Sexual orientation, altruism, and epigenetics: Is this a ruse for “second class citizenship”?

Recently, the “Gay Tribal Elder” Don Kilhefner aired a Ted video by James O’Keefe, “Homosexuality: It’s about survival, not sex.”

The talk at first attempts to explain why homosexuality persists in practically all populations at a consistent level (roughly 3-10%) despite the obviously low reproduction by gay people, and in the face (especially in the past, and today in authoritarian cultures) of discrimination and persecution.

The general explanation is that sexual orientation (and probably gender identity, which is at odds with biological gender (transgender or even gender fluidity) much less frequently than homosexuality) is directly related to turning genes on and off with chemical messengers, largely generated when the bay is still in the mother’s womb.  This is called epigenetics.  It is this process which favors the development of homosexuality in a population of humans and other social mammals.

If you look at the natural world, with social carnivores (and perhaps many primates like bonobo chimps, and maybe some whales and dolphins), it seems to be common that not all of the males reproduce or get their genes propagated.  There is often an “alpha male” dominance (lion prides, wolf packs).  This might sound like a Machiavellian “survival of the fittest”, which seems offensive to consider today (remember the debates on eugenics early in the last century and where that led).  But there may be another reason:  in animal social groups or extended families, the survival of the tribe as a whole is enhanced if some adult members specialize in altruistic behaviors for the rest of the members of the group rather than in propagating their own genes.  A similar model also applies, as O’Keefe argues, with social insects, like bees and ants.  This raises another question in my mind, about distributed consciousness capable of transcending and surviving an individual member’s own mortality;  that’s an idea I’ll come back to again in a future post.   O’Keefe argues that in most of these animals, chemical messengers turn on and off various genes, influencing future behavior.  In a matriarchal ant colony, a queen can determine the “personalities” of individual workers (warrior or forager) by selecting their food when the young are still larval.

So it is in human families.  When a mother has several children (especially several sons), the brains of later born (younger) kids are likely to get different chemical stimulation in utero.  Part of the reason is to prevent overpopulation (too many mouths to feed, although on the frontier you needed a lot of kids for labor in the past).  But the other reasons is to provide altruistic backup for family members who do bear the kids and future generations. It does seem true, later born sons are more likely to be gay.  And sometimes among identical twins there is discordance, which suggests an epigenetic influence.

My own case is unusual, as I am an only child.  Indeed, my own college expulsion in 1961 after admitting “latent homosexuality” to a college dean (after prodding) now sounds motivated by the idea that I was announcing a “death penalty” for my parents’ hope of a future lineage, which might matter in religious or spiritual matters (again, I’ll cover later).

I was also an example of the “sissy boy” syndrome. While that expression was a popular myth in the 1950s and Vietnam-draft 1960s, in general it does not turn out to be true of the gay male community as a whole, when you talk about cis gay men (not trans).  Gay men, for example, can play professional sports, an idea that the big leagues must embrace. (Baseball will probably have a trans relief pitcher some day, but that’s another matter.) What seems remarkable in retrospect is that, at least in cis gay men, sexual orientation (attraction) is linearly independent from all other physical expressions of what we perceive as “masculinity”.  That’s really apparent on most gay disco dance floors, where lean masculinity seems to be celebrated. (Milo Yiannopoulos is dead right about this.)

As my own adult life unfolded, independence became a paramount value for me, particularly as an answer to otherwise possibly clinging to people.  For long stretches of years, I lived in other cities far away from my parents and their social groups, and developed my own “real world” contact groups, long before social media.  That seemed to be what an adult was supposed to do.  I did, necessarily, have a double life, until after retirement, where work and personal relationships and personal cultural expression (even publications and books) were separate.  That became normal.  Publicly recognizable personal accomplishment, whether winning chess games from masters or publishing books on issues like gays in the military, became a primary virtue;  family, having or adopting and raising children, became viewed as an afterthought.  I viewed the rest of the “straight world” this way.  When I was working, I thought everyone felt this way, particularly for my own lens of “upward affiliation” in personal relationships.  I got a taste of “otherwise” at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, but I really didn’t have to come to grips with this until my own mother’s heart disease and decline, as well as the “social” values that were pushed on me in retirement, where salesmanship (even outright and aggressive hucksterism), rather than content production, became the new expectation.  Manipulation, driven by tribalism, seemed to replace individualized truth-seeking.

O’Keefe’s video seems to imply that gay people (equates to non-procreative) are expected to stay around home to be the backup for the rest of the family when things happen. Indeed, this was often the case in previous generations especially for spinster women (not so much gay men). With there being fewer children today, the childless (as I found out the hard way) are more likely to become involved in their parents’ eldercare for years.  In some families, childless people wind up raising siblings’ children after family tragedies (like in “Raising Helen” or the series “Summerland”), sometimes as a condition of a will.  Many states have filial responsibility laws that, while rarely enforced (with a notorious 2012 situation in Pennsylvania) can undermine the independence of childless people.

Likewise, in the workplace, in many areas with salaried (non-union) people, childless people sometimes wound up doing the unpaid overtime for their coworkers who took family or maternity leave (DADT-1 reference).  This happened to me sometimes in the 1990s, and has contributed to the movement today for paid family leave (or at least parental leave). I was the person with the disposable income would could be leaned on for sacrifice.   Sometimes I was feared as someone who, with fewer responsibilities, could work for less (“gays at a discount” was a common insult in the 1990s) and lowball the salaries of others.  That sort of thinking at one time had even affected the thinking of the military draft, when John Kennedy wanted to allow marriage and fatherhood deferments (dashed by the Johnson buildup in 1965, although student deferments remained until 1969).

So I have to see O’Keefe’s views, at least in my own life, as a call for second-class citizenship.  But that may not be the case for people who necessarily experience life through surviving as a group or tribe together.  Many tribal societies (most notably in the Muslim world) are ferociously anti-gay and want every adult to share in the responsibility of having children (as do some evangelical Christians, for example).  O’Keefe shows that these ideas, however religiously driven, don’t promote the long term welfare of the group.  Biological immutability seems relevant.

On the other hand, the whole idea of marriage equality, in my own perspective, has been about “equality” for those like me who remain topological singletons.

(Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017. At 12 noon EDT)

Who “gets to be recognized” as a legitimate “journalist”?

So, who gets to call the self a journalist?

The recent queasiness in Congress and the FCC about matters like Section 230 and network neutrality bring this question back.  Yes, I’ve talked about the controversies over “citizen journalism” before, like the day before the Election on November 8, 2016.  And recently (July 19) I encountered a little dispute about access requiring “press credentials”.

The nausea that President Donald Trump says the “media” gives him seems to be directed at mainstream, larger news organizations with center-liberal bias – that is, most big city newspapers, and most broadcast networks, and especially CNN – he calls them all purveyors of “fake news” as if that were smut.  More acceptable are the “conservative” Fox and OANN.  Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos (with his own new site) seem to be in the perpetual twilight of a tidally locked planet.  Perhaps I am in the same space;  Trump doesn’t seem to have the same antipathy (or hostility) to “independent” or “citizen” journalists (which I had feared he would when he said he didn’t trust computers), but a lot of other people do.

I digress for a moment. Coincidentally has set up his “Trump News Channel” on Facebook (Washington Post story) but the URL for it reverts to “Dropcatch”, with Twitter won’t even allow as a link as supposed spam.

The basic bone politicians and some business people pick with journalists is that “they” spectate, speculate and criticize, but don’t have to play, like right out of the script of the Netflix thriller “Rebirth”.  Politicians, hucksters, sales professionals, and perhaps many legitimate business professionals, and heads of families – all of them have accountabilities to real people, whether customers or family members.  They have to go to bat for others.  They have to manipulate others and concern themselves with the size of their “basis”.  Journalists can do this only through double lives.

I could make the analogy to kibitzing a chess game, rather than committing yourself to 5 hours of concentration in rated game.  (Yes, in the position below, Black’s sacrifice hasn’t worked.)

But, of course, we know that renowned journalists have paid their dues, most of all in conflict journalism. Sebastian Junger broke his leg working as an arborist before writing “The Perfect Storm”. Bob Woodruff has a plate in his skull but recovered completely after being wounded in Iraq. Military services actually have their own journalists and public affairs.  Young American University journalism graduate Trey Yingst helped found News2share before becoming a White House correspondent, but had done assignments in Ukraine, Gaza, Rwanda, Uganda, Ferguson, and was actually pinned down at night during the Baltimore riots in April 2015.

