People who have children or get sick do not necessarily receive full pay — and the issue is lighting up the U.S. Senate.
“Hello, this is Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.” With an introduction like that, few people would refuse to answer. That’s how Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s politically attuned wife, gained access to Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Shelley Moore Capito, seeking their votes on the superpackage of social projects under consideration by the Senate, especially with reference to paid parental leave.
“I was happy to talk with her, but I’m more interested in what the people of Maine are telling me about it,” Sen. Collins said dismissively.
The duchess, who took her prince to live in California, is cultivating a notable social activist profile, part of a large effort by Markle and her husband to establish their image as philanthropists — and also to make some money, of course. The package that the couple signed with Netflix alone is calculated to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
Markle, a former actor with a gift for public speaking, is also likely to be imagining a political career. Ambition is part of the American dream.
If that’s the case, she’ll need to toughen up. The current dogfight in American politics is vicious. Two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are blocking the social benefits package proposed by President Joe Biden, based on fiscal responsibility issues.
Congress has already cut the package in half from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, but it remains blocked. In retaliation against their moderate colleagues, and in an attempt at blackmail, the party’s far left is blocking the vote on another stunning package in the House for more than $1 trillion in infrastructure projects.** That package already passed the Senate, and even a handful of Republican senators voted in favor.
In the end, paid sick leave and paid parental leave were removed from the social package, but they were restored through the backdoor. Manchin previously said he would agree to the program provided it was funded by an increase in taxes from both employees and employers.
Manchin and Sinema will certainly face increased criticism. They are being accused of being traitors to popular causes generally, and to mothers specifically.
Many people are shocked to learn that the U.S. does not have a national paid leave system, although nine states have enacted laws supporting paid leave, and certain private companies provide these benefits as well.
The revised social package under consideration provides for modest paid leave of four weeks, reduced from the 12 weeks originally proposed. That’s nothing when compared to the 480 days that mothers and fathers in Sweden can divide between themselves any way they wish when they have children.
Sweden is a country with only 10 million residents and extremely high coordination of health and social welfare programs funded by an egalitarian system that deflects free enterprise. The programs are also supported through high taxes. The tax rate in Sweden reached 61% in 1996 and was lowered after a stampeded of citizens pushed back in favor of entrepreneurship. What is the point of earning so much if it ends up in the public coffer?
There is a different culture in the U.S., but the question is the same: What is the point of distributing so many benefits if in the end, doing so inhibits the motivational spirit that moves the economy and creates wealth?
Of course, the balance between equitable distribution of health and social welfare programs and free enterprise is periodically recalibrated by advanced societies (where abuse of public resources and the existence of social classes enjoying outrageous privileges are not even a problem).
Developed countries like the United Kingdom and Switzerland are also quite stingy when it comes to paid leave (and other small countries, like Estonia, Bulgaria and Lithuania, are at the top of the list when it comes to this social benefit).
“I think that basically employers and employees should participate,” Manchin insisted. He is a political moderate who speaks calmly and became the bogeyman of his own party’s progressive wing. “We have states … [and]… countries around the world doing it, and it seems to work very well and does not put a burden on anybody.”
Creating funds to finance new spending is not an original idea, but it gives rise to debate everywhere. It would be interesting to hear what Markle has to say. Is she also in favor of lifting the debt ceiling?
*Editor’s note: The original language version of this article is available through a paid subscription.
**Editor’s Note: The infrastructure bill passed the House late on Friday night, Nov. 5 and was signed into law by President Biden on Nov. 15.