Social Question

smile1's avatar

How do liberals and conservatives disagree about the appropriate role of the government in the economy?

Asked by smile1 (488 points ) November 15th, 2009

I know there are all these unions and groups, such as the IWW, socialists, anarchists, progressives, and such. But I just can seem to fit them together!! Help?

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18 Answers

Sarcasm's avatar

(there are people who stray from the norm, but..)
Conservatives typically want less government. They’d rather have the people themselves change the nation, rather than relying on government to do so.
Liberals typically want more government. They see inequalities and realize that other people won’t make changes without government to force them.

(Anarchists want no government. Socialists want more government. I don’t know about IWW or progressives)

rdorian's avatar

Progressives are Liberals.

smile1's avatar

@Sarcasm thanks! really cleared stuff up!

Parrappa's avatar

Conservatives believe in a laissez faire style of government. This means the government doesn’t have much of a say in the economy, they just sort of let it work itself out (invisible hand).

nmac's avatar

How or Why? Not sure I get your question.

Kraigmo's avatar

These terms no longer work in American politics.
George Bush the “conservative” both created and further attempted to create a government many times more bloated than any president previous to him. Al Gore “the liberal” streamlined government bureaucracy and eliminated millions of pages of legalese from the federal agencies. President Bill Clinton cut the national deficit into a surplus. When including things like the Terror War, Drug War, and War on Indecency…. George Bush was far more of a Big Government guy than even Barack Obama, who is suffering such accusations merely for two reasons: 1) He’s Democrat and 2) He proposed a massive health care overhaul/reform/program

But the health and welfare proposals of Democrats pale in comparison to the Security State and “Family values” legislation budgets of Republicans. Judging by what bills are cosponsored and voted on in Congress, over the last 25 years.

Historically, it has been stated that liberals want a bigger government and more of a welfare state, whereas conservatives want smaller government and more of a laissez-faire state.

But if this is the case, why do liberals vote for men who propose smaller governments than conservatives? I’m talking about America, not Europe, here

Conservatives think they are being conservative when they vote Republican, but unless they voted for Ron Paul, that’s a group-delusion they have.

Due to people’s misunderstanding of what the people they vote for actually do… the terms of liberal vs. conservative are now meaningless in America.

To answer your own question better though, look up various sites that have a “political compass” or “Nolan chart” and take their quizzes with various answers, to see where they lead. (But keep in mind these sites usually are skewed to make Libertarianism look good the guy who invented the chart is a Libertarian but nevertheless the Nolan Chart is a valuable tool for getting some information about how all the various political groups fit together).

arpinum's avatar

Conservatives focus on the preservation of inherited moral traditions that have governed humanity. These moral laws can come from religious scripture or be secular. The government for conservatives is a tool to be used to maintain these moral beliefs. They will interfere in the economy with this purpose in mind. Price gouging laws, for example, are supported by conservatives who find that raising prices in terms or trouble violates a “Good Samaritan” moral value. Welfare, helping the poor, increased spending for education, can all be conservative goals if the actions do mot disturb the moral foundations. While direct handouts might be scorned because they don’t promote their moral values, the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is welfare for people who have a job, is readily promoted by conservatives because it reinforces the Protestant Work Ethic”.

In looking at economic issue in particular, conservatives are willing to interfere in almost every aspect, as long as it is done so in a way that preserves or reinforces their moral traditions. A weak conservative would be able to support any regulation so long as it does not diminish the moral traditions.

Conservatives do not hold liberty as a value. They believe that laws inherited from God or other sources or morals should be enforced on all people.

Classical Liberals, or Liberalism, is the belief in liberty, including economic liberty, and do not believe that government should have much if any role in the economy, especially if it limits individual liberty.

If you really want to go in depth here is an paper that relates to your question: http://economics.gmu.edu/klein/PdfPapers/ResortingtoStatism.pdf

smile1's avatar

THANK YOU!!! both of you helped A LOT.

dalepetrie's avatar

First off, let me say that this question is probably going to be hard to answer in this format (a Q & A board), I suspect a whole book could be written quite easily on the topic, and when I say that, I do not mean one of my lengthy answers that elicits people to comment on how I “wrote another book,” I mean a bona fide several hundred page tome. So, knowing full well that I won’t do justice to this question, I still would like to take a stab at it.

