Social Issues and the Economy Aren't a Zero-Sum Game

Some voters wish politicians would ignore social issues and focus on the economy. The problem is, these two things are intertwined.

"I think all politicians need to stick to the economy and get away from social issues," Marty Folger, a banker from Port Clinton, Ohio, told USA Today in a story posted last night. "I've always been more about the economy, and when it comes to the social issues I don't really let them play into my decisions."

Folger's has been a relatively common reaction to the culture war that's bubbled up around women's reproductive rights and religious freedom. Nobody has emphasized the supposed meaningless nature of these issues more than presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. He has repeatedly deflected questions about birth control, intimating that they are irrelevant. Meanwhile, many other Republicans have charged the Obama administration with reigniting the culture war by handing down the birth control mandate in the first place.

I agree that our lawmakers should be focusing on creating jobs, but let's remember that social issues aren't divorced from the economy. One affects the other. Take the issue at hand: the HHS decision to require complete coverage of birth control is more of an economic decision than a ideological one. Despite the Republican talking points about "out-of-control spending" and the "nanny state," the whole point of the Affordable Care Act is to reduce health care costs for both individuals and the government. Covering birth control, particularly, will not only help women and families save money, it'll also lighten the load on taxpayers who currently support unwanted children. By virtually all scientific accounts, birth control is an good thing for society as a whole, including its bottom line.

Beyond birth control, though, social issues affect how the government spends its money—on everything from environmental initiatives to education. Civil rights often determine the financial security of minority groups (think of gay people who can't reap the financial benefits of marriage, or those who are subject to housing discrimination). Unemployment and the economic downturn, in turn, seriously affects people's personal lives. These things are intertwined, and it makes no sense to vote for a president without considering both. So while we should pressure our leaders to take action on poverty and joblessness, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user rasdourian.

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