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Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Conservatives Believe. Part 1

These days being a conservative must be, well, sorta trendy.  Even people like David Frum claim to be conservative. Some of them, like Christopher  Buckley, son of the famous William,  nevertheless  vote for Democrats.  But they say they are conservative.  In my book Frum is a moderate, neither conservative nor liberal and Buckley is, well, a spoiled son of a famous father.

So, I think it is up to people who actually vote for and contribute to conservative officials to  define conservatism.  To me the primary uniting issue of conservatives is a belief in freedom.  Catch you by surprise?  You maybe thought I was going to say capitalism?  No.  Freedom.  Freedom means the freedom to do whatever you want for whatever reason you want so long as you are not doing real harm to others.  True freedom, however, also requires that you suffer the consequences of your actions.  To those who want to smoke cigarettes I say, go ahead but don't ask me to pay for your lung transplant.

Real freedom can only exist where certain conditions come together.  Capitalism is a necessary prerequisite for a free society, but it is not a sufficient condition.  You can have crony capitalism where the means of production are privately owned but the government interferes so much in the market that only favored corporations and individuals are allowed to benefit from the economy.  That is what you have in many third world countries where the establishment elites run the government in such a way that no competitors are ever allowed to spring up.  (See Hernando De Soto's "The Mystery of Capital")  We seem to be headed in that direction in this country as well.

Free markets are an important corollary of a free society.  Free markets allow individuals to follow their dreams.  Two guys can start an ice cream store in Vermont based on the idea of making really good natural ice cream, limiting their profits and treating their employees well.

With free markets the consumer rather than the government decides if the business should be allowed to live and thrive.  Every time you, Mr. or Ms. consumer, spend money you are voting for the success of a business.  And when you don't buy things you are voting also.  Sometimes consumers make what are , to me, infuriating choices, like buying tickets to movies starring Julia Roberts.  But so long as it is not my money, I say, go right ahead.

I think free markets are a basic premise of real conservatism.  And as we all know, at least in the abstract, freedom includes the right to make choices other people don't approve of.

Free markets, do not, as many liberals believe, require that people place making money ahead of other values.  Quite the contrary, because consumers rule in a free market, free markets rarely reward people who are only chasing the almighty dollar.  Ask yourself this question-- are you going to take your car to be repaired at the mechanic who loves cars and likes to make them run or to the mechanic who is only looking to make as much money as he can off of you?  To the extent we can figure out what is going on we consumers tend to take our money to people who have a vision and a love of what they are doing and trying to sell that vision or product that they love to us.  That's why the two guys from Vermont have been so successful even 'though their ice cream costs more.

I recently read a blog written by a self -identified conservative who said we don't have a right to buy fast food.  I beg to differ.  Here are the 9th and 10th amendments to the constitution.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The Tenth Amendment says it all.  If the constitution does not specifically give the government the power to regulate something, it doesn't have the power.  Nowhere in the constitution is the government given the right to regulate what I eat.  So, yes, I do have the right to eat fast food.  That's one of those powers that is reserved to me the people.  And, Ms. Blogger, whether or not I choose to exercise that right is between me and McDonald's.  People who know me know that if McDonald's had to rely on me for its success it would be out of business.  I rarely eat there.  I don't like their food.  But that isn't the point.  The point is that it is up to me and millions of other consumers to decide, not the government.
In psychology, this discussion would be a discussion about boundaries.  That is, about who makes decisions for you and others. The big point there is you make decisions for you and other people make decisions for themselves.  So if your mom comes into the kitchen of you, her adult child, and starts throwing out the food you have bought with your own money because you like it, then she has way overstepped her boundaries.  You are an adult.  You get to decide what you will eat.  Well just substitute the government for your mom and you will understand what I am trying to communicate.

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