Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Fred speaks, er, writes

Fred Thompson argues that rumors of the death of conservatism are greatly exaggerated.

I’m not sure that I would agree with him in characterizing all the accomplishments he points to as "conservative" accomplishments, but the most problematical part of his piece is this:

[A] lot of the issues that litter the political battlefield today put conservatives on the defensive. What are we going to do to fix the economy, the housing market, health-care costs and education? Some conservatives try to avoid philosophical confrontation with liberals, often urging solutions that would expand the government while rationalizing that the expansion would be at a slightly slower rate.

This strategy simply has not worked. Conservatives should stay true to their principles and remember:

- Congress cannot repeal the laws of economics. There are no short-term fixes without longer term consequences.

- In a free and dynamic country with social mobility, there will be great opportunity but also economic disparity, especially if the country has liberal immigration policies and a high divorce rate.

- An education system cannot overcome the breakdown of the family, and the social fabric that surrounds children daily.

- Free markets, not an expanding and more powerful government, are the solution to today’s problems. Many of these problems, such as health-care costs, energy dependency and the subprime mortgage crisis, were caused in large part by government policies.

"Conservative" policies work particularly well when there’s a healthy civil society, when, in other words, there isn’t a high divorce rate and there aren’t lots of families on the road to worldly perdition (not to speak of the hereafter). Certain things that pass in America for conservative contribute to these problems.

I’m not arguing that the answer is big government, surely not big government of the sort promoted by Senators Obama and Clinton. But if we take our current social conditions for granted, a simple emphasis on the market will surely make them worse.

Update: Our friend RC2 offers a gloss on Thompson that’s better than what he wrote.

Discussions - 7 Comments

A strength of liberalism is that it sees human nature as plastic. They have been molding Americans to their way of thinking for generations now.

A weakness of conservatism is that it tends to see human nature as immutable. That leaves us defenceless in the culture wars.

Liberals are creating the type of people who like liberalism. Conservatives are not making conservatives, in fact the very idea seems to be repulsive to many of them.

Free markets, not an expanding and more powerful government, are the solution to today’s problems.

Once you've gotten on board the individualism train, this sort of thing is all you can say. But it's a conservative heresy. There is, or ought to be, more to life than big government and free markets. There used to be a check on the excess of both. And both worked together to slip their leash.

I take the point, but I don't read Thompson to be suggesting that markets are all, I read him to be pointing the way to arguing the social issues effectively. Why point out that divorce is linked to poverty or that schools can't solve family problems unless you mean to address those difficulties in some way?


But he says "[f]ree markets...are the solution to today's problems." Is there a market solution to the decline of the family? Will freer markets reduce the divorce rate and encourage people to have children in wedlock? Have the Catonists figured those things out?

Without getting emphatic --I admit it isn't clear and therefore don't wish to fuss too much-- I simply note that at the top of the column he says Conservatives "respect faith and tradition." That's out of place if he intends to say the market is all.

I understand the "market solutions" to "today's problems" to be simply one bullet point among the four he offers, and to refer primarily to the types of problems enumerated in that section.

Whereas, for example, bullet point three suggests the solution to education problems is to address the breakdown of the family.

Since we're confused, I'm sure he'll be more careful in his next column.

So what's your solution Joe?


Point taken. But I wish he'd acknowledge the role of the market in contributing to the problems he'd have us address.


I'd begin in two places. First, I'd take seriously that element of compassionate conservatism that sought to provide resources--no strings attached--to faith-based organizations that took on some of our more intractable social problems. GWB was right about that, even if too many people in his White House didn't take it sufficiently seriously. (And while I recognize that government can't officially prefer religious solutions, it can fund them--equally with others--on the basis of the secular results they promise.

Second, I'd promote laws like this one, recently signed by Georgia's Governor, that move tax dollars from state coffers into the treasuries of organizations that hand out private school scholarships. Georgia's law offers couples a tax credit of up to $2,500 for contributions they make to "student scholarship organizations." My only disappointment with the law is that it limits the amount credits available ($50 million)--but that's $50 million going to parents and private schools and not into the state treasury.

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