That brings us back to the work of small-fry, like me, where “blogger journalism” has become the second career, pretty much zoning out other possible opportunities which would have required direct salesmanship of “somebody else’s ideas” (“We give you the words”), or much more ability to provide for specific people (maybe students) in directly interpersonal ways.

Besides supporting my books, what I generally do with these blogs is re-report what seem like critical general-interest news stories in order to “connect the dots” among them.  Sometimes, I add my own footage and observations when possible, as with a recent visit to fire-damaged Gatlinburg.  With demonstrations (against Trump, about climate change, for LGBT) I tend to walk for a while with some of them but mainly film and report (especially when the issue is narrower, such as with Black Lives Matter).  I generally don’t venture into dangerous areas (I visited Baltimore Sandtown in 2015 in the day time).

I generally don’t respond to very narrow petitions for emergency opposition to bills that hurt some narrow interest group.  What I want to do is encourage real problem solving.  Rather than join in “solidarity” to keep Congress from “repealing” Obamacare by itself, I want to focus on the solutions (subsidies, reinsurance, the proper perspective on federalism, etc).  But I also want to focus attention on bigger problems, many of them having to do with “shared responsibility” or “herd immunity” concepts, that don’t get very consistent attention from mainstream media (although conservative sites do more on these matters).  These include filial responsibility, the tricky business of reducing downstream liability issue on the Web (the Section230 issue, on the previous post, where I said Backpage can make us all stay for detention), risks taken by those offering hosting to immigrants (refugees and asylum seekers), and particularly national security issues like the shifting of risk from asymmetric terror back to rogue states (North Korea), and most of all, infrastructure security, especially our three major electric power grids.

My interest in book self-publication and citizen journalism had started in the 1990s with “gays in the military”, linking back to my own narrative, and then expanded gradually to other issues about “shared risks” as well as more traditional ideas about discrimination.  I had come into this “second career” gradually from a more circumscribed world as an individual contributor in mainframe information technology. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” had suddenly become a particularly rich issue in what it could lead to in other areas.  So, yes, I personally feel that, even as an older gay man, the LGBTQ world has more to worry about than bathroom bills (Pulse).  I think the world we have gotten used to could indeed be dialed back by indignation-born “purification” (as a friend calls it) if we don’t get our act together on some things (like the power grid issue).  But I don’t believe we should have to all become doomsday preppers either.  We should solve these problems.

A critical component of journalism is objectivity and presentation of Truth, as best Truth can be determined. Call it impartiality. You often hear Trump supporters say that, whatever Trump’s crudeness and ethical problems, what Trump promotes helps them and particularly family members who depend on them.  Of course many journalists have families without compromising their work. But this observation seems particularly relevant to me.  I don’t have my own children largely because I didn’t engage in the desires or the behaviors than result in having that responsibility.  I can “afford” to remain somewhat emotionally aloof from a lot of immediate needs.

In fact, I’ve sometimes had to field the retort from some people that, while some of the news out there may be dire, I don’t need to be the person they hear it from.  I could be putting a target on my own back and on others around me.  Indeed, some people act as if they believe that everything happens within a context of social hierarchy and coercion.

My own “model” for entering the news world has two aspects that seem to make it vulnerable to future policy choices (like those involving 230 or maybe net neutrality). One of them is that it doesn’t pay its own way.  I use money from other sources, both what I earned and invested and somewhat what I inherited (which arguably could be deployed as someone else’s safety net, or which could support dependents, maybe asylum seekers if we had a system more like Canada’s for dealing with that issue).  That means, it cannot be underwritten if it had to be insured, for example.  I can rebut this argument, or course, by saying, well, what did you want me to do, get paid to write fake news?  That could support a family.  (No, I really never believed the Comet Ping Pong stuff, but the gunman who did believe it an attack it claimed he was an “independent journalist.”  I do wonder how supermarket tabloids have avoided defamation claims even in all the years before the Internet – because nobody believed them?  Some people obviously do.)   No, they say. we want you to use the background that supported you as a computer programmer for decades and pimp our insurance products. (“We give you the words,” again.)  Indeed, my withdrawal from the traditional world where people do things through sales middlemen makes it harder for those who have to sell for a living.

