For a Christian conservative, the issue of paid maternity leave is a frustrating one, on which I keep going back and forth.
Obviously, if you believe in family values, as I do, maternity leave is good. Paid maternity leave is even better. And it's true that the issue sometimes looks like a reminder of conservatives' annoying tendency to privilege corporations over family values when the two conflict.
That being said, the progressive argument for mandatory paid maternity leave also leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
You will almost always hear someone intone that America is the only advanced country that doesn't "have" maternity leave, when, in fact, that's not true: many companies offer paid maternity leave. To conservatives it is frustrating — and even scary — when progressives do not seem to grasp the difference between something existing and something being made mandatory.
The main problem with the idea of mandatory paid maternity leave is basic economics: Maternity leave of any kind is basically a tax on hiring women, paid leave even more so. And more generally, all labor regulations make hiring people more expensive, depressing employment, as is evident in my home country of France.
Progressives typically angrily brush off concerns like these instead of offering solutions. "Don't you see that it's a matter of principle?" they say. But that only reinforces the image conservatives have of progressives who are much too reckless about government intervention and much too ignorant of some basic laws of human behavior, like "when you tax something you will have less of it."
One solution would be to have mandatory paid parental leave for both parents, but in the United States that is not politically feasible. It would just smack a little too much of social engineering.
At the same time, it really does seem like it is uncivilized for most working women in America to be deprived of paid maternity leave.
So, I'm torn.
Thankfully, as the conservative writer Reihan Salam has pointed out, there may be a solution. The writer Abby McCloskey, who has authored an excellent essay in National Affairs about how conservatives can help working women, has provided us with a good way to square this circle.
The government should provide a modest benefit, similar to the unemployment benefit, to women — particularly women who work hourly wage jobs and do not have access to maternity leave. McCloskey prices this at just $5 billion, a modest amount for the federal government, which she believes can be paid for by reducing waste elsewhere.
Politically, this would be a winner for Republicans who are often accused of not caring about working women, a goal they can achieve without overburdening businesses with more taxes and mandates. Plus, by cleaning up similar, but far more wasteful, workplace programs, the GOP can achieve this without increasing government spending.
This seems like an excellent idea that would solve a real problem, appeal to an important constituency, and once again show that smart conservative solutions can often reach what laudable goals progressives have without the downsides. Let's call it a win-win-win.