Next caveat I would like to make is that I am fiercely liberal, I am unapologetic about this, and I realize that it makes it a bit harder for me to comprehend fully the conservative mindset, or to always be 100% fair in evaluating the core motivations of “the other side,” but it is my goal always to be as fair as I can be, and I encourage anyone to disagree with me if they believe I am mischaracterizing conservatism.

Third thing I will point out is that by using the terms liberal and conservative, we are essentially going to be painting a picture with very broad strokes, and by no means are my observations about either Liberals or Conservatives meant to encompass everyone who considers himself or herself to be in one or the other category. Having said that, I’ll start with a stereotypical, 10,000 foot view by making the following observation:

Liberals believe government is the solution to our problems. Conservatives believe government IS the problem. Now of course, this relates ONLY to economic issues, you might as well turn that statement on its head when it comes to military issues, but in the interest of not opening more cans of worms than we can deal with here, let’s stick to economic issues as this is the nature of your question.

Modern Conservatism seems to be downright Libertarian when it comes to economic issues. The mantra is (regardless of how high taxes actually are) that taxes are “too high”. Conservatives believe that the government really has no role in taking away the money of a citizen except as specifically laid out in the Constitution, which basically for many is as simple as providing a robust national defense. Some miss the part about providing for the general welfare, but for most even that is interpreted in very narrow (conservative by definition after all means on one level “more restrictive”) terms, such as a police force, fire department, etc.

Conservatives in the US in particular are big believers in the power of the market to take care of the things which we rely on, in the dream world of the Conservative, we wouldn’t have public schools, public libraries, public freeways, really when you get right down to it, the MOST Conservative position would be that EVERYTHING, short of our nation’s defense would be privatized. Conservatives believe that because government breeds bureaucracy, it is an inherently inefficient way of accomplishing a task, and therefore if everything were allowed to be subject to the private market, it would all be subject to the laws of supply and demand, and every industry would breed competition, which would keep companies operating at peak efficiency, thus everything would be done at the lowest possible cost. These costs then would be borne by the consumers in the marketplace, who could afford to bear these costs, because they would not be paying taxes…in a tax system, the taxpayer pays indirectly for all the services he or she uses (roads, schools, etc.), but because there is no competition, there is no efficiency in the building of these things and therefore the taxpayers are spending MORE money on everything they use, much of that money is being wasted.

The Conservative Utopia then is that private interests would own everything but our military, and everything else would be handled by for profit corporations which would bill each person for each good or service that person used…everything would essentially become like a utility. And because there would be no built in waste, it would be a direct relationship between the producer and the consumer, one in which the producer had to compete for the consumer’s business and therefore had to provide optimal service at minimal cost, at the end of the day, each person would have more money in his or her pocket because the total cost of all goods and services used would be less than the tax bill the consumer would have had if the government hadn’t subsidized certain things and levied taxes to pay for them.

Now having said all of that, one must realize that many people consider themselves to be Conservatives who do think government’s role should extend beyond just a military. In fact, I would say that Conservatism is a range, where the view I described above is as far to the right as one can go, where the left end of that spectrum is essentially maintaining the status quo as it relates to our current system where some things are handled by private industry and the market and others are handled by government, however most Conservatives (possibly one could say ALL Conservatives in fact) believe that the current level of Government spending is too high and that our government is too big…some may simply argue to not grow government further, but I believe government has grown to the level where I’m comfortable assuming that essentially ALL Conservatives believe our government needs to be scaled back.

Now the Liberal ideal is the opposite. The Liberal sees problems with the Conservative mindset…it may be good “in theory”, but one thing that the Conservative ideal does not seem to account for is the role of greed. Those who own these private businesses will seek to maximize returns for the investors and leaders of the organization. As such, Liberals see the need for strong, solid regulation of private industry…first off as these businesses will naturally eventually absorb smaller competitors and put others out of business to become monopolies, so Liberals see regulation as essential here, because as soon as a monopoly is established, competition is no longer a driving force in setting prices for the consumer and therefore the only goal of the leaders of a business is to charge whatever the market will bear. Collusion is also an issue, because even if there is competition, if all competitors agree to fix prices, again, consumers have no cheaper alternative and businesses can charge whatever they want.

