When people hear conservative, they think of a person who believes in the free market, small government, and traditional values. I’m not making a case for or against conservatism, but I would just like to point out how conservative ideology is quite contradictory. For what it’s worth, I also think that “liberal” ideology is contradictory. I think I’ll discuss that in my next post. In this post I will discuss conservatism through the lens of the United States from 1970-present. For all intents and purposes, neo-liberalism and conservatism overlap in the ideas I will discuss below.
Free-Market Capitalism and Traditional Values are not Currently Compatible
When one thinks of a conservative movement, we think of a pull away from big government. The government acts as a sort of watchdog so that the cutthroat free market doesn’t eat citizens alive. A not so conspicuous consequence of free-market capitalism is growing income and wealth inequality. This makes total sense. In an attempt to make the most money possible, I as a business owner, would seek to cut costs. The biggest ROI comes from cutting labor costs. With growing technological capacity, for every robot arm I hire, I can save untold dollars in labor costs. But someone also loses their job.
The inadvertent result of this is a destruction of the family. Starting a family is the ultimate act of optimism. You have to feel that a future is possible to pledge your life to another and try to build a family. Growing income and wealth inequality makes this harder and harder. Financial security is the foundation of optimism. As a result, people who have a better shot at income and wealth stability (and possibly growth) would be more likely to take the plunge to start a family.
I think education is an important factor to bring up because of how our economy has changed in the last six decades or so. A typical male could graduate high school in 1955, get a unionized job, and then use that income to live a comfortable working class life. Not anymore. Most work (some sources say 60% or more) that pays a living wage requires at least some college. So in a strange way, conservatism actually hastens the destruction of traditional values.
In my heading I made it a point to say “currently” because this could all change at any time. Do I believe that capitalism necessitates the destruction of the family? No, but it requires strong stewards of the common good to ward off excesses.
Traditional Values and -isms
Conservative movements also tend to be socially conservative. They are marked by (usually male European) people making the case for separatism. I don’t necessarily think that forced integration is a positive, but I believe history makes the case for expanding rights to all people. As much as we love to say the arc of history bends toward justice, at each turn there are many many people who resist. I am not seeking to brand them as “evil”, but this is where another contradiction lies.
We are seeing today that more and more innovation and growth (particularly in America) is coming from people of diverse backgrounds. That includes ethnic minorities, women, and people in the LGBTQ+ community. If one really stood for a free market, that would necessitate all people being able to participate in that market. Anything less would stifle the bottom line.
My goal in this post is not to bash conservatism, but rather point out some fairly obvious contraindications. And as I said earlier, there are just as many contraindications of liberalism.
Thanks for reading!