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Abstract

Part I of this Article describes the privatized-family model that dominates U.S. law and policy today, as well as the negative effects this model is having in the contemporary United States. Part II turns to U.S. history, investigating the national conversation regarding the appropriate relationship among the government-market-family triad. As historian Robert Self put it, competing narratives of the place of families are “deeply etched in competing narratives of national identity,” and are fundamental to our social contract. Part II first considers the narratives that supported the rise of the twentieth-century welfare state, which regulated the market to support families. It then contrasts these with the justifications for dismantling welfare-state protections at the end of the century, which introduced the privatized-family model. I argue that the vision underlying this newer regulatory model does not adequately support the important functions that families serve.

Finally, Part III offers my “buffered-spheres” model as a better alternative for regulating the market-family relationship. This model would delink provision of the conditions families need to thrive from their individual market power. Under this model, the state would no longer stand aside as a neutral party when it comes to whether families can obtain the necessary conditions for sound families, but would actively facilitate these conditions. In today’s economy, this means that regulation would not only encourage adults to work, as it does today, but would also ensure parents publicly paid parental leave, ensure children optimal early childhood education while parents work, and support all adults being able to go home at the end of the workday.

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