The other aspect is that of subsumed risk.  I can take advantage of a permissive climate toward self-distribution of content, which many Internet speakers and small businesses take for granted, but which can be seriously and suddenly undermined by policy, for the “common good” under the ideology of “shared responsibility”.  I won’t reiterate here the way someone could try to bargain with me over this personally – that could make an interesting short film experiment. Yes, there can be court challenges, but the issues litigated with CDA and COPA don’t reliably predict how the First Amendment applies when talking about distribution of speech rather than its content, especially with a new literalist like Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

A lot of “Trader Joe” type people would say, there should be some external validation of news before it is published.   Of course, that idea feeds the purposes of authoritarian rules, like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, or perhaps Donald Trump.  But we could see that kind of environment someday if we don’t watch out.

(Posted: Monday, August 7, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

Other people’s children

I saw a Facebook post recently from Arvin Vorha, a mathematics educator and Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Maryland, which read “If you didn’t produce a particular child, your financial responsibility to that child is zero.”

Oh, is that the real world?  How often to childless people wind up raising the kids of siblings after family tragedies? (That was the premise of the WB series “Summerland” that started in 2004.)  Or there is the premise of “Raising Helen” where raising a child is a requirement for a inheritance, although that sounds fair enough.

There is also a practical issue that, for a family or for a “people”, having children and being able to raise them is an important capacity.  A lot is said about population demographics or “demographic winter”, especially by the alt-right, which warns that populations with foreign values (read Muslim) will take over the political lives of western countries because they have more kids and at younger ages, without waiting for ideal circumstances (education and perfect job) according to narrower libertarian notions of personal responsibility.

In the workplace, at least back in the 90s, there were a few occasions where I worked overtime without pay when someone else had family issues or was having a baby.  How does that play into the paid family leave debate?

And then, when I talk on Facebook about how cheap my own health insurance was when I was “working” in my long track IT career, and I was flamed about my own privilege, for having my establishment employers subsidize my insurance with tax-free benefits. Well, they could have paid me more instead,  Then the flamethrower wrote something like “You must not have kids.”

Right, not having procreative intercourse with the opposite sex is indeed an indication or moral inferiority, a lower deserved size in life?  Is that what this means?  Is that what the equality debate is about?

Indeed, the backside of the demographics debate is the “cost” of eldercare of an aging population.  I found out two decades ago how easily I could be “conscripted” into this world, and then play the privilege card by hiring immigrant caregivers.

Then there are all the debates about race and genetics, which some see as offensive (Wade’s “Troublesome Inheritance” and Murray’s “Bell Curve”). But it seems that things cancel out if better-educated people have fewer children.

I do have to add one extra detail:  Susan Collins (R-ME) has mentioned “my” idea of using reinsurance in the revised health care play (to cover pre-existing), and Rand Paul (R-KY) wants individuals to have the same bargaining power by getting together as employees of big companies or union members today. Trump, as a businessman, has to have pondered these ideas, right?

Here’s a legacy post about the demographic winter issue, referring back to a 2007 “Manifesto” (decree from “on high”) by Carlson and Mero, “The Natural Family” as well as Phillip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle“.

(Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

Guest Post: “How to Avoid Becoming a Financial Burden on your Kids”

Americans are living longer than ever, which means retirement could last 20 to 30 years for some people – maybe even longer.

That’s great for those who remain in reasonably good health and retire with plenty of financial stability.

But lengthy life spans also increase the odds that many seniors will deplete their savings, face debilitating health problems and need to turn to their children for financial help or caregiving.

That’s a far cry from the kind of retirement they dreamt of over the years.

“I’ve done focus groups where one of the chief concerns that comes up is people don’t want to become a burden on their kids,” says Jeannette Bajalia, a retirement-income planner, president of Woman’s Worth® ( and author of Retirement Done Right and Wi$e Up Women.

It’s really too late to do much, though, when you’re 80 and your life starts unraveling.

