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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Becker: The Serious Conflict in the Modern Conservative Movement

Gary Becker says the Republican Party needs to get rid of social conservatives who are worried about "gays in the military, gay marriage, abortions, cell stem research, and ... many other issues of this type," and "return to its roots of skepticism toward governmental actions":

The Serious Conflict in the Modern Conservative Movement, Gary Becker: The roots of conservatism go back to philosophers of the 17 and 18th centuries, such as John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith. They opposed big government, and favored private decision-making, primarily because they argued that individuals were generally better able to protect their interests than could government officials tied down by bureaucracy and special interests. They claimed further that making decisions for oneself and suffering the consequences were usually good for people, even when these decisions led to bad outcomes, because learning from one's own mistakes helps improve future choices.

Modern conservatism is only partly built on these roots. Its support of competition and private markets, and hostility to sizable regulations, is a direct descendant of the classical liberal views, as espoused for example in Smith's Wealth of Nations. ... To such conservatives, the present US government's management of the American auto industry is an invitation to disaster... It would be much better to have allowed GM and Chrysler several months ago to be reorganized through bankruptcy proceedings. Classical conservatism would recognize that the intervention of the Fed and Treasury in the finance sector may be necessary, given the crisis in that sector, but classical conservatives would look for this involvement to end as soon as possible.

The other pillars of modern conservatism are aggressive foreign policy to promote democracy in other countries, and government actions to further various social goals, such as fewer abortions or outlawing gay "marriage". These views fit less comfortably in the conservative tradition that is hostile to big government and skeptical about the use of government power to override individual decisions. Classical conservatives would argue that governments are no more effective at interventions internationally or on social issues than they are on economic matters. So governments should usually not get involved in such issues, except when its intervention has enough benefits to compensate for governmental inefficiency and ineffectiveness. This usually is not the case. ...

The ... Republican Party under the leadership of Eisenhower and Reagan had a more consistent classical conservative philosophy... Neither Eisenhower nor Reagan was particularly religious, and they did not have strong views about gays or abortion rights. The shift in the attitudes of the Republican Party toward more interventionist views on social issues, and to some extent also on military involvement to create more democratic governments in other countries, has created this crisis in conservatism. Better stated, it has created this crisis in the conservatism of the Republican Party.

I believe that the best way to restore the consistency and attractiveness of the conservative movement is for modern conservatism to return to its roots of skepticism toward governmental actions. ... Such a shift in attitudes would require more flexible approaches toward hot button issues like gays in the military, gay marriage, abortions, cell stem research, and toward many other issues of this type. It will not be easy for the Republican Party to emerge from the doldrums if it cannot embrace such a consistently skeptical view of government.

From comments:

Bruce Wilder says: While Becker is purifying the Republican Party, economists ought to be purifying the Economics Party, by kicking out Becker and his fellow libertarians.

Becker's "classical liberalism" is out-dated politics, but, even worse, it is an Economics of Stupid. The know-nothing Economics expressed in the hostility of many of his fellow Chicagoans to the Obama stimulus package ought to be their ticket out of the profession and into a deserved obscurity.

The U.S. needs a healthy, intelligent conservative party, to advocate from conservative viewpoints. Democracy needs that, to function. And, there's no doubt that the Republican Party, at the moment, is not healthy, and hasn't been for a long time.

But, Becker shouldn't be able to get away with blaming the social conservatives, who saw very little of their agenda enacted in 30 years of supporting the Reaganauts. The present collapse of Republican Power has little to do with their anti-abortion agenda or Michelle Bachman's craziness or stem cells or Terry Schiavo. It has to do with the abject failure of Republican foreign policy and, most importantly, economic policy.

The economic policy of Gary Becker's Republican Party has been an on-going catastrophe for the country. And, that's why the Republican Party is out of power, and, apparently, down for the count. I don't see how anyone can blame the social conservatives for that.

    Posted by on Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 10:55 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (106)

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