This brings up another key issue in the mind of the Liberal, and that is serving the Public interest. Liberals place a lot more emphasis, and therefore have a more liberal (one definition being “broad”) definition of the Constitutional requirement that government serve the Public Welfare. There are certain things that Liberals believe should be guaranteed as rights as a citizen of this country, things such as a good education, access to healthcare, public safety, infrastructure (roads, libraries, etc.)…anything that is basically something that serves the greater interests of all mankind regardless of prosperity is something which Liberals believe is the role of government. This is because in the Conservative ideal, there is absolutely nothing to ensure that all have access to these types of services.

Liberals see that a pure market economy leaves too many individuals behind. Case in point, a person making under about $10 an hour is basically living below the poverty line, yet our minimum wage is $7 an hour, and there are even some exceptions to that. This leads in our current system, where the government already spends considerable resources, to 16 million people, a full 5% of our population, living in poverty, in addition to a 10.2% unemployment rate and a 30% uninsured rate. Liberals see that often it is the people who can afford to live in more prosperous areas whose kids get the education they need to make something of themselves, while people who live in impoverished areas, where schools are struggling to meet the massive need, have to send their kids to substandard schools, which just result in the kid growing up impoverished and with a future as bleak as his parents. Liberals understand that some very hard working people struggle to get by and not all of them make it…that relying on the government for a helping hand is not a sign of laziness, but a sign of need. Liberals realize that with nothing forcing people to give to those less fortunate than themselves, it doesn’t matter is you let people keep 100% of their money, people will not voluntarily donate enough of their earnings to meet the needs of people who are left behind in the Capitalist system.

Liberals believe that unfettered Capitalism is what leads to impoverishment…when we see that in the 1980s, the average CEO earned 45 times as much as his average employee, but in this past decade, that rate was over 500 times as much, we see the problem where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Minimum wage has not been indexed to inflation, and as a result, the buying power that a person working 40 hours a week earns has gone down considerably over 2 to 3 decades. It used to be that a person working 40 hours a week could support a family of 4 no matter what he did for a living, and in our current society where taxes on the wealthiest people have gone down to historic lows, and regulations on business are as weak as they’ve ever been, some families of 4 have 2 wage earners working 80 hours each a week and still struggling to get by.

Whereas Conservatives believe that greed is inherently a good thing, because greed is what leads the captains of industry to run a lean, productive, efficient business, which passes the savings along to the customer, Liberals see that greed is a destructive force. Businesses become “lean” by eliminating jobs of people who rely on them for subsistence, by paying the minimum the law will allow for unskilled workers, and by taking the money earned and distributing it only at the top. Conservatives have long believed this would be the most efficient way of doing things, because of the belief that if you create prosperity at the top via greater efficiency, that prosperity will trickle down (aka trickle down economics, supply side economics or Reaganomics) to all levels, via job creation. Liberals believe more in the axiom of a rising tide lifts all ships (aka bottom up or demand side economics). In other words, Liberals believe that if you look at the masses and ensure the well being and at least subsistence level of ALL the people, regardless of what that may cost for the government to achieve, this prosperity will well upwards and everyone will do better under this arrangement.

The problem as Conservatives see it however is that to accomplish something like this, the government would need to make taxes fairly high, and though it has been done in the past by raising the taxes on those who can most afford to pay higher taxes, virtually all Conservatives and even many Liberals believe that it’s not fair to tax you more just because you make more money. True modern Liberalism however would point out that the individuals making the most money are the greatest benefactors of our economic system and that this is essentially the price you pay, because in any other economic system one would not be allowed to achieve this kind of prosperity. Liberals have no problem with someone making a lot of money, but Liberals do have a problem with people who make a lot of money at the expense of a great number of others…they do not like the idea of captains of industry making a killing on the backs of the worker class.

So, what the Liberal utopia would be is as follows. One would determine the need, what would it cost to make sure that everyone in this country who was willing to work could be assured a) that they had a job, and b) that this job paid for all of their essentials…that every American could expect on birth to be kept healthy (or allowed access to health care), to get an education through college if they so desired, to be employed, to be able to get to their jobs, to be kept safe (both in terms of national defense and civil defense such as police, fire departments, etc.) and to be able to retire or drop out of the workforce should they reach a certain age or should their health fail them. This would be financed by setting taxes at a level which was sufficient to make these things occur for those willing to work for them. In this way we would be able to eliminate many of the ills of our society which are brought on by poverty, and maybe the rich wouldn’t be “quite so” rich, but they would still see great reward for great skill and or effort and or luck, and we would do away with a great deal of unnecessary human suffering.

