The structure of the family is built around making decisions using local knowledge and information to solve problems. Lauren Hall, professor and chair of political science at the Rochester Institute of Technology and IHS Senior Fellow, has devoted much of her career to trying to understand the self-organizing nature of the family.
In fact, Hall believes that the family is often overlooked as a focal point of study, with usual attention paid to markets and governments as the means to solving complex problems. The concentration on markets and governments, however, fail to incorporate the creative and local responses that families make to problems concerning their own health, wealth, and happiness.
Recent trends—like more women participating in the labor force—have redirected considerable attention to governments as prime caretakers for family matters, which crowd out the many private and innovative solutions families are eager to create in the face of growing change and complexity.
Early in her career, Hall researched classical political theorists like Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, as well as the contemporary French philosopher Chantal Delsol. Without intending it, however, Hall found herself circling back to the issues surrounding family and private life. These issues are not given enough attention, she says, and uncovering the ways in which families develop their own unique rules and operations can shed much needed light on how we can improve individual and community outcomes.
“I did not intend to conduct research on the family earlier in my career. This is something I just always kept going back to. I’m genuinely interested in the spontaneous and emergent orders that surround the intimate sphere, and then trying to understand how government activity and regulations interact with that spontaneous order, and sometimes seriously harms it.“– Lauren Hall
At a 2006 summer seminar, Hall was exposed to classical liberal ideas from a new angle. Among one of the speakers was David Schmidtz, who discussed the property rights of movable resources like water and animals. She reflects fondly that “all of a sudden, there was this world that opened up to me. That seminar was the first time that I was surrounded by people who were doing interdisciplinary work and taking the life of the mind seriously.” This motivated her to return to future IHS events and explore research topics from new perspectives.
In her book “Family and the Politics of Moderation” (2014), Hall stresses the essential role that the family plays in moderating the dueling forces of individualism and collectivism. “The family is this balancing act,” designed to mediate between the claims of individuals and the communities those individuals inhabit. Hall finds that “the monogamous family made up of two parents and children, including potentially extended family members, is one of the most compatible with a free society.”
According to Hall, the family precedes the emergence of property rights in many instances. Strong, monogamous families seek to secure their property rights against outside interference. Without the emphasis on the family, property rights are more likely to cave to collectivist pressures.
“The family is one of the primary reasons that private property rights exist in the first place,” Hall believes.
She adds “that you want to have control of resources in order to support your family and property, and then you pass those resources down via inheritance.” In other words, the family can be viewed as the cornerstone in a free society, an essential feature.
At an IHS manuscript workshop for her most recent book “The Medicalization of Birth and Death” (2019), Hall credits the feedback she received as decisive in shaping key parts that enhanced the overall product.
In the book, Hall describes the catalogue of policy interventions by government which artificially prevent patients from receiving alternative forms of care during their most sensitive moments. The centralization of medical care for expectant mothers as well as those in hospice care has increased costs and lowered health outcomes.
Even more troubling, Hall states, is that minorities often bear a disproportionately greater share of these costs, which actually serve to widened racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare. For example, in an op-ed for the Times Union, Hall points out that certified public midwives (CPM) were barred from performing important duties for an already overcrowded hospital system during the throes of the pandemic.
In addition, certificate-of-need laws for birth centers reduced the supply of locations whose services could have offered a low-cost alternative to hospital birth. “CPMs, when integrated into the health care system, provide excellent low-cost care for low-risk women. Birth centers do the same,” notes Hall. She adds that “both are critical tools in the fight against racial disparities.”
For many minorities and people of color, in order to be a midwife, you must undergo prohibitive state-sanctioned requirements that prevent many potential healthcare providers from offering their services. As a result, many would-be licensed midwives must either offer their services underground or seek another occupation.
“The more I look at maternity care in the United States and the centralization in hospitals, they’re all overwhelmingly white providers. All of these things indicate to me that we’ve prevented something from being born. We’ve prevented a variety of other options. We’ve prevented a polycentric system from emerging because we’ve regulated it out of existence before it could even take its first breath.“–Lauren Hall
Hopefully, this is not the end of the story. Hall’s current research focuses more in depth on the origins of these healthcare disparities among different racial and ethnic groups and seeks ways to close this gap.
Throughout her career, IHS has assisted in providing scholarly and professional development. From seeking feedback on a paper or book manuscript, to organizing your tenure packet and putting together readers, “IHS was absolutely crucial in helping me fill in those gaps. We’re often taught to do all this by ourselves,” confesses Hall, but with IHS, “I was able to grow my network, improve my research, and contribute to a wider scholarly community.”
Hall’s research continues to identify the broken pieces in our healthcare system, opting for an approach that champions the entrepreneur and permits individuals to solve the problems that matter most to them.
The Institute for Humane Studies is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2021. For more spotlights on scholars, video interviews, photo galleries, and in-depth conversations on classical liberal ideas, visit TheIHS.org/60.