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The Moral Case for Conservatism

Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, is the most articulate advocate out there for the moral and community case for capitalism and fiscal responsibility.  In Tuesday’s Coffee and Markets podcast, he presents the case about as succinctly as I’ve heard it made, perhaps as succinctly as it can be made.

Key to his worldview are three points (among others):

1) Conservatives and free-marketeers need to understand where the country is at, and

Go back and read The Constitution of Liberty by Hayek, or The Road to Serfdom, or anything by Adam Smith, and you will see the belief in those economists – those iconic thinkers on the right – that one of the core functions of government is to provide a basic safety net for the most indigent members of society.  The idea that we can think that there’s something wrong with the government providing services for the mentally ill indigent?   I mean come on.  Americans don’t agree with that because we shouldn’t agree with that….

The problem is when the safety net gets beyond the indigent and into the middle class, people who can work, people who should work…

2) We need to talk about people, not money:

Lead with the moral case.  In any debate, you get five seconds to frame yourself.  If you use your five seconds to talk about OECD tax rates, you’re doomed.  If you use your five seconds to talk about vulnerable people, people are going to listen, because guess what – people matter, money doesn’t.

3) Capitalism and free markets are about “moral pillars that we all agree upon:”

We have a tendency on the political right, to speak in a moral language, when we can get past materialism into morality, a kind of moral language that we understand as conservatives, but that people outside of the 30% of Americans that consider themselves conservatives don’t really understand very well at all.  And that’s a huge lost opportunity, because it turns out that there are moral pillars that we all care about…and the most important of those moral pillars, the thing that people all care about, is protecting the vulnerable…We need to be champions and warriors for the poor and vulnerable in any given policy debate.

I think it was exactly that point that Ted Cruz was making in his Washington Post op-ed about the opportunity society.  It’s the kind of case for conservatism that people can feel good about promoting, and not one that we always feel as though we’re on the verge of having to apologize for.

Posted in Economics, Politics.