Conservatives of course would argue that this would be far more expensive, and they believe that people would take advantage, why would people work if they knew they had the government to rely on, then all the hard working people would pay even higher taxes to subsidize those lazy people who do not want to work. This is of course an oversimplification and an irrational fear tactic that works far too well on far too many people, but true Liberals do not like to subsidize the lazy any more than do true Conservatives, and would only consider this an ideal setup if as I stated it meant that people willing and able to work for their survival were allowed to do so. Yes, this would mean a massive government, and this is what makes many Conservatives uncomfortable, but to me, I think it boils down to a basic difference in understanding of how economics works, which I hinted at before, as to whether prosperity wells up or trickles down.

In the Conservative/trickle down system, the idea is that if you let the wealthy keep more of their money, they will invest it in things that create jobs. If you create jobs, you put more people to work, more people have money to spend, that raises the amount of taxes collected and raises the amount of demand (as more people have money to buy goods and services), and forces employers to add more jobs, and thus the cycle perpetuates, so the more money you throw at the top of the heap, the better off the entire economy. This is why the 2nd lowest tax rate we have at the Federal level is 15%, yet capital gains, which are essentially unearned income, i.e. income made through investment activities…like you take that million bucks and turn it into 1.5 million, that .5 million is ALSO taxed at 15%, not the 36% top rate, or the 38% top rate Obama suggests, or the 39.6% top rate under Clinton, or the 95% top rate we had at one time in our nation on the top tier of income (a time in which far fewer people were impoverished, and yet many managed to become spectacularly wealthy, I might add). So, when you really look at it, and you see a CEO that received a 9 figure compensation package, maybe a million or two was “salary”, the rest was stock…most of the money made by the wealthiest people in our system is taxed at the same rate as the income of someone making 20 or 30 grand a year (but I digress).

The reason we have this system is basically because of the efforts of Reagan and both Bushes, who believed in trickle down economics, and believed that if we allow the wealthy to keep MORE of their money, they would use it to create jobs, and this would lead to the aforementioned cycle. Instead however it seems that many of these people have simply cashed out, they have bought vast luxury items, invested heavily in lavish real estate, and live lives that most of us can not even imagine. They have NOT used this money by and large to create jobs, the only time job creation really happens with this money is when people use it as venture capital to invest in upstarts who DO have to increase hiring if the businesses take off, but as a percentage of what gets reinvested in actual activities that lead to new jobs, it is not as high as the ideal put forth by Conservatives. The reason for this is partly greed, but it is also partly in as I said a fundamental understanding of what leads what in an economic system. Let’s say you create 100 jobs, now in an efficient system, you can probably produce enough product for 500 people. Well, you have basically added 100 people to the economy who weren’t working who can now afford to buy 100 of the 500 new units produced, but what about the other 400? Creating jobs would actually be a losing proposition when you get right down to it, because in most mature industries, demand and supply have already stabilized, and adding more production to add more supply simply oversaturates the market and leads to overstocks and declining prices, which leads to lower profit margins which leads to layoffs.

Now, in the bottom up economic model, if you have 40 million people out there right now who don’t have enough money to buy the things they need, and you put those 40 million people to work, or otherwise get them the money they need, suddenly there are 40 million new consumers in the marketplace. Businesses would need to up the supplies to meet the newly minted demand, and therefore they would be hiring…so for example if the government hired all 40 million of these people, well right way, several million of them would get jobs in private industry, and the government would be able to pare down the number of people it was employing. Indeed, as populations grew, if everyone had the money they needed, jobs would rise to meet the demand of all the consumers. All of these new consumers/workers would be paying taxes, which would allow the temporary higher tax rate on the wealthy to come down, and as the wealthy would be employing more people, and selling more product, even if they continued to pay higher taxes, they would in the long run make even MORE money.

