This page was last updated on April 23, 2004.
Conservatives tend to believe in individual liberty, free markets, limited government, and rule of law. Where liberals believe ultimate power rests with government, conservatives believe ultimate power rests with “we the people.”
Conservatism assumes the best in people; liberalism assumes the worst. Conservatism is based on a positive view of individuals; liberalism is based on pessimism.
While I believe the traits of conservatism presented herein are common, I don’t claim all conservatives define conservatism as I do.
Where liberals tend to be pessimistic about human behavior and capabilities, conservatives are optimistic. Within a reasonable legal and law enforcement structure, conservatives believe people will do the right thing. As a result, conservatives believe there should be minimal government intrusion into the lives of individuals.
Individual liberty also means individual responsibility.
Without free markets, limited government, and rule of law, there can be no individual liberty.
Other than a reasonable legal structure, there should be no government involvement in the marketplace. Over time, a free market tends to balance supply and demand in a near-optimal manner.
A free market philosophy is not inherently pro-business. As Bruce Bartlett puts it, “The last thing most businessmen want is a free market, where they must compete, slash prices, continuously innovate, suffer narrow profit margins, and live constantly on the edge of bankruptcy. They would much rather have assured profits, monopoly positions, price supports, trade protection and the other trappings of a corporate welfare state.”1
A government-directed economy – as with communism and socialism – is a proven failure. We’ve seen the failure of communism/socialism in countries like Cuba, North Korea, the former USSR, et cetera. There are no successful communist/socialist countries.
In Pennsylvania, we’ve seen socialism-based initiatives go down the tubes over and over again. Despite a variety of “economic development” programs, Pennsylvania falls further and further behind the rest of the United States. In Pittsburgh, we saw our tax dollars poured down rat holes by the names of Lazarus and Lord & Taylor. I intend no offense to the stores or their employees. My gripe is with elected officials who risk taxpayer dollars on what should be 100% private ventures.
Another example is the price of healthcare. Because of Medicaid, Medicare, PACE, et cetera and the distorted tax treatment of employer-based healthcare insurance, the price of healthcare has skyrocketed far beyond what it would have in a free market.
It’s not a coincidence that education – with its high level of government subsidy – is also experiencing runaway prices.
Here’s another example of liberal disdain for free markets. Pennsylvania Sen. Gerald LaValle, D-47, Rochester Township, believes there should be a limit on how much inspection stations can charge for an emissions test. Sen. LaValle said, “If we’re going to wait for the market (to work), the cost may level out, but it won’t get down to what we think is a fair price to the consumer.”2 Gee, why don’t we do that for everything? If Sen. LaValle believes the price for any good or service isn’t fair, he can propose a price control. As a side note, Sen. LaValle doesn’t appear to understand cost and price are two different things.
Don’t get me wrong; a free market is not perfect. A free market is simply far better than the central planned economy favored by liberals.
Beyond a near-optimal delivery of goods and services, free markets provide no other guarantees. The free market will not protect failing businesses or industries. Indeed, a free market will hasten their demise, freeing resources to build viable businesses.
Regardless of what they called themselves individually, our Founding Fathers were, as a group, conservative using today’s terminology. That’s why the U.S. Constitution spells out so few explicit federal government responsibilities. To make sure the authors’ intent was not misunderstood, the 10th Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution plus the 10th Amendment scream limited government, at least at the federal level.
Limited government does not mean no government. Government should provide a civil and criminal legal environment, law enforcement, national security, some elements of infrastructure like roads, et cetera.
On the other hand, government has no business confiscating the fruits of one person’s labor and giving them to another. Programs like Medicare, Socialist Security, farm welfare, et cetera, fall into this latter category.
Laws must be fair without being oppressive. I believe criminals should pay the appropriate price for breaking a law, whether civil or criminal, whether violent or “white collar.”
Conservatives have a well-deserved reputation for being strong on law enforcement. The reason is simple. The conservative view of the world requires fair ground rules to be spelled out and enforced. Without law enforcement (including punishment), laws mean nothing and the resulting discontent is a breeding ground for liberalism.
This belief in rule of law extends to the business place. Liberals would have you believe conservatives want neither laws nor law enforcement for business. Nothing could be further from the truth. A free market requires consumer and supplier confidence and this doesn’t happen in a lawless marketplace. We saw the effect on the marketplace of low confidence in the wake of the Adelphia, Enron, Global Crossing, et al scandals.
Judicial activism threatens the rule of law. The U.S. Constitution cannot be a “living document” subject to interpretation based on the fad of the day. The Constitution is an overwhelming success because its simple but timeless concepts keep us from losing our way.
If you believe liberals, conservatives are a vile bunch of sub-humans. On a good day, conservatives merely suffer from a mental illness.
© 2004 Robert W. Cox, all rights reserved.