January 22, 2007

Answering Klaus on The Meaning of Conservatism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Using this site’s readers as a surrogate for conservatives, commenter "Klaus" put forth this question about the meaning of conservatism…

My understanding is that the denizens of this site generally advocate low taxes, little or no gov't regulation of industry/commerce, and are opposed to any sense of redistribution of wealth.

Is that a fair and accurate statement?

The answer is that the statement is not accurate. Most conservatives would agree that low taxes and a government that does not involve itself in redistributing wealth are ideal, but there will always be areas where some regulation is necessary. The difference between a centrist conservative and a centrist liberal is that the conservative wants to give markets the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, while the liberal says that some things are “too important” to be left to markets, e.g. educating children, even if there is no evidence that strict government regulation of individual behavior, e.g. a geographic monopoly school system, does any good. To use another example, can you point to one mainstream conservative (or even one non-kooky libertarian) who advocates dismantling the SEC or repealing child labor laws?

In general, conservatives don’t believe that high taxes are a good thing in and of themselves; they believe that taxes should be collected to pay for the few things that government needs to focus on. The liberal view, on the other hand, rests on the assumption that given infinite resources, government will do infinite good. That is a much more ideological view of the world than the more pragmatic conservative view, which holds that power over others should be decentralized wherever possible, so that no small oligarchy can really mess things up for lots and lots of people.

The question back to Klaus is does he believe that there should be any limits on the power of government?

Finally, in posing his questions, Klaus opened with…

I would like to ask one question. If you can give me a satisfactory answer, I will never darken your doorstep again. How's that for incentive?
Even though I (and other AR commenters in the original post) have answered Klaus' question and helped set him straight, we really haven’t done it out of a desire to drive him away. Unlike progressives, conservatives do not expect a final ending to policy debates, where a cadre of enlightened expert bureaucrats will determine the perfect formula for running everyone’s lives. Conservatives expect that a dialog reflecting the rich diversity of human experience will always be necessary for determining the truth.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Interesting! Thanks. Andrew, please send me the trackback link so I can put a trackback to this on Kmareka -- as you may know, Klaus is a frequent commenter on our site as well.

Also, in the spirit of collaboration, I wonder if any Anchor-rising-ers have suggestions for questions in my upcoming interview with Jack Reed.

Posted by: Kiersten at January 22, 2007 12:12 PM

"... wonder if any Anchor-rising-ers have suggestions for questions in my upcoming interview with Jack Reed."

Yes, indeed. Please will you ask him, Kiersten, why he supports an elaborate amnesty plan to deal with the issue of 12-16m undocumented immigrants, rather than simply enforcing the laws on the books? (Laws especially pertaining to the hiring of undocumented immigrants.)

Congress passed an amnesty plan in the 1980's and this, combined with our failure to enforce the above noted laws on employers in the 1990's, led to the current situation that Congress supposedly deplores and wishes to address.

Thank you for your consideration, Kiersten. My e-mail address if you need to contact me is susanddunn@yahoo.com

Posted by: SusanD at January 22, 2007 3:25 PM

Hi Susan, Thanks for the suggestion. The immigration issue is one that concerns me as well. I will try to work something in, but it will be tough as I am currently planning to talk primarily about Iraq, health care, and the environment.

Posted by: Kiersten at January 22, 2007 4:42 PM

To follow up on the foregoing, how about asking him a variation of SusanD's question:

Is it Senator Reed's position that the United States has such a shortage of poor and unskilled individuals that we have to adopt a de facto policy of importing millions of them?

Exactly why does he believe that importing poverty is good for the United States?

Is this cheap labor the one form of "corporate welfare" that he supports?

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at January 22, 2007 6:02 PM

Gosh, I'm the headliner. You like me! You really like me!

OK, but, the next time you invoke my name to sell subscriptions, would you take a bit more care to get the gist correct?

First of all, the question you cited was not the real one I asked. Rather, I asked why people who post here seem to be advocating for a rollback of the New Deal and Progressive (as in Teddy R Progressive with a big "P") policies. The effect of this would be to re-create the conditions of the 1890s. We tried that once, it didn't work, so why go backwards?

That is my question.

To get there, I asked the question you quoted as a means of level-setting.

OK, you believe in regulation, and no one is actively advocating the repeal of the SEC and child labor laws.