Now a Conservative would disagree, they would have reasons why they think the trickle down model works better, namely that when you introduce government a lot of that added productivity is wasted and they could point to many reasons why they think people would in the long run pay more money. But that’s essentially what it boils down to. Conservatives think that if you keep the government out of business, let the market decide everything, eventually productivity would rise to the level that all people who wanted to work could do so and all could get by, and those who didn’t would be able to rely on the generosity of freely given charity from all the people whose money is now their own. Liberals believe that Capitalism is at its heart a good thing and should be used for all the things we “want”, but that it is inherently a flawed system for producing those things we “need”, because greed ultimately causes some to be left behind, some will go without and it leads to a system of haves and have nots.

Personally, it seems to me that history has proven that every single time we have put something that serves the public interest in the hands of private industry it has created a chasm between those who could afford to pay and those who could not, and this is why I am a proud Liberal. Yet, I understand why the opposite argument is so compelling to so many as well.

arpinum's avatar

@dalepetrie Ok, I have some suggestions about your post

Firstly, I am not satisfied about your definition of conservative. What is their core belief? It doesn’t seem you have really pinned it down. If they just didn’t like government, then why do they support so many government interventions, such as the military, drug prohibition, blue laws, faith based initiatives, etc? Your blanket statement also is contrary to some highly inconvenient facts.

Reagan and Bush, contrary to your claims both massively increased federal spending. These bastions of conservatism are against some government programs, but their records shows that they are on net for a larger government. Yes, they consistently used rhetoric about a bloated government, to appeal to a part of the republican party (which consists of more than just conservatives) but their actions revealed who they are. Anticipating a counter that they didn’t raise taxes, that is not important. If government borrows rather than taxes, they are still taking money out of private hands and putting it in government coffers. I know it doesn’t fit an easy narrative, but Bush and Reagan were both friends of government. BTW, even excluding increased military spending, Bus still increased the government share of the economy. I don’t know about Reagan.

Conservative support many non-profits, so the claim that everything would be done for-profit is inaccurate. Churches, home of the conservative, as also generally non-profit. Again, you need to rethink how conservatives think, you haven’t found their basic essence.

If conservatives are anti-public schools, then we would need to explain No Child Left Behind, signed into law by Bush in his first year. It greatly increases school spending. Yes, it has many conservative aspects to it, such as school choice, vouchers, accountability, performance based pay, etc. But these facts are counter to your narrative.

Your characterization of a conservative as followers of “trickle-down” systems fails to see further than a surface level of what happens in politics. Conservatives and liberals both will attach themselves to whatever theory has a conclusion they want to use, and does not mean they believe the principles behind them. Bush may have cited supply side arguments at time, while other times espousing Keynesian ideas when they agreed with his policy ideas.

some smaller points:
“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer” is an often used phrase, but is not correct. Look at longitudinal datasets on this if you want to see for yourself.

Investment income is the payment for both taking on risk and a time preference.

70–80% of minimum wage earners are not poor. Also, the increased unemployment from raising the minimum wage may negate any gains from poor people in raising the minimum wage.

Conclusion:
If you want to understand a social group and identify their thoughts in subjects you need to understand what those people believe at their core. We don’t have a conservative party, we have a republican party, run by politicians, whose primary concern is winning the next election and policy second. What you have written is inconsistent and relies in falsities because it misidentifies what a conservative believes at the core. My beliefs can be read in my previous post.

dalepetrie's avatar

@arpinium – please refer back to what I stated as some of my first caveats as I believe they explain both the inconsistencies you point to the the falsities you claim to see. First off, you criticize me for making a blanket statement and as I said, Conservatism is a continuum, and I proceeded to point out that it goes from the right end of Conservatism where followers believe in privatization of everything, therefore when I speak of the Conservative “ideal”, I’m speaking in terms of pure Conservatism, hard right ideological, Grover Norquist level Conservatism, not necessarily rank and file Conservatism, and certainly not Republicanism. Next off, realize that I never said that Reagan or either Bush was the ideal Conservative, I agree that government grew under Bush, who criticized Liberals for being Tax and Spend, then went off on a Borrow and Spend frenzy.

