The idea is best summarized, as one friend helpfully put it, as resetting society's defaults to favor people's long-term interests rather than short-term pleasures. At present, we make it easy for people to indulge in in short-term pleasures that will, stretched out over time, leave them poorer, more lonely, and less able to contribute to their communities. We also make it harder to pursue things that will be in our best interests long-term. This is precisely the opposite of how it should be. We want to make it easier to choose virtue and harder to choose vices on a broad, societal level.
Here are six ideas that I think could fit under this overall principle:
First, ban online gambling. (The more politically feasible proposal might be to implement some hard limits on how easy it is to gamble online.)
Second, ban porn. (A more feasible option might be a federal-level bill requiring strict, actually functional age gates to access adult content online, such as was recently adopted in Utah.)
Third, place higher taxes on vices, such as marijuana and alcohol, both of which can have some fairly significant anti-social affects on their users.
Fourth, redesign cities to discourage speeding and to make roads more pedestrian friendly. Third places thrive in walkable neighborhoods and because so much of our social connectedness comes via third places, we should want our cities to be walkable. (To use one religious example, this evangelization and outreach strategy adopted by one Catholic parish is only possible in an area with a lot of foot traffic.)
Fifth, birth should be free. Ideally, I actually want something like the People's Policy Project's Family Fun Pack. But I would settle for making birth free. The broad goal should be to simplify access to OB care, particularly maternity care and early pediatric care.
Sixth, to make it easier for workers, particularly workers with only high-school degrees, to form and support families, we should repeal right to work laws where they exist. We should also seek to revive the power of private-sector unions by making it easier for workers to unionize and also easier to punish corporations that try to sabotage unionization efforts.
Michael Lind's recent book has other ideas as to how we can grow worker wages, but simply seeking to return to the days of high union membership in the private sector would be huge simply because it allows wages to be a negotiation between two powerful communities—unions and employers—rather than a private individual fighting a losing battle against a business. The goal should be to raise worker wages sufficiently so that it is again possible in America to support a family on a single income.
This would have a broad revitalizing effect on social life as more Americans were freed from having to participate in the marketplace (and therefore could use their labor, time, and availability to help with other forms of necessary work that are harder to justify in marketplace terms) and would make it easier for more American women to actually have as many children as they say they would like to have.
Though this proposal is likely to be our most controversial, there is precedent for a more pro-labor, communitarian approach to wages in both Kuyper's work, as explained in the Bratt biography, and, more explicitly, in Catholic social teaching, as noted particularly in Quadragesimo Anno and Laborem Exercens.
For example, Pius XI actually calls it "an intolerable abuse," that mothers would be forced to pursue work in the marketplace because the wage paid to their husbands is insufficient to support the family.
Likewise, here is Pope St John Paul II on the question:
Just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and for providing security for its future. Such remuneration can be given either through what is called a family wage-that is, a single salary given to the head of the family fot his work, sufficient for the needs of the family without the other spouse having to take up gainful employment outside the home-or through other social measuressuch as family allowances or grants to mothers devoting themselves exclusively to their families. These grants should correspond to the actual needs, that is, to the number of dependents for as long as they are not in a position to assume proper responsibility for their own lives.
Taken in total, the goal of this proposal is to make it easier for Americans of all faiths to be good. To the extent that this is a vision of a revitalized Christendom, it is such because the conception of goodness here is formed in deep ways by Christian truths.
But at bottom it is a proposal calling for the lifting up of the poor, care for the family, and solidarity amongst workers, all done for the sake of restoring American civil society. As such, though I see this as very much being part of the construction of a Christian society, one need not be Christian to affirm and support much of the vision here.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).