That’s why it’s important to plan ahead to get your finances and health in the best shape possible, she says. Among some of the points worth thinking about:

• Unanticipated health care costs. It’s estimated that the average married couple will need to pay up to $250,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare during their retirement, beyond what Medicare and most Medicare Supplements will pay. “We’re beginning to see a lot of cost shifting out of both Medicare programs and private health plans, which means more out-of-pocket healthcare costs,” Bajalia says. “It’s entirely possible that the savings you thought would allow you to travel or to at least pay all the bills could be gobbled up by medical expenses. As you plan for retirement, you should make it a priority to discuss this concern with your adviser so the two of you can look at what options you might have to try to keep that from happening.”

• Long-term care planning. When it comes to aging, consider the possibility you might have to receive home healthcare or live in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility. The costs of such care can be daunting. For example, studies have shown that home healthcare can cost $50,000 or more per year, and nursing home care can run as high as 90,000 per year. “You don’t want your kids to have to pay for that,” Bajalia says. There are ways to prepare, such as buying a long-term care insurance policy or checking with a financial professional to help you develop a strategy for protecting your assets from nursing-home claims, she says.

• Self-care. Not every financial professional may do this, but Bajalia says she believes it’s important to integrate health education and a lot of self-care into a retirement plan. Spending money on preventive health routines to take care of yourself now can help you avoid significant health problems that lead to even costlier expenses later on, she says.  Research is now telling us that longevity is over 70 percent lifestyle.

“I know it’s important to older people that they be able to remain independent as long as possible and not have to turn to their children to help,” Bajalia says. “They just need to remember that careful planning is the route to accomplishing that.”

And one of the planning tools would be to help fund long term care insurance for your aging parents to keep assets in their estates, she says, so long term care is not simply for yourself but for your aging parents.

About Jeannette Bajalia

Jeannette Bajalia, author of Retirement Done Right and Wi$e Up Women, is president and principal advisor of Petros Estate & Retirement Planning, where she has designed and implemented innovate estate-planning solutions for clients and their families. She also is founder and president of Woman’s Worth® , which specializes in the unique needs facing women as they plan for their retirement.

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(Posted: Monday, January 23, 2017 at 6:45 PM EST)

Yes, society, starting with the family, expects those of us who are “different” to fit in; talk about “social capital” and “rightsizing”


It’s a given that gender itself is biologically immutable.  I’ve never been a fan of depending on classifying people by “born this way” groups.  But it’s pretty clear that a lot of other characteristics associated with gender are at least largely biological, maybe epigenetic.  That would include sexual orientation and gender identity, which gives you “2**3”  or 8 combinations.  If you add the personality specifications developed by Paul Rosenfels (the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s), that is polarity (psychologically feminine or masculine – again different from all the others) and action bias (subjective or objective), you get “2**5” or 32 combinations.  No language could come close to having 32 pronouns or case endings for all possible gender-related personality combinations. Maybe an alien civilization 1400 light years away (Tabby’s Star, which might have a Dyson’s Sphere around it) could have done this with digital languages and reproductive robotics. “I will accept nothing less.”


Most societies develop expectations about how people with various kinds of dispositions fit in.

A critical question will be, does the society value all “human” or “personhood” life within the group?  If so, it will develop expectations for the way everyone is socialized.  Now some societies (like Nazi Germany in the past) did not value even all of “their own”.  (Sparta in ancient Greece sounds like a good comparison.)  Others, like hyper-communist societies (Maoism during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and later groups like the Khmer Rouge (of Pol Pot) or today’s North Korea) pretend to achieve “equality” by bringing almost everybody equally low and poor, and then often eliminate the weakest members in Nazi style anyway.  (We could get into a discussion of whether Stalin was worse than Hitler.)

Societies may actually be fairly egalitarian with their own people, but very brutal with any other groups that they perceive as “enemies”.  That could be said of ISIL, where cult-like religion identifies the group.  (ISIL actually has programs for the disabled among their own “believers”.)


For an individual living in any of many cultures in the world today, he or she (up to 32 pronouns, again) is faced with carrying his/her own weight as a member of the group – which can extend concentrically, from nuclear family to extended family, to community, to country, maybe to religious affiliation, maybe to some adult-chosen activist identification.  Ultimately, the ability of the individual to relate well to people in the rest of the world depends both on the politics of the group he/she grew up in – the enemies issue – but also this his/her own personal outreach (becoming a “doctor without borders” being one of the best possible outcomes personally).