Next, as I said again in the outset, I was speaking merely of Conservatism as an Economic model, you are bringing Social issues into the fray by mentioning drug prohibition, blue laws and the like…these are 100% irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Social Conservatism is restrictive on permissiveness with one’s Social actions, just as Economic Conservatism is restrictive on permissiveness with government spending. Again, you’re looking for the core believe of the Conservative, as I see it is smaller government, less taxes from an economic standpoint altogether. As for things like No Child Left Behind, it is a far cry from being a pro-public school program, indeed, what NCLB seeks to do is to restrict funding for underperforming schools (as a liberal, this is completely counterintutive to me, as it would seem that a struggling school is going to need MORE funding to get itself up to par, not less). Title 1 is a cruel joke designed SPECIFICALLY so that less funds are spent on public schools, which in tandem with your aforementioned faith based initiatives, would allow Christian parents to be able to send their children to private, religious schools by making public school a less palatable option and private schools more affordable…in this way we can teach our kids lies about the Earth being 6,000 years old (but I digress).

As for your longitudinal data sets which supposedly prove that the rich are not getting richer and the poor are not getting poorer, I’d definitely like to see your “proof” here, show me an example, give me a link, a reference. Because quite frankly, as a percentage of the population as a whole (the only real comparative standard that bears out), there are more people living in poverty in the US than at any time in modern history. However, if you look at the next worth in inflation adjusted dollars of the top 1% of citizens, it is my understanding that this number is ALSO far greater than at any time in history. The rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, the gap between the most and least highly compensated has grown exponentially, and yes, taxes have gone down considerably for the highest wage earners under Reagan and both Bushes. Remember that Reagan took office with a 75% top tier tax rate and brought it down to I believe 25%, Clinton upped it to 39.6%, and Bush II knocked it down to 36%, yet Reagan presided over a period in history when our inner cities collapsed, Clinton presided over the largest economic expansion in US history and lowered the welfare rolls to the lowest point in 37 years, and Bush II turned a record budget surplus into a record budget deficit, increased the US debt to a level greater than that of all previous Presidents combined, saw the stock market cut in half, and left a situation where just a few months after leaving office, the unemployment is higher than at any point since, well, Ronald Reagan.

Again, like I said, I fully expect a Conservative not to agree with me as to our beliefs on what is best for the economy, but I do think as a general rule, one which obviously can not be used to blanket all people who fall under either banner, Conservatives generally seek to restrict spending on anything but what they see as absolutely essential as laid out in the Constitution, and Liberals generally seek to open spending to things that they believe better serve the common good. Conservatives DO believe in charity, but charity often for Conservatives starts within their families, their communities and their churches, and they don’t tend to empathize as greatly with the need of the unwashed masses. Conservatives far to often pass judgment on those who do not have what they need, characterizing them as unmotivated and lazy, as they have a core belief that in America, all it takes to succeed is the willingness to work hard (the American dream after all is that ANYONE who works hard can make it here). The Liberal sees a different reality, where people do struggle, do work hard and still don’t make it. The Liberal sees the role of inheritance in creating a better standard for people over time and sees that where you end depends moreso on where you start than the Conservative will acknowledge.

And again, these are all generalities, not one size fits all, but the core beliefs I hear espoused within not just the political rhetoric, but within the conversations I have with friends and family of all political stripes. I respect a genuine Conservative who has core beliefs, even if I don’t agree with those beliefs, I personally have great disdain for politics and find it to be a destructive force. But politics are not what I’m talking about, and I’m not attempting to fit anyone in a category in which they don’t belong. I’m just calling it like I see it, and giving an analysis that I still believe to be highly consistent and 100% dead on. Wanna prove me wrong, please offer up the proof, but realize that we will still differ in theory.

arpinum's avatar

@dalepetrie Here are some articles as you requested. If you would like to see the raw data you will need access to the National Longitudinal Survey.
http://www.treas.gov/offices/tax-policy/library/incomemobilitystudy03-08revise.pdf
http://www.dallasfed.org/fed/annual/1999p/ar95.pdf
http://myslu.stlawu.edu/~shorwitz/Good/myths.htm
http://www.nber.org/papers/w13345
http://www.chicagofed.org/publications/workingpapers/wp2005_12.pdf

Of course, you might just prefer the wikipedia entry. The relevant term you. need to consult for your statement is “absolute income mobility”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_mobility

We disagree on the fundamental nature of a conservative. You cite Bush and Reagan, but hold them up to be moderates at a minimum and more likely to be enemies of conservatives. I on the other hand see them as great examples of Conservatives. You are right that you are stating a continuum, but when you hold that Reagan and both Bushes held firmly to “trickle down” principles, you seen to equate them with your ideal type. I know we aren’t putting a lot of effort into these posts and we both make mistatkes, but this is perhaps what contributed to my confusion of your hypothesis.

