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Are you a Conservative?   January 6th, 2009
I suspect most people are... even most liberals       

 
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Conservatives have been getting a bum rap lately--in large part because the Republican party is supposed to be conservative and President Bush, a Republican, hasn't been particularly conservative. So all the dislike that people have for Bush is projected on Republicans as a whole... and in turn on conservatives. But the reality is that most people are conservative.

The Basis of Conservatism

I'm certainly not the final authority on conservative ideology, but it seems to me that you can essentially determine if you're a conservative by asking yourself whether or not you believe the following two assertions are true:
  1. SELF-RELIANCE. "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
  2. REALITY. "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
If you believe the two statements above, congratulations, you're a conservative.

The truth is that when liberals and conservatives disagree, it's usually because liberals are in favor of a policy that violates one or both of the above assertions.

Conservatism: Self-Reliance

Independence and self-reliance are traditional American values. The work ethic and individual self-respect have always led us to achieve our own success rather than to ask others to give it to us.

Parents have not traditionally given their children an allowance with no strings attached--rather children are usually assigned chores around the house to instill a work ethic and dissuade them from believing they can have everything just by asking. Parents don't buy children everything they want but rather children are expected to save their allowances and earn money, save it, and buy those things they want. This helps children learn the value of money and the vital concept of saving.

I remember saving my allowance for months to eventually buy a $20 watch I wanted as a child. Later, as a teenager, I worked at McDonald's for months to save $800 to buy my first used car, and I had to pay for my own auto insurance and gas. I remember paying for my first road-trip through the Western U.S. after I graduated from high school. My parents didn't give me these things not because they couldn't but because they knew they shouldn't.

As adults, while we are (and should be) charitable with people that truly need help, we are a lot less tolerant of people that can work but choose, instead, to beg. That's because an able-bodied person begging goes against the American work ethic and also against our sense of self-reliance. And we know that giving money to a begger only encourages more begging.

Self-reliance is an inherently conservative value. While liberals have, for at least the last generation or two, advocated for welfare, redistribution of wealth, and giving to the poor, conservatives believe that those that are able need to work and better themselves. This not only reduces the cost of social services but also gives the person a much higher sense of self-worth. While liberals will often claim to believe in these aspects of the work ethic and self-reliance, their policies belie their true philosophy.

In the 1990's, Democrats screamed against Republican-championed welfare reform. They claimed that it was just rich, evil, mean-spirited Republicans intent on ruthlessly booting poor people off of welfare with no other safety net. They predicted poverty and strife. Instead, the reform led to more people working, earning more money, reducing welfare costs, and a declining poverty rate among children. This was exactly what conservatives had been predicting would happen, and it did . Even President-elect Obama admitted that "the issue of welfare reform.... it worked better than, I think, a lot of people anticipated." He's right, it did work a lot better than some people expected. Specifically it worked better than liberals expected. Conservatives never really had any doubt about this aspect of human nature or the correctness of conservative ideology.

The concept described by the phrase "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" is one of self-reliance. No-one should ask others to provide that which they can provide for themselves; and, conversely, we should not offer to provide to others that which they can provide for themselves. Doing so actually does them a disservice. This can be misinterpreted (or intentionally mischaracterized) as "not caring," but it really comes down to "tough love." And while tough love is tough, it works. Just as parents shouldn't spoil and indulge their children, nor should the government spoil or indulge those citizens that have the capability of providing for themselves. Welfare reform demonstrated that very clearly.

Conservatives have always believed in the capability of individual Americans to step up, work hard, defy the odds, and fight to get ahead and provide for themselves and their family. Liberals, on the other hand, seem to believe in Americans' inability to rely on themselves and are surprised when it is demonstrated that they can.

Conservatism: Reality

Conservatives recognize the truth in the age-old adage that there's "no such thing as a free lunch." Our parents taught us this and life experience confirms it. Yet, when it comes to matters of public policy, liberals often seem to forget it.

Liberals clamor for free health care, they argue for massive stimulus packages to generate employment, they strive to prevent the collapse of housing prices through government policy, they try to promote home ownership among minorities by obligating banks to make loans to unqualified borrowers, they purport to help the poor by increasing the minimum wage, and they aim to "help" the poor by giving them ever-increasing refundable tax credits so that even those that don't pay taxes will get a "refund" from the government.

It all sounds so nice, and it just seems like the "right thing to do," doesn't it? Indeed, it does. But there's one little problem: There's no such thing as a free lunch.

You can't just give money to the poor. While politicians might feel good passing such legislation, the money has to come from somewhere. Where does it come from? The rich--the ones that give jobs to the non-rich. When you take money from the rich to give to the poor, you reduce the amount of money the rich have to employ the rest of us. So suddenly you have more unemployed poor people and you have to take more from the rich to support the newly poor. And so on, until there are fewer and fewer rich people to give jobs to the rest of society and fewer rich people to take money from.

It's not sustainable to require banks to give loans to unqualified poor people simply because they are a minority. In an effort to make banks "do the right thing," we create an artificial and unsustainable housing bubble which eventually collapses and causes problems not only for those same minorities but also for the entire economy. Subsequently trying to prop up housing prices just delays the inevitable correction.

There's no such thing as "free" health care. We're going to pay for health care as an expensive monthly premium (as we do now) or we're going to pay for it with an expensive tax increase. Either that or we're going to try to pay for it by taking it from the rich--but then we run into the same problem as was described two paragraphs above.

We can't just increase the minimum wage to make things better for poor people. Instead, doing so will cause inflation for everyone and will increase unemployment amongst those that earn minimum wage as employers reduce costs by laying people off or reducing their hours. If this weren't true then we would just legislate a minimum wage of $100/hour and everyone would be rich. The fact that liberals don't propose this is tacit acknowledgment of the fact that the minimum wage cannot cause prosperity, nor can it help the poor.

And we can't just borrow and spend our way into prosperity with a huge "stimulus package." Much of the current economic crisis was created by too much borrowing and spending, both by individuals as well as corporations and the government. We're not going to fix it by doing more of the same.

It all comes down to the basic truth that there's no free lunch. As much as we want to live in a utopia, we don't. The fact that we're the only remaining superpower and that we're the richest country on earth still doesn't mean we can magically have everything we want. We're still subject to real-world economics.

Conservatives recognize the fundamental truth that there's no such thing as a free lunch while liberals seem to believe that the government is somehow exempt from this reality.

Conservatism Embraces Reality & The Power of the Individual

The simple fact is that while liberalism embraces feel-good policies that might work in some alternate reality, conservatives embrace the reality that actually exists. On most issues conservatives want the same thing as liberals... we want everyone to do better, we want everyone to have health care, we want everyone to own their own home. But conservatives recognize the reality in which we live and realize that these things can only be achieved by the determination and hard work of the individual; not by government decree.

Government policies aren't immune to economic realities and government can't mandate prosperity. Prosperity can only be achieved when the members of society are motivated to achieve it for themselves. Government can't mandate prosperity through a higher minimum wage, but individuals can obtain a higher wage by working harder and constantly bettering themselves. We can't magically give everyone quality health care with a stroke of a government pen, but individuals can obtain quality health care by working hard and buying it themselves. We can't artificially prop up house prices, but house prices will stabilize and eventually rise as individuals work and eventually purchase their own houses through the mechanics of the free market.

History is full of amazing, successful people that achieved great things. But they achieved great things individually, often at great personal sacrifice or through tiring hard work and determination. Greatness wasn't given to them by the government. Update 1/21/2009: Interestingly, Obama said approximately the same thing in his inauguration speech two weeks after this article was written: "In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned."

I believe that most people are conservative--most people recognize the truth of the two bullet points at the top of this article. They just have to stop for a moment and think in order to recognize that liberalism amounts to the erroneous belief that there is a free lunch and it should be given to the people.

Being a liberal is easy since liberals simply do what "feels" right. Being a conservative, on the other hand, is more challenging because it requires you to think about reality and not simply do what feels right but rather do what is right.

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