But it’s important to understand that most cultures need to expect people to grow up learning to take care of their own first.   That expectation goes along with the historical fact that personal privacy is relatively new (coming with wealth and increasing standard of living) and most families have had to deal with shared family beds and restricted living space, that is, forced intimacy.  In western cultures, some people (like me) will place more emphasis on personally defined accomplishment (and having it recognized) and less on meeting the immediate adaptive needs of others in the family group.  (This gets in to Rosenfels’s ideas about “adaptiveness” v. “creativity” which becomes a digression in itself.)  I behave this way partly because of my own biologically mediate temperament (male, gay, male, feminine, subjective).  But there is a risk that I will take undue advantage of the sacrifices of others in the group who participate more conventionally in building the group’s social capital, and my doing so, while publicly visible with my own agenda (as an “unbalanced” personality) could undermine the social development and relationship building and reslience of others around me.. This brings up the whole idea of “right-sizing“, sometimes mentioned in Christian service settings, but itself almost a moral oxymoron.

The last years of my mother’s life, along with other incidents (documented in my books) showed that intimate engagement with others and providing for them is often expected even without having one’s own children.  The idea that this capacity doesn’t happen until one “chooses” to have children is an over simplification of moral responsibility, and means that “family values” (and the place of marriage) is a lot more nuanced than a lot of us would like it to be.  But, when a sequence like this happens late in adult life, it is much “easier” to deal with for someone who has had and raised his/her own children.

When I was growing up, there was a definite expectation that young men and women needed to learn to develop practical skills in providing for one another at least in part related to gender.  These “skills” would make the eventual appropriation of sexuality to marriage and raising children

Ironically, these skills seem more relevant today was the aged live longer and are more likely to have severe disabilities late in life.  At the same time, there is more emphasis in providing a sense of “value” to those with individual disadvantages through public measures (social media and “gofundme” campaigns) than there was when I was growing up, when disability and inequality were obviously visible publicly, and the prevailing sentiment was that “the natural family” should provide a sense of value through the family’s own internals social capital.

In western societies, most of all the U.S., we value individual initiative and independence, and personalized critical thinking, sometimes to the point that marriage and family, so privatized (the “License expired” idea), gets viewed, especially by political libertarians, as a cultural afterthought.  But the idea that, within a family and concentric groups surrounding it or to which a person belongs, one doesn’t “need” anyone else (because his knowledge makes him/her “better” than those whose lives are more interdependent) can become destructive, and lead the disadvantaged to believe that modern civilization has no moral point (and incite “mass movements” as by Hoffer’s 1951 book “The True Believer“).  I saw this angry point from the radical Left way back in the early 1970s, well before the discontent expressed in today’s religious mass movements. On the other hand, the intellectual singleton (or even “schizoid”) is less likely to be seduced by radical ideology or belief for its own sake, just to “belong”.

A supplementary piece from one of my legacy blogs is “What Other People Want” from January 2016.  David Brooks covered similar territory in the New York Times with a “process piece” that I discussed April 30 while heading for the PA turnpike tunnels.  I guess I have to make sure I don’t go “less bad” myself.


I have an old article from 2005 “Hyperindividualism v. Solidarity” which refers to a Mother Jones article “Are We Better Off? In Search of Common Ground”, current location here.  The magazine cover had read “A Nation of Ones.”

Peter Wehner, in a NYT op-ed “The Theology of Donald Trump” does talk about ideas of personal worth (comparing Christ to Nietzche or maybe Ayn Rand), with a reluctance to elevate the “weak”.

Wikipedia attribution link for drawing of hypothetical Dyson Swarm, under CCSA 3.0.

(Published: July 3, 2016 at 11:50 PM EDT)

Implementing paid family leave is harder in a hyperindividualistic society


Yes, it is certainly true that the United States seems to look bad compared to almost the entire rest of the developed world when it comes to paid maternity leave, slightly less so for paternity and for other family leave needs like eldercare. “Thinkprogress” has a revealing chart here.