Perhaps my opinion is wrong, but I would like to convince you that your opinion is not right. The man who more than almost all others epitomizes your idea of a Conservative is Frederich Hayek, economist and Nobel Prize winner. Hayek argued wholeheartedly for the privatization of everything, saw a role of government that included only the bare minimum of services such as the courts and military, and even here only to a limited extent. Yet he wrote Why I am Not a Conservative. It doesn’t take too long to read.

On a lesser note you are right, NCLB does cut spending for public schools and give money to private ones, or at least that is the intention. What I mean to bring up is that this is still government spending, government taxing and borrowing, albeit with fundamentalist Christian objectives. Of course, this doesn’t matter to you since Bush is closer to an enemy of Conservatives rather than a friend.

Please read the Hayek piece, it was pleasant to revisit myself before posting this.

dalepetrie's avatar

I’ll take a look at these articles as time permits. If anything what I think I’m doing that leads to a bit of the disconnect for you is providing the example of pure economic Conservatism and holding out examples of people who were not pure economic Conservatives, but I would say they were both far closer to pure Conservatism than pure Liberalism on economic issues, despite both seeing large roles for government in economic issues. Both however were even more Conservative when you look at social issues, and overall, both were very Conservative. And I would say that Conservatism is indeed more about less government than more government in simplest terms. But give me some time to look at these links and I’ll see what if anything I can come up with in terms of commentary.

Thanks for the engaging conversation by the way. It is truly refreshing to hear from a Conservative who isn’t all about simply doing the opposite of whatever the President wants and calling that Conservatism.

dalepetrie's avatar

@arpinum – I would also like to point out, as I realize I did not state this specifically, that I do agree with your view on Conservatism in your original answer to this question. I guess the point I would like to make is that my commentary is based not on some classical definition, some core component that tries to meet a definition, but more on a set of observations made throughout a lifetime of seeing what people who are labeled (rightly or wrongly) in the public discourse as “Conservative” have come to ultimately represent. This is why looking at any ideology as a spectrum is important, I would argue as have others that no one view of something like Conservatism can really find the core of what it’s all about, because truly, it has no one core. Perhaps it should be viewed more like a vascular system, something with all sorts of branches and interconnecting pieces, where any one part can be considered as important as any other. To quote R.J. White from the introduction of his book, “The Conservative Tradition,” he stated that “To put conservatism in a bottle with a label is like trying to liquify the atmosphere… The difficulty arises from the nature of the thing. For conservatism is less a political doctrine than a habit of mind, a mode of feeling, a way of living.” I fear that for me to try to argue for my own point would be doing this very thing…which is why I think it’s simply one characteristic of modern economic Conservatism in American politics in the last 30 years.

I think one could perhaps make a good definition by combining the simplest elements of my definition with the simplest elements of yours and tweaking it. For example, where I argue that Conservatism really does not see government as having a role in the economy, that’s really a Libertarian view, however it seems that you’ve essentially got warring factions in the Conservative movement these days…you’ve got the Ron Paul Revolution on one side which really doesn’t concern itself with “moral fiber” but wants government to get out of economics altogether, making them really Libertarians, and you’ve got the hard Religious right Conservatives led by the Palins, the Limbaughs and so on who are more concerned with values, and on economic issues seem content to serve up platitudes, but no real solutions other than to oppose the opposition. And of course there are many others looking for a foothold here. But here’s what I really see it as.

