Saturday, October 02, 2010

Is Conservativism Doomed?

I'm generally optimistic about the future and about long-term conservative prospects. But I was struck by two recent, related observations; first, by the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan:
I see two central reasons for the tea party's rise. The first is the yardstick, and the second is the clock. First, the yardstick. Imagine that over at the 36-inch end you've got pure liberal thinking--more and larger government programs, a bigger government that costs more in the many ways that cost can be calculated. Over at the other end you've got conservative thinking--a government that is growing smaller and less demanding and is less expensive. You assume that when the two major parties are negotiating bills in Washington, they sort of lay down the yardstick and begin negotiations at the 18-inch line. Each party pulls in the direction it wants, and the dominant party moves the government a few inches in their direction.

But if you look at the past half century or so you have to think: How come even when Republicans are in charge, even when they're dominant, government has always gotten larger and more expensive? It's always grown! It's as if something inexorable in our political reality--with those who think in liberal terms dominating the establishment, the media, the academy--has always tilted the starting point in negotiations away from 18 inches, and always toward liberalism, toward the 36-inch point.

Democrats on the Hill or in the White House try to pull it up to 30, Republicans try to pull it back to 25. A deal is struck at 28. Washington Republicans call it victory: "Hey, it coulda been 29!" But regular conservative-minded or Republican voters see yet another loss. They could live with 18. They'd like eight. Instead it's 28.
AEI's Kenneth Green applies that principle to environmental policy:
[L]iberals have out-maneuvered such Republicans for decades. Moderate Republicans "compromise" in incremental steps toward liberal policies, while the liberals depict any "compromise" as being akin to genocide. Faced with such charges, moderate Republicans quickly surrender. . .

I call this the ratchet effect: while the Left claims to want bipartisanship and compromise, the incremental clicks of the ratchet only go in one direction--toward European-style social democracy. . .

Every time [Republicans] have tried to fix the overreach of environmental regulations, the Left and its allies in the environmental movement and mainstream media immediately start screaming bloody murder. The tiniest tweak to an air pollution rule is portrayed as "gutting the Clean Air Act," and will lead to children slowly strangling to death in clouds of filthy air. Still, the "moderate Republicans" who have gone along with the steady ratcheting of environmental regulation were the enablers that have led us where we are today, facing EPA regulation of greenhouse gases that will impose massive costs and burdens on the U.S. economy to control gases that are clearly not hazardous to human health, and that may not even be hazardous to the climate.
I've made a similar point--that, when considering, say, emission standards, liberals "seem convinced the end is near, and zero is the only appropriate ceiling."

Economics is the science of cost vs. benefits--choices must be made. But, as The Barrister at Maggie's Farm observes:
people figure out they can vote themselves things. The US wasn't planned that way, but it's become that way. Progressives call it Progress.
Ah, but that approach can't persist indefinitely--the Meltzer/Richard hypothesis says that spending can't over-take the tax-base.

We're reaching that limit now. As between conservatism and liberalism, which philosophy will survive? And which will prevail on the East and West coasts?


Anonymous said...

With conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, George Bush and all those other morons destroying the economy and political system, we'd probably be a lot better off without them.

Carl said...

Anony: Hey, what a persuasive, well-reasoned argument! I'm convinced!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

So far technology has been able to outpace damage to the economy, by freeing up trade. Perhaps that is the ultimate conservative principle, that freedom creates prosperity.

Hope it lasts.