So, as I usually do, I must pour cold water on all these pleas for common sense help for mothers of young children, and say that the United States, more than almost any other country, is an hyperindividualistic culture where people bear the responsibilities for their own chosen behaviors.  If so, history is inconsistent, but that’s the direction we’ve been heading.  But it’s fair to ask, then, why didn’t we have (and expect) paid maternity leave, at least, back in the 1950s when society was supposedly much more family-centered? A lot of the issue then just had to do with the position of labor.

Paid family leave is certainly a feel-good thing, but it needs to be “paid for”.  The political Left assumes capitalists can pay for it out of their “profits”.  Businesses say they will have to charge higher prices.

Of course, larger, more progressive companies have started offering paid parental leave on their own, most notably in the tech sector.  That is out of self-interest:  they need to keep their best talent.  Generally, they offer the same leave to new fathers as well as mothers, and often offer it for adoption.  (Mark Zuckerberg made a big show of this for Facebook when his pediatrician wife had her first child.) Some may offer it for eldercare.

The question, then, is should states or municipalities (like San Francisco and Washington DC) require employers to offer it?

My own feeling is nuanced.  Paid parental leave that covers both fathers and mothers (and covers adoption) is “fairer” by gender than paid maternity leave alone. Leave that covers eldercare is still fairer to the childless, who may wind up with disproportionate share of responsibility (see my post on filial responsibility, May 12).  But leave that covers more people (in the name of equality) costs more.


I think that Washington DC is on the right track with this, in proposing the idea of an “insurance premium” payroll deduction to help pay for the benefit.  Everyone would pay the same premium, except that it could be made progressive with respect to wage (or waived for the lowest wage workers). Charging a premium makes the worker conscious that there is an issue that doesn’t have an easy solution that is always “fair”.  (Indeed, Donald Trump used to say, “Life isn’t fair” on “The Apprentice”). A worker knows that he or she is more likely to use the benefit if he or she does something to deserve it.  The idea could encourage more couples, or in some cases single people (and this includes gays, lesbians and transgender) to adopt children, probably a social development that is needed (although that’s another discussion).  However, Hillary Clinton was reported by Time as against the use of a “consciousness-raising” payroll tax to help pay for the benefit.

One other problem connected with paid leave is how salaried or exempt employees are treated.  In many cases now, if an key employee is out for parental leave, other workers simply do their work, often without being paid extra, even working on their own time.  That may change now for lower paid salaried workers, who according to a recent Labor Department rule now must be paid overtime. Fox News called this development a “career killer” .  In October 1993, I spent an entire weekend in the office on production problems after end-of-month when the scheduled person was on maternity leave.  I did not get paid for the time, nor did I ask to be.  I simply “lowballed” workers with heavier family responsibilities.  Then I would learn my lesson with my own mother’s situation a few years later.

Some companies try to offer alternatives to parental leave for associates without children. But then, logically, there is no inherent benefit for becoming a parent. You can’t have it both ways, but you can only pretend to.

Many people, aghast at the idea of evaluating mom’s leave benefits through the lens of “moral hazard“, will see this issue of one of social solidarity, about living in a community and sharing some longterm goals rather than in the narrower sense of fairness related to one’s own actions.  European countries are used to seeing things this way. It’s interesting to note the response of the public to mothers’ crowdfunding their own maternity leave (NBC Today story).

I’ll share this second video by a young woman who discusses “unintended consequences” of making paying for maternity leave alone mandatory.

Note that she correctly describes the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act as providing for unpaid family leave (which can include eldercare and is gender neutral). She also notes that many employers prefer married men but unmarried women, which can bear on sexual orientation discrimination at least indirectly.

There is another related concept, which social conservatives sometimes discussed in the 1990s (like in Henry Hyde’s “Mom and Pop Manifesto” in Policy), called the family wage, which in theory is enough pay to allow a family with two children or so to live on one income.  The far left tried to push this idea in Spokane, WA recently, as in this “Triblive” article by Colin McNickle, Aug. 25, 2015, calling it a “progressive cancer”. The concept is discussed in Chapter 5 of my first DADT book.

(Published: Friday, May 20, 2016 at 12:45 PM EDT)


Update: July 5: Ezra Klein on Vox goes back to the subject of paid maternity leave alone when he relates the story of a thought experiment on Mothers Day by Cardstore.