I say, Conservatism is about making government small as possible, intervening as little as possible and letting the free market decide everything…that is certainly one prong of this beast. You however counter that Conservatives have no problem intervening in the economy if it supports inherited moral traditions. I think that’s a great clarification to what I said, and as you acknowledged, moral doesn’t have to be religious in nature, that too I would think is a very important distinguishing characteristic. What I think is important to get at however is that rank and file Conservatism in the US in the last 3 decades has really lost its moral compass as I see it. Far too often it has become about exploiting the more religious elements of morality and trying to force values down everyone’s throats on the social side of the coin, which as left the economic side almost a separate issue. In other words, I think the morality side of the equation in Conservatism was once a driving force behind both Social and Economic conservatism, but has become a driving force MOSTLY behind Social Conservatism and very little behind Economic Conservatism. Take Neo-conservatism for example, a political ideology built around the ideal of making the US the pre-eminent world power via pre-emptive first strike theater wars in the middle east. Throwing out the first bomb in hopes of creating a level of stability for the purposes of economic security (and I realize this is an oversimplification of neo-conservatism), is hardly a moral thing to do. It is also not a very morally driven objective to reduce aid at the Federal level where taxation is levied on a progressive basis on order to smooth out the overall taxation level and make it more equal, rather than regressive (as the more local the tax, the more regressive it tends to be)...when Conservatives decrease Federal Funding to social programs, that leaves the people who rely on these programs in dire straits, and their only salvation is often when a more local taxing authority picks up the slack, by increasing taxes on those who have less, not more. This is not a moral code. Though it may be driven by morality to say that we should rely on hand ups rather than hand outs, if you look at what the President campaigned on and purports to be trying to do, this is exactly what he espouses, giving people who work hard the economic tools to survive, yet his economic initiatives are denied by those who call themselves Conservatives. True Conservatives, if we consider them to be people who wish to govern more out of a sense of tradition, are in the minority these days, even in the more Conservative of the two parties. And therefore, I would state that I am defining rank and file Conservatism in the US today, while you are defining the true classical definition of Conservatism before it evolved into the bastardization it is today.

arpinum's avatar

First, I’m not a Conservative, no where close to being one. I find them fascinating to study in the same way that some people like to study toads.

You point out many moral issues you see with Conservatives. But they would see their actions as very moral, and that they simply hold a different moral value set than you do. And that their moral values have a strong American tradition. If people diverge from their morals, America will lose its uniqueness and will fall. Thus many Conservatives see their responsibility as forcing their morals on others, because they are tasked with keeping America great. It might also please God, but I’m not sure about that.

The moral tradition that many Conservatives hold is “The Protestant Work Ethic” highlighted by Max Weber in The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Pushing people to work by lowering welfare is moral in their tradition. To do otherwise would be to help others break God’s covenant with his people. Conservatives in general do support the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) with is welfare for those who work. This program is within their moral standards and so they embrace government involvement in promoting it.

For Ron Paul, I don’t see him as a Conservative. There is a lot of debate over this topic, with some labeling him “fiscally Conservative”. However, I see him as coming from a different tradition, that of the classical liberals, which today libertarians share many, but not all their views. Yes, they may both favor certain policies, but their reason for doing so is different.

Neo-Conservatives under my view takes the commandment of God to create a New Jerusalem and promote National Greatness. A pre-emptive strike on others is justified because preserving America is not only in their best interests, but also in God’s as well. America is destined to save the world, and any threat to it must be contained, or else the world will suffer, and God will lose his most important connection to man. Thus killing innocent civilians is bad, but on net they are doing the right thing.

I maintain that if you want to make the best guess as to how a Conservative will view economic legislation, it is best not to assume they are against it, and maybe for it depending where they are on the scale. Predictive power is much greater if you recognize their underlying adherence to tradition and inherited moral codes.

Again, these are not my views in any way.

The weakest point in my theory is why so many Conservatives cheat on their wives, engage in homosexual acts, steal money, and do things which is against their moral belief. I believe these people suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder which allows them to ignore their moral indiscretions. The gay religious Conservatives are suffering from a different mental illness, something close to self-hating, which has driven them to be a Conservative in the first place.

Kraigmo's avatar

I’m highly impressed by the answers from @arpinum and @dalepetrie . Their thoughtful opinions and deep analysis are first rate.

dalepetrie's avatar

@Kraigmo – Thanks!

@arpinum – Yes, that makes a lot of sense. And I do apologize for mistaking your analysis of Conservatism for your personal views.

I believe that the reason so many Republicans are caught (either figuratively or literally) with their pants down has to do with the fact that people who enter politics far too often enter it for personal gain and are not of solid principals. I feel a very large chasm between what rank and file voters believe and what elected officials believe, politics is inherently dishonest and based on negatives (the message is not so much “vote for me” as it is “don’t vote for him”.)

smile1's avatar

@arpinum and @dalepetrie great insights! really deep! Truly helpful in seeing the different sides.

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