Thursday, November 15, 2012

Conservatism and Government, Perfect Together

One of the great lies in current conservative thinking in public policy is the notion that government involvement in the economy is anathema to conservative political philosophy. Conservative thought must stay contemporary to stay relevant. Adam Smith, father of free market economics, believed that government has a duty to help provide “complete information” to consumers so that they can make rational decisions on how to allocate their resources efficiently. It also had a duty to help insure “perfect competition” by regulation. The salient issue is not if government should play a role, but to what extent it should play a role. Conservatives today need to understand that, as far as government action is concerned, the ends can justify the means. To the extent that government helps “produce” citizens that are independent, rational, self-sufficient actors not dependent on government support, conservatives should embrace a role for government.

No less a conservative as George Will suggested the idea that government action can be compatible with conservative thought. In his 1983 essay “In Defense of the Welfare State,” Will argued that government had a legitimate role in helping to ensure “equality of opportunity” in the economy. He went on to argue that entitlements are now part of the social fabric in our culture, and that conservatives must tailor their policies to acknowledge this reality. It is perfectly legitimate to argue against their expansion and to similarly try to diminish public reliance on such entitlements, but they are here to stay; their elimination would be so fundamentally disruptive to social unity and social order as to be contrary to conservative values.

Conservatives must learn to speak the language of government. Rather than rail against government, conservatives must synthesize their belief in limited government with the goals of using government to promote the worthy goal of equality of opportunity. Thus job training programs, a strong public school system, access to capital for entrepreneurs, and enforcing laws against discrimination are all legitimate goals for government to address.

The reflexive rejection of government, including the funding of government through tax revenue, is more properly in the domain of anarchists, not conservatives. For those Tea Party crazies that think our Founders saw no role for government, I suggest they reread the letters of both farmers in the South and industrialists in the North. Government has, and will always be, an important piece of the social fabric. Social conservatives seem to have no problem arguing for government having a legitimate function controlling our private lives, a position I abhor. Economic conservatives have a much more sound argument for government and a government partnership with the business community. It is time for them to quell the shrill voices of the far right wing and proudly promote the idea that government, by promoting equality of opportunity, will make our free market more accessible, more efficient, and more popular.

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