Conservatism Empowers Economic Strength

In God We Trust - Even Economically(photo credit)

By Jeff Rutherford — first posted in October 2013

Summary of the Conservative Worldview

Here are some fundamental principles of Conservatism arranged in a row of dominoes that fall, each into the next, along a logical path.

  • Conservatism’s point of origin is this fact:  Humans are fallible and corruptible.  All humans act badly sometimes.  Some humans act badly often.  This is human nature – non-perfectible, rooted in the motivations of self-preservation and self-improvement.
  • To protect society from this imperfect human nature, this first principle is recognized as truth:  Humans are endowed with unalienable rights from God, the Creator.  If you prefer a non-religious rationale for the same first principle, these rights come from the logical application of the concept of Natural Law.  Either way, this first principle is self-evident.  Without it, what’s to stop power-hungry men from arbitrarily enslaving others?
  • No person is entitled to deprive another of his/her unalienable rights without consent.  In fact, the litmus test for unalienable rights is, “Can the right be exercised at no cost to others?”
  • Unalienable rights include the right to accumulate property, through honest labor and trade, which cannot be confiscated without the owner’s consent.
  • Since nobody is entitled to another’s property, individuals are morally responsible to earn a living for themselves and their dependent family.   This is self-reliance.
  • Government is dead last in the descending order of sovereignty:
      1. God
      2. Individuals
      3. Government

Due to the order of this hierarchy, government cannot exert control over sovereign individuals without their consent, because unalienable rights aren’t granted to individuals by government.

  • Government may collect and spend some of the resources of individuals for their common benefit, but only as stipulated in the contract that formed the government – the Constitution.  Existing by “consent of the governed” is the only way government is compatible with unalienable rights.
  • The most important purpose of government is to provide a consistent, objective legal system to protect honest people from inevitable attempts by unethical people to separate them from their unalienable rights and accumulated property.
  • Upon taking office (by election, appointment, or employment), the human nature of politicians and government bureaucrats doesn’t magically change.  In fact they seem to become even more likely to be corruptible.  Unchecked power funded by vast treasury resources is intoxicating, and threatens the sovereignty of individuals.  So a vigorous system of checks and balances is required to enforce accountability and preserve the proper order of sovereignty. This is “separation of powers.”


Conservative Approach to Economics

Practical economic policies are established in harmony with human nature, without assuming humans can be induced to become selfless and communal by ignoring their natural self-interest.  Economic policies must be constrained to realism, not rely naively on unconstrained idealism.  Conservatism expects certain traits of normal economic behavior, which are NOT flaws:

  • People won’t work as hard to benefit strangers as to benefit themselves and their family.  It’s a motivation for self-preservation.
  • People react to new government taxes and excessive regulations by adjusting their behavior to maximize their after-tax income and enjoyment of liberty.  It’s a motivation for self-improvement.
  • People don’t hide their savings under their mattress.  They invest in bank accounts, shares of enterprises (stocks), and loans to enterprises (bonds), fueling new cycles of production.

Economic policies should keep these points in mind:

  • Centrally controlled economies don’t work. Prices and resources must be allowed to respond to the needs and preferences of the millions of purchasers, expressed during their billions of daily transactions.
  • Prosperity is fueled by production.  Sure, consumers’ demand invites production, but obviously production must come first.
  • Incentives matter.  Activities that increase production, savings, and voluntary charity should be incentivized.  Activities that increase consumption and dependency on government-provided subsistence should be reasonably DIS-incentivized.  Often, well-meaning policies create unintended outcomes by DIS-incentivizing production and incentivizing consumption and dependence on government subsistence.
  • Every dollar taxed from the private economy is removed from the production-investment cycle.  While some government infrastructure strengthens society, it shouldn’t exceed 18-19% of the total economy, or else the economy’s self-encouraging power is sapped.
  • As in our private lives, government policies should be judged by their full actual results including all ripple effects, not by their original superficial intentions.  They should be revised or repealed if unintended consequences arise.

Lastly, An Economic Metaphor

When government policies act to DIS-incentivize work and production, or incentivize consumption and redistribution of property, then society cuts itself off from the source of its own prosperity and power, sustaining itself only by coasting on the momentum of its former strength.  That’s a lot like unplugging a power strip from the wall outlet and plugging it into itself, and still expecting results.  That’s not the intrinsic nature of things.

The Fallacy of Taking Production For Granted


About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
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7 Responses to Conservatism Empowers Economic Strength

  1. Very nicely done!

    One suggestion: Since all of this is a matter of first principles rather than observational data except for one spot, I’d replace “18-19%” with “a very small portion” or words to that effect. The framers, and legislators for the first century or so, thought that this number was around 3%.

    In fact, the average was about 3% from the founding all the way through the Roaring 20s, even with a brief one-year spike to 13% during the Civil War (when we had extraordinary war expenses and a GDP much reduced by the loss of the Confederacy states) and 24% during WWI and the “Spanish” (read “Kansas”) influenza epidemic that killed a good chunk of the population’s producers.

    At that average rate of 3%, we managed to retire the debt, fight wars, and become a world class economic force despite starting from a small, agrarian economy with no land routes to major markets, and set upon by war and pirates during our crucial formative years.

    The principles that you outline eloquently here are the source of that growth and strength. It is worth fighting to restore those principles to an active role in the government we set up for ourselves and that worked so well for so long.

    These ideas have fallen so far out of favor that a major US university system in California recently pronounced that uttering the phrase “America is the land of opportunity” is “racist” and “offensive” and a “microaggression” that triggers resentment. That mindset is what our opponents are imbued with. Thank you for expressing our side so well.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your suggestion is valid Keith. This is actually the 3rd time I’ve posted this essay. I originally wrote it upon request to participate in a multi-part “showdown” on another blog, with contributions from liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. That first time, I said 20%. In Oct 2013 when I first posted it on my own blog, I said 19-20%. This time I said 18-19%. As you probably know, Mark Levin says 17.5% in chapter 5 of The Liberty Amendments.

      The lower the number, the tougher sell it will be in the political and cultural battlefields. To be politically practical it has to be high enough to reach a compromise, but low enough to save the country from fiscal ruin. So specifying it is a little more than just observational data. The phrase “a very small portion” is subjective to each reader. It can mean anything from 22% for a redistributive Progressive to 10% for a rugged Libertarian.

      Somewhere back in my archives I wrote something that called for me to research annual revenues vs. GDP, and I found that the post-WW2 average of annual government revenues has been about 19% of GDP. If we could get the government to stop scaring entrepreneurs with all the arbitrary lawmaking and regulation-writing, and if we could get capital gains taxes and corporate tax rates greatly lowered, we could boost the economy back to self-sustaining strength. Under those conditions, I figured we could tolerate government spending at 19% of GDP.

      There was an article in Investors Business Daily today about investments in “freedom capital,” a formula-based measurable characteristic of each country’s economic capacity, strength, and resiliency. Based on many factors with careful weightings, they’ve computed it all the way back to 1970. It addresses exactly what we’re talking about here in this comment exchange.

      Thank you for the compliments on this essay.
      – Jeff


  2. tannngl says:

    “Humans are endowed with unalienable rights from God, the Creator.”

    This is the rock upon which our liberty and our economic freedoms/wealth are built. Even the ‘Natural Law’ is anti-progressive. (Perhaps I shouldn’t generalize but I see most atheists as progressives.)

    So without this premise, rights/freedoms from God and not government, we are once again enslaved which is where we seem to have gotten in 239 years.
    I’m not sure how this huge ship of enslavement is turned around, for the men (and women) who have helped themselves to the power and wealth they sup upon in our governments, are able to do so at the encouragement of our votes and ignorance of our truth. And I really don’t see this changing.

    Your thesis should be taught in public schools. It isn’t.
    Kudos, Jeff.


    • @tannngl, who wrote:

      (Perhaps I shouldn’t generalize but I see most atheists as progressives.)

      I expect that this is true, in the same manner as ‘most US Hispanics vote Democrat.” It is supportable by polls, but still leaves many millions on the other side sort of unrecognized.

      I am a lifