Family Breakdown and the Economy: Jennifer Roback Morse (Transcript)

Full text of Jennifer Roback Morse’s talk on Family Breakdown and the Economy. In this talk, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, long-time Research Associate at the Acton Institute, and Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, gives practical steps everyone can take to make the family great again.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Trey Dimsdale – Director of Program Outreach at the Acton Institute

It is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, a good friend of the Acton Institute, a good friend of mine.

Dr. Morse is the founder and the president of the Ruth Institute, now headquartered in St. Charles, Louisiana, which is a global nonprofit organization committed to marriage and to countering the cultural effects of the sexual revolution. Dr. Morse is an economist who studied at the University of Rochester and then taught economics at the Yale University and George Mason Universities.

And as you can see from this list of books, an accomplished author, a speaker who is constantly on the road, speaking in many different, both friendly and hostile environments. And so today she’s definitely come to be among friends, and we’re very pleased that you’ve come to join us today. Thank you, Dr. Morse.

Jennifer Roback Morse – Economist

Thank you, Trey. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Well, it is a pleasure for me to be here today, and will I get feedback if I’m too close to this mic? Okay, I’m all good. Forget that thing. Okay.

It’s a pleasure for me to be here today. The subtitle of this talk is The Acton Institute Meets the Ruth Institute. As you know, the mission of the Acton Institute is to promote a free and virtuous society, and the mission of the Ruth Institute is to equip advocates for the family at home and in the public square.

Now, my relationship with Acton goes way back to 1991, when Kris Mauren called me up. Now, in 1991, as you can imagine, this was very early in the Acton days, and in fact, I’m pretty sure he was calling me for, if not their first conference, one of their first conferences. And he says, Jenny, we’re putting on a conference in October of 1991, and we need some Catholic free market economists, and there aren’t so many of them that we should be forgetting about you. So we want you to come, and I said, Kris, that’s wonderful, I’m excited, but let me close the door.

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And so I closed the door, and I said to him, Kris, what I’m about to tell you, I haven’t told any of my colleagues here at George Mason yet, but we are adopting a little boy who will be arriving sometime this spring. He’s coming from Romania. He’ll be two and a half years old when he arrives. And I just found out, Kris, that I’m pregnant, and I will be having a baby in October.

So even though I was still having have-it-all fantasies, you know, and I was kind of thinking, oh yeah, I’ll be able to go, no, even I could figure out I was not going to be able to go to this thing in October.

So the reason I’m telling you that is twofold. First of all, so that you know that my relationship with Acton goes back a long way. And secondly, I definitely want to say thank you to the Acton Institute, because of all of my free market friends, the Acton Institute is the one organization that has stood by me, even while I have wandered off the free market reservation and into this strange territory of advocating for the family.

I have to say in all honesty that the Hoover Institution was also good to me, and I had a position with them for a number of years, but that didn’t happen for a while. And so I left, eventually I left George Mason University because I had these children. My daughter that we gave birth to, we probably could have put her in daycare, and she probably would have been okay.

But our son who came from Romania, we tried to put him in daycare, and basically he flunked out of daycare, and that’s our family joke now. Trust me, it was not funny at the time.

But eventually I left full-time teaching to move with my husband out to Silicon Valley, and when I did that, my free market economist friends basically thought I had lost my mind. My friend P.J. Hill, whom some of you know, who’s a Christian free market economist, P.J. says to me, Jenny, you’re a countercultural radical. And I said, yeah, I guess you’re right.

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So at that time, when I left full-time teaching, I needed a position. I needed a title, a brand name, so that I could publish without saying Jennifer Roback Morse, housewife, okay? Even though I was coming to see that being a mother and a wife was in fact my primary vocation, that will not get you too far, you know, with editors and stuff.

So I called Kris back and I said, Kris, this is by now 1996, Kris, can you guys give me a title or a position or something? And he said, yeah, sure, you know, I mean, I don’t need money, that’s not the point. I’m not asking for a budget line item or something. I just need a title, so I look like I’m somebody. And so he came up with the title of Senior Research Fellow, which I have held that title ever since, and that brings me to Acton events and so on.

But in any case, I’m very grateful to the Acton Institute for their support of me. Most free market people could not care less about the family, and this is a big problem. And I hope by the end of the day today I convince you that this is a big problem for the whole of the conservative free market limited government movement, however you want to label that. We need to be concerned about the family.

You know, as I thank you, thank the Acton Institute, we know this very famous saying of Lord Acton, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. If people know anything about Lord Acton, that’s the one thing they know. I do hope that people will, if, when I die, this is what I want on my tombstone, kids need their own parents. They don’t need high quality daycare. They don’t need substitute parents or alternative family forms or father figures or mother substance. No. Kids need their own parents.

So thank you very much. Just make a plan. Put that on my tombstone.

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All right. So that’s part of what we’re going to talk about today. So now there’s a card that some of you received as you came in. It’s this little card, this little thing that has red print on it. This presentation that I’m about to do, the slide show, I will send you a PDF copy of these slides if you would like to have your personal copy if you will sign up on this.

And many of you, I know, have been to Acton University and so you have heard different talks that I’ve done. At the last Acton University, I gave three interrelated talks on these topics and I’m sure they’re available in the Acton archives. I know they’re available at, complete with the PowerPoint.

So if you want more detail about what I’m going to talk about today, you can go to those places, those resources, either here or at the

So I want to just say a few words about where I live now, Lake Charles, Louisiana. By the way, my little boy who flunked out of daycare is now 29 years old and is doing fine. So whatever else I may say today, don’t be alarmed about my son. But part of his story was that he had a rough time getting there and he got involved in drugs and alcohol and has recovered from that and is now part of the recovery community in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

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