However, if you reduce the size and scope of the fed gov't, who is going to enforce the laws that exist? For instance, right now, even as we speak, the IRS has cut way back on audits, especially audits of large corporations. The IRS is outmanned and outgunned, and doesn't have the financial resources to track down people who break the law. So you don't have to actually get rid of the IRS, or SEC, or whatever; all you have to do is cut funding so it's ineffective.

That is, it would seem, an unavoidable consequence of starving the beast.

Or, take SusanD's question about immigration. Why do people come here illegally? Because they can. And because it profits them to do so. Why? Because INS is undermanned and understaffed. And because employers hire illegals. If there were no jobs for them, they probably wouldn't come. Ergo, the lack of enforcement of employment laws has, effectively, eliminated the INS as a viable means of controlling our borders.

Are you in favor of this? Cut taxes, starve the beast, these are the consequences.

And, btw, there is no evidence that charter/for-profit schools are any more effective than the public school system that is so often reviled on these pages. What has happened is that the small-scale pilot programs show results, but once the whole urban school district comes on board, the benefits are lost and the charter schools are no more effective than the public school they replaced.

Or you get the situation in California in 2005, when a charter company announced in mid-August that it was out of business. This left several thousand students scrambling for placement three weeks before. But hey, that's the free market. No school for your kid? Too bad.

So what are the few things that taxes should be used for?

And no liberal is arguing that gov't can do infinite good. But liberals do believe that the market is not the answer to everything, either. In fact, the market only works in fits and starts--see the charter school example above. Oh well. It's just that crazy creative destruction.

And if you don't believe in small oligarchies messing things up, then why dismantle the fed gov't? If you read your history, you will realize that, before the Progressive Era, that is exactly what happened. Morgan, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Gould....They ran the show. They bought all the gov't they needed. To what end? They built their industrial empires behind a massively fortified wall of tariff protection, to shield them from any pesky, unwanted competition from abroad. Yeah, real rugged individualists who moved the world on all by themselves.

In case you hadn't noticed, businesses have a lot more money than most people. The key point is that money is not just money. Money is power. A concentration of money necessarily entails a concentration of power. The only entity that can stand up to a corporation for the public good is the gov't.

Business did not end child labor voluntarily. They had to be forced to do it. Businesses spend millions of dollars to hire armies of lawyers and accountants to avoid the law. Think Enron. Think back-dating of options. Something like a third of all Fortune 500 companies paid $0.00 in taxes in at least one of the past three year.

Yes, that is $0.00. Some even got refunds. And yet we're told that corporations are over-taxed and over-regulated. They did this by getting special-interest legislation passed in their favor. No taxes, get a refund, and yet show billions of dollars in profits to shareholders. Not a bad gig, is it?

And no, I don't believe gov't powers should be unlimited. But gov't powers should be sufficient--and sufficiently enforced--to prevent business from running rough-shod over its customers and employees. Have you tried calling an 800-Number recently? What kind of "customer service" do you get? Or, look how Wal-Mart was caught forcing people to work after they'd clocked out. Find another job? Right. Check out the term "monopsony." It's the buy-side equivalent of monopoly, and large employers often enjoy a large measure of that sort of power, especially in a smaller market.

As for darkening your doorstep, excuse the hyperbole. It's fun. But you managed to twist that back into an implication that my ilk would like to ban dissent. Tell that to the people here who refused to accept Linc Chaffee as a Republican.

Bottom line: in the past 5,000 years, people who enjoy power and privilege almost never give it up voluntarily. Rather, they continue to collect as much power as they can, until they run into someone who stops them.

Think French Revolution.

The US was run by an industrialist oligarchy for a good 50 years. Then look at the K Street project, run by Jack Abramoff. It was classic "Pay to Play" politics in which Jack and the gang did everything they could to cut Democrats out of the power picture. That way corporations could buy Republican Reps & Senators to establish--drumroll--a financialist oligarchy.

I mean, what were they doing if they weren't trying to short-circuit the democratic process? By giving enough contributions that the Reps could outspend the opposition, they were, effectively, buying the election.

Look, I'm not talking about ideology. I'm talking about the real world. These are real-world examples of the corrupting power of money. Too much money in too few hands is inherently corrupting. Corporations have way, way more money than 90% of the population.

That is one reason I believe in the redistribution of wealth. Without it, democracy simply is not possible. Do you believe in democracy?

