Posted by Brad @ 2:49 pm on May 4th 2010

New Conservative Principle Eight: No More Starving the Beast

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… particularly the conclusion.

Now that I think about it, this is pretty much Rojas’ New Conservative Principle Number One, but still, I would love for the “starve the beast” theory to crawl off into the desert and die.

Posted by Brad @ 6:09 pm on February 1st 2009

New Conservative Principle Number Whatever…

Constitutional conservatism. Or, what he said, in one hell of an essay.

Posted by Brad @ 12:00 pm on November 25th 2008

New Conservative Principle Six: Free Market, not Big Business

This is a big one.

One of the most obnoxious side-effects of Randian economic thinking is its conflation of corporatism with free markets. I find it very noble to defend oil companies (who do, all told, a pretty phenomenal job in America), or Wal Mart, or business and entrepreneurship generally. That’s all well and good. But I find one of the most corrosive and intellectually lazy aspects of libertarian Republicanism in recent decades (really, since the early 80s) to be the notion that “what’s good for Ford is what’s good for America”.

As I mentioned below, one of the pitfalls Republicans fall into is their conflation of the status quo as being one and the same with free markets, when in fact that is far from the case. We have managed care in health care, we have a blended economy as far as our financial, real estate, and even our manufacturing economies are concerned, and for anyone to argue that our tax codes as it pertains to corporations is already suffering from too much progressivity, you’ve got blinders on.

The fact of the matter is our government puts their thumb on the scale in favor of corporations and big business—either explicitly or (just as often) implicitly—far more often than it does to their detriment. And yet, to hear Republicans speak of it, free market advocacy amounts to nothing more than critiquing all liberal policies, in favor of the status quo. Americans at large, quite rightly, smell a rat.

The best comprehensive smackdown of this way of thinking is up at CATO, called “Corporations vs. the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now.” The whole thing is worth a read. As it pertains to this, a few excerpts:

If libertarians’ left-wing opponents have conflated free markets with pro-business intervention, libertarians’ right-wing opponents have done all they can to foster precisely this confusion; for there is a widespread (though again not universal) tendency for conservatives to cloak corporatist policies in free-market rhetoric. This is how conservative politicians in their presumptuous Adam Smith neckties have managed to get themselves perceived—perhaps have even managed to perceive themselves—as proponents of tax cuts, spending cuts, and unhampered competition despite endlessly raising taxes, raising spending, and promoting “government-business partnerships.”

Consider the conservative virtue-term “privatization,” which has two distinct, indeed opposed, meanings. On the one hand, it can mean returning some service or industry from the monopolistic government sector to the competitive private sector—getting government out of it; this would be the libertarian meaning. On the other hand, it can mean “contracting out,” i.e., granting to some private firm a monopoly privilege in the provision some service previously provided by government directly. There is nothing free-market about privatization in this latter sense, since the monopoly power is merely transferred from one set of hands to another; this is corporatism, or pro-business intervention, not laissez-faire. (To be sure, there may be competition in the bidding for such monopoly contracts, but competition to establish a legal monopoly is no more genuine market competition than voting—one last time—to establish a dictator is genuine democracy.)

Alas, libertarians are not innocent here—which is why the answer to my opening question (as to whether it’s fair to charge libertarians with being apologists for big business) was no and yes rather than a simple no. If libertarians are accused of carrying water for corporate interests, that may be at least in part because, well, they so often sound like that’s just what they’re doing (though here, as above, there are plenty of honorable exceptions to this tendency). Consider libertarian icon Ayn Rand’s description of big business as a “persecuted minority,”[14] or the way libertarians defend “our free-market health-care system” against the alternative of socialized medicine, as though the health care system that prevails in the United States were the product of free competition rather than of systematic government intervention on behalf of insurance companies and the medical establishment at the expense of ordinary people.[15] Or again, note the alacrity with which so many libertarians rush to defend Wal-Mart and the like as heroic exemplars of the free market. Among such libertarians, criticisms of corporate power are routinely dismissed as anti-market ideology. (Of course such dismissiveness gets reinforced by the fact that many critics of corporate power are in the grip of anti-market ideology.) Thus when left-wing analysts complain about “corporate libertarians” they are not merely confused; they’re responding to a genuine tendency even if they’ve to some extent misunderstood it.