Update July 9:  David Brooks pens an essay “The Power of Altruism” which would seem to defang the idea that the childless should be so concerned about paying for other people’s children (OPC), or other people’s relationships or sexual intercourse (stripped of community context).  Elinor Burlett had gone there were her 2000 book “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless“, although she fielded the idea that the willfully childless “cheat the system”.


Update: August 4, 2016

The Foundation for Economic Education has an article by David R. Henderson, “How paid family leave will backfire on young people.”

Filial responsibility laws need more attention from mainstream media; here is what I know now


One early Tuesday morning in May, 2012, in a rustic motel room at 8500 feet at Mammoth Lakes, CA, near the head of the Owens Valley route (395), I turned to CNN and saw a report about a certain Mr. Pittas who got billed directly for his mother’s nursing home cost under Pennsylvania’s “filial responsibility” law.  There are still plenty of detailed stories on the web about the Pittas case.


I cover this topic on Blogger with the appropriate label, and you can go directly to it .   The May 24, 2012 posting goes into detail.  In July 2007, I have some postings about the detailed laws of many states.

My postings, made “on the road” that week, got nearly record hits for this topic, but the subject soon died down in the news.

I wrote an article on the topic for Wikipedia in March 2013, and it is still here.  Wikipedia says it is “outdated” and doesn’t consider overseas.


The AARP had a state-by-state map with details, but took it down in 2014, apparently because it did not have the staff to maintain the information.

There is still a 2006 Blogspot entry (“Everyday Simplicity”) by Reba Kennedy that gives a state-by-state list .

Filial responsibility laws, on the books in about thirty states, typically hold adult children liable for their parents’ medical bills, when the parents are legally indigent but one or more adult children are not indigent.  In many cases, they would kick in only if the parent tries to use Medicaid.  But in a few states, like Pennsylvania, it is possible for a provider to pursue an adult child even without trying to collect Medicaid, on the theory that the provider knows that the state can go after the child.


Also, in a few states (mainly the Midwest), filial responsibility can theoretically apply to siblings or grandparents as well as parents.

These laws are rarely enforced, and even CNN said that in 2012.  I talked to a professor from Penn State online in 2007, and she even expressed the concern that “amateur” blogging about it could, by unmasking a little known area, provoke states and providers into actually enforcing them.

Although the most obvious use of the laws could be with nursing home bills, the laws could apply for parents under retirement age, and could matter in cases of elderly homelessness.  A recent New York Times story mentioned a homeless mother whose adult children did not know where she was.

I have an older posting on filial responsibility and “Medicaid lookback”, which is not the limiting peril of these laws, but which does mean that at a federal level (and some states), reimbursement protocols look back several years (up to six) for “giveaway” of assets to adult children before going on Medicaid, link.  This posting may be moved to another archive soon;  I’ll revise at that time.

Overseas, in the developing world, it is common for adult children working in the west to send money “back home” to support parents.  In fact, Donald Trump wants to impound payments sent back home to Mexico to compel Mexico to pay for the “Wall” (or “Green Monster”), as Trump himself explains here  .  Oriental countries have an idea of “filial piety”.

Practically speaking, the lower birth rates among more affluent populations coupled with longer life spans, often with extreme disability like Alzheimer’s Disease, increases the financial burden on the “sandwich generation” as well (especially) on childless adults, who now face a greater likelihood of “family responsibility” to support others that they did not “choose” by their own actions.

As a general policy matter, the prospect of using these laws could support the idea that couples should have more children, or have them earlier in adulthood (countering the “demographic winter” problem often suggested by the right wing) and even that same-sex couples should be encouraged to adopt children when able.  The overall policy picture trades off an older idea of “marriage” and its internal functions that used to be very important to a lot of people’s sense of life meaning, for a wider definition that is more flexible and able to provide for non-independent people (children and elderly or disabled adults) without excessive dependence on government.  So the concept of applying filial responsibility fits well into a world that accepts same-sex marriage, for example.  Jonathan Ruach had noticed this back in the 1990s.

Support for these laws has sporadically been mentioned before. I don’t think New York has such a law, but former mayor Ed Koch (himself single and childless) once said that parents should be expected to support their ailing parents.

I have an older essay on the topic on my legacy site here where I call the laws an “iceberg”.

(Published: Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at 9:30 PM EDT)