seem sensible. Those of us with children find that we have much less time with them than we would wish and much more of the moral education of our children in the hands of strangers. Years of our lives wasted driving to and from the office and years wasted sitting in a cubicle or desk doing little productive work. Why?

Those crude economic measurements of fifty or one hundred years ago - pig iron production, bushels of wheat, widgets manufactured - really have little relevance to the work of people today. Farmers in North America can produce vastly more food than its inhabitants can consume, and the same is generally true of industrial production.

We should have entered a new age with relatively high amounts of leisure time, truly productive work done by all of us, but work for which we are temperamentally suited. We should have time and occasion to provide for our spiritual needs - time to do good in our lives - and the primary obstacle to that today is government, political correctness, and an insistence that all our actions in live are not just "political" but "social" as well.

The first step to restoring us to our liberation from this Orwellian future is to "bring back the family farm" (which in this context means to return the office and factory to the home). The next logical step is to make homes the center of learning. Parents already home school millions of children, adding not educational concern of a parent but the ethical and cultural values which are at least as important as the subject matter of instruction.

Why fiddle around with vouchers? Create a climate very favorable for home instruction, and have this home instruction not only available for one’s own children, but as a business enterprise for any children whose parents trust in the competence and morality of a home school teacher. This completely end runs the issue of vouchers by reducing dramatically the overhead of a private school.

How many good men and women are out there in our communities with excellent scholastic skills, keen interest and prior experience with raising children, and who have free time on their hands? Who would you rather have instructing your child - a retired chemical engineer with a wife who is a concert pianist or one of the well-intentioned teachers cranked out by our public universities?

Home schooling as a low-cost business enterprise also allows many different options for the consumer - vastly more than even a voucher system would have - because a city of 100,000 could easily support a couple of hundred "home elementary schools." This sort of instruction, especially if provided by retired people, could be very affordable even to low income people and it could provide working parents with much more choices for daycare.

Beyond that, home businesses are the logical place to extend real adult learning. Why cram young adults into the anonymity of huge college classes, taught often by bored graduate students, when a true and valuable education is available through a network of experienced and intelligent men and women teaching classes out of their homes?

Is this something that the federal government should undertake? Actually, yes. It is the perfect subject for federal preemption. Congress can simply sweep away the most onerous burdens to home businesses of various kinds: state and local zoning ordinance, accreditation rules, and parochial regulation. The federal government can also give very broad tax exemptions to such home businesses, which would give small operators an edge over huge organizations (whether corporate or institutional).

The federal government can also stick its nose into how state and local governments allow their employees to work. Why not allow these government employees to work from home? Why not grant preferences in government contracting to businesses that operate out of homes? Why not encourage people to work unsupervised, and so learn the freedom of self-employment?

There are common themes in these benefits of home businesses. When people begin to connect home with business, then they will stop thinking of business as bad. When people begin to see independence as possible when they work well, then they will begin to value good work. The connection between home, family, community, and work is as natural as the first villages of mankind. It works wonders in solving a host of social problems.

The appeal of such a reform is just as great. Consider those who would welcome this: working mothers and fathers who could have their children come home from school; senior citizens who have valuable knowledge and experience but who may have grown weary of going to the office each day, and so retire early; parents concerned about the costs of college or the moral tone of public schools.

The Home Work Reform Act would be a politically powerful proposal, and once enacted so that parents taught their children at home and couples ran businesses from home, would create a real change for the better in the lives of millions of Americans, so that the decentralization of social, economic, informational, and political power which was the strength of our rise to greatness would gain momentum and bring us again into working, independent, and confident people.


Bruce Walker has been a dyed in the wool conservative since, as a sixth grader, he campaigned door to door for Barry Goldwater. Bruce has had almost two hundred published articles have appeared in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, Law & Order, Legal Secretary Today, The Single Parent, Enter Stage Right, Citizen's View, The American Partisan, Port of Call, and several other professional and political periodicals.

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For more of Bruce's articles, visit his archives.

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