How to Escape the Two-Income Trap

The reprisal of Elizabeth Warren’s 2004 book The Two-Income Trap has sparked a valuable debate within the conservative policy community. Co-authored with her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi, the book argues that the rise of two-income households has created a bidding war over goods like housing and child care, offsetting apparent household income gains and leaving families in a more precarious financial state.

Tucker Carlson thinks the book is onto something and that the GOP should become the party of traditional families. Helen Andrews thinks so too, but laments the contemporary dearth of female voices leading the charge. Other conservative thinkers aren’t so sure, particularly those like Scott Winship who have long defended the encouragement of maternal work as a pillar of conservative anti-poverty policy.

Warren’s original argument consists of many moving pieces, including tie-ins with her somewhat dubious academic work on household bankruptcy. Nonetheless, The Two-Income Trap’s appeal to a certain type of traditionalist should be obvious enough.

Yet accepting Warren’s version of the story at face value falls into a trap of its own, derailing the normative debate traditionalists would like to have into an empirical debate about Warren’s specific claims. Matt Bruenig’s critique, which showed how the data in The Two-Income Trap was improperly adjusted for inflation, was particularly devastating. Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute picked apart Warren’s “bidding war” theory in a recent column, writing: “If you’re looking for a reason why their costs have risen so much, start with policies that subsidize their demand and restrict their supply, not with women working.”

Read the rest at the American Conservative.