The other is that spreading wealth increasese the pie. If you give one person $1M, or 20 people $50,000, which situation will put more money in circulation? You will have 20 people buying homes, furnishing them, etc. The median wage has been stagnant tor 30 years. That means ever more wealth is being concentrated in fewer hands. That means power is being consolidated.

Guys, that ain't ideology. That's what's happening. Prove me wrong. But do it with facts. Don't pick one small, peripheral aspect of of all of this, show that it's not quite accurate, and then claim that you've "set me straight." Not that anyone here would ever do that. Of course not.

Posted by: klaus at January 22, 2007 8:14 PM


For those of you who are coming into the middle of this, it started with my comment to the post "Cheap Pop or a Marriage of Concepts" posted by Justin on 1.20.07.

Not sure why Mr Morse didn't provide that information. Hmmm....it's almost like he didn't want you to read what I actually said, hoping you'd be content with the couple of excerpts that suited his needs that he cherry-picked out of a very long comment.

Nah. I'm sure it's not that. But go see for yourselves.

Posted by: klaus at January 22, 2007 8:43 PM

p.p.s. for all of his irrelevant musings, klaus really doesn't understand conservative principles, democracy ("democracy cannot exist without redistribution of wealth"), or 20th century american history.

and his posts are way too long

Posted by: johnb at January 22, 2007 9:15 PM

Oh Lord, you've allowed klaus to spew on my favorite site. I don't think anyone likes to read your words more than you klaus. :)

I won't try to tackle everything you said, rather I'll focus on one of your several dozen points. I am a public school teacher, and I stongly support the concept of charter schools. Our schools are failing in many ways, particularly urban schools. But our system, governed by labor-like contracts, stifles change and prevents any meaningful reform.

Charters free educators from the burdens placed by ivory town administrators and teachers unions. They allow schools far greater autonomy...the ability to make necessary changes almost immediately to respond to the needs of their students. Objectives are well-defined, governing boards include representatives from all facets of the community, and oversight is provided by the dept. of ed.

Paul Cuffee is one of the most successful schools in the city of Providence. A walk through that building and you can't help but realize the pride students and teachers feel for their school community. And the tests scores back it up. Julia Steiny wrote an exceptional piece about the Beacon Charter in Woonsocket. These two schools are just a couple of examples of change that is working.

We should embrace the successes of these schools, and provide more opportunities for meaningful reform. You wrote:

What has happened is that the small-scale pilot programs show results, but once the whole urban school district comes on board, the benefits are lost and the charter schools are no more effective than the public school they replaced.
Forgive me, but you don't understand the concept of charters. We readily admit that not all students respond to the same educational practice. THAT'S WHY PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE FAILING! Charters offer educators the opportunities to put researched-based, best practice into place. They provide choices for students and their parents...so that every student can find the place in which he can succeed.

Those who support charters realize that public schools do not exist to give teachers jobs, but to provide what is best for children. Until public schools are allowed such autonomy, charter schools are, for many students, the solution.

Posted by: rightri at January 22, 2007 9:45 PM

Good point, Ragin'. Illegal immigration is exploitative. Of American citizens, of legal immigrants, of taxpayers across the board. Most of all of the undocumented immigrants themselves.

The only beneficiaries are non-compliant corporations who get to pay an artificially low wage and politicians on both sides of the aisle who get to feed their delusions that they are 1.) garnering votes and 2.) being compassionate.

Posted by: SusanD at January 22, 2007 10:32 PM

Don't confuse Klaus's weird brand of liberalism with mainstream liberalism. It seems that Klaus is just being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian and for the sake of hating conservative thought.

Andrew, as smart as he may be, simplified what liberalism is. Liberals do not believe that the government is some sort of catch all solution to the problems of society. Liberalism is, in my mind, the thought that there needs to be a saftey net in society to protect those who have been marganialized. History has shown, whether it be government, business, ruling class, ect. gets too much power they forget about those at the bottom. While the government should not provide all the services for the people, it should provide some services (within reason) to make sure that people don't fall through the cracks.

In short, most people realize that govenrment isn't a solution, it's a line of defense.

Posted by: geoerge at January 22, 2007 11:12 PM


you sound a lot like some self-described conservative i know...

Posted by: johnb at January 23, 2007 8:37 AM