There is an obvious tendency for vulgar libertarianism and vulgar liberalism to reinforce each other, as each takes at face value the conflation of plutocracy with free markets assumed by the other. This conflation in turn tends to bolster the power of the political establishment by rendering genuine libertarianism invisible: Those who are attracted to free markets are lured into supporting plutocracy, thus helping to prop up statism’s right or corporatist wing; those who are repelled by plutocracy are lured into opposing free markets, thus helping to prop up statism’s left or social-democratic wing. But as these two wings have more in common than not, the political establishment wins either way.[19] The perception that libertarians are shills for big business thus has two bad effects: First, it tends to make it harder to attract converts to libertarianism, and so hinders its success; second, those converts its does attract may end up reinforcing corporate power through their advocacy of a muddled version of the doctrine.

Much more at CATO. Read it. Incorporate it.

Posted by Rojas @ 10:16 pm on November 11th 2008

New Conservative Principle Four: What He Said

P.J. O’Rourke, finding his best form in a decade.

Posted by Brad @ 6:10 pm on November 7th 2008

New Conservative Principle Three: the Rule of Law

As per Rojas’ notion here and his first issue here, and Cameron throwing in here, I’ll offer my first.

The rule of law is a bit broad, granted, but it’s also, historically, a core conservative principle, and a very centrist one, and its loss as a governing value is directly responsible for the worst excesses of the Bush administration, and the biggest reason the Republican party has lost its way.

What I mean by it, basically, is two-fold. A profound respect for the laid out process of governance, and a wide appeal to make sure the people who play by the rules don’t get screwed. It is, as much as anything, a rhetorical rubric, a dominant narrative as much as anything (and a proven one), but it’s also a strategic tool that has impact for both a conservative opposition and for a retooling of fundamental messages on specific issues.

Some examples of its application.

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Posted by Cameron @ 1:32 am on November 7th 2008

Cameron’s new conservative principle: Education

The Republican Party needs to claim a proactive and modern position in reforming our nation’s horrendous education system. Screaming “vouchers” isn’t enough. If the GOP was really serious about becoming respectable again, it must be demonstrated that the philosophy of limited government and individual responsibility are still integral to the Republican Party. A comprehensive, yet simple plan to dramatically enhance the level of choice and competition within the public school system is a great way forward. While the issue is clouded by the fact that state and local governments are the main providers of public education, a strong federal mandate of parental choice and school/teacher accountability could do wonders in enhancing the school system.

Personally, I think an effective way to do this would be to try and change the way money is allocated to public schools. Instead of dumping funds into massive district-wide budgets, it could be truly revolutionary to give each student $7,000 in cash per year applicable towards an education from a school of their parent’s choosing. Several things would be accomplished by handing money to parents instead of schools directly. First, by the very nature of there being no guaranteed money, school would fight for students. This would improve efficiency and force positive competition between local schools. There would be great incentives for schools to dump poor teachers and hire great ones. Second, parents are forced to be more active in their children’s education. By hoisting choice onto the shoulders of parents, there will be greater interest and oversight of not only the performance of schools and teachers, but of students.

In case it’s not clear, this would be structured as still being publicly funded education. By taking the tax revenues and doling them out equally to students throughout the state/county or whatever, there is still a roughly equal footing given to all students. The change would be the source of the school’s revenue. The brilliance of this is that since the dollar figure given to students is forced to be roughly the same, inner city schools will flourish at the same level as suburban ones. So while the concept is still rather socialist (unequal taxation yet equal funding), the execution would be competition and market based.

The GOP could sell that.

Posted by Rojas @ 10:10 pm on November 6th 2008

New Conservative principle one: balance the budget first, THEN cut taxes

Many claims have been made about the repudiation of conservatism by the incumbent administration, and the actions which have to be taken to reclaim the mantle of the movement. I am going to argue here that the single greatest transgression of the Bush administration has been fiscal profligacy. In fact, I will go further: I would contend that the New Conservative movement is going to have to go further to the right on this issue than Reagan did. The central fiscal tenet of New Conservatism has to be balanced budgets, with taxes at best a secondary concern. In other words, while we will necessarily seek to cut spending first, a New Conservative should prefer the prospect of a tax hike to the prospect of an unbalanced budget, and should vote accordingly.
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Posted by Brad @ 11:22 am on November 25th 2008

Does Health Care Reform Kill Republicans For Good?

So argues a few Republicans. Notably James Pethokoukis and Rammesh Ponnuru. The latter:

Obama’s health-care plan is designed to evolve into a national health-insurance program along the lines of Canada’s. The resulting government monopoly or near-monopoly on health insurance would stifle innovation, require bureaucratic rationing, and infringe on freedom. But it would also move American politics permanently leftward … the inevitable disappointments and failures of a nationalized system would just as inevitably be blamed on underfunding, creating a bidding war that liberals would usually win … the creation of a new system would make free-market alternatives look more radical to the public than they do now, because they would be more radical. The public’s aversion to risk, which now hurts advocates of liberal policies as much as it helps them, would only help them. So national health insurance could be a lasting political success for liberals even if it is a colossal policy failure; it could, indeed, succeed politically because of its failures.

I understand the argument, and think it’s probably right, but still find it a curious argument. On some level it reads “National health insurance would kill the Republican party because everybody would like it.” If you can’t win the argument before, during, and after the policy implementation…well then, you’ve lost the argument.

On another level, I certainly understand that as these things get implemented, they become nigh-on intractable. It becomes the status quo, and the psychological default, when the status quo isn’t satisfactory, is to layer on more action. That’s also, by the way, one of the big reasons why conservatism is in such dire straights. Because conservative solutions are backwards-looking more often than not (at least in some sense), they often don’t look like solutions at all, and instead come off as just poo-pooing the problem. Which works, precisely up to the point where most reasonable people do indeed perceive a real problem (as in health care), at which point voters go shopping for options. And that’s where conservatives lose. Frankly, by tying the argument up into a reverse Chicken Little position (“There is no problem! All is well! Our health care system is the best in the world! Change is not needed!”), conservatives often appear to have no solution. They do, of course, but they’re just as likely as anyone, it seems to me, to forget that, and instead bunker sounding a lot like Baghdad Bob, which, to voters, becomes synonymous with “no real ideas”. And again, that works for precisely as long as it takes for voters to get to the point where they’re actively looking for solutions and ideas.

Conservatism, then, needs to begin recasting itself as a philosophy of solutions, and begin to recast its conservative ideas of how to deal with things as being themselves proactive. I think this is actually something that should be at the heart of the New Conservative Principle project. This does not mean, by the way, that conservatives ought to embrace some kind of Big Government Republicanism. Far from it. But instead of just a “critique of all change”, conservatism itself needs to embrace change as a guiding principle (because voters sure do, when the status quo they don’t like). In the case of health care, some conservative plan to break the gridlock of insurance companies and big government getting between the doctor/patient relationship, and particularly the doctor/patient relationship where the patient, as the consumer, has all the power and all the options, would be a good start. That’s at least something Republicans can go to voters with and say “you want something done? You’re right, something ought to be done. Here is what needs to be done; elect us to do it.” This is America, after all; our national instinct is preternaturally geared away from “Well, we have tough problems, and sadly we can’t do anything about them, so let’s just suck it up and find our answers in Stoicism.”

Absent that realization, I find it hard to cry for Republicans when the American masses realize that our health care system is indeed screwed up, and I sympathize with them (the masses) when they have the impulse to try something new rather than just settle on the devil they know (and hate). If Republicans don’t want that process to be the death knell for their political future, they need to be there at that point of sale too, not just standing at the door protesting.

Posted by Brad @ 4:56 pm on November 17th 2008

The National Review Brain Drain

David Frum leaves National Review.

The decision was described as “amicable”, but at the same time nobody seems to be disputing much that philosophical and rhetorical differences are at the heart of the parting, and it gives the strong appearance (again, not really disputed) that Frum no longer felt comfortable at a publication more devoted to adherence to mindless orthodoxy then engaging in what Frum calls the needed and vigorous philosophical debate necessary for conservatism. That is no doubt increasingly difficult at an organization given over mostly to megaphone cheerleading and xenophobia.

Buckley, Parker, Frum. There is still good stuff over there, but it’s getting increasingly hard to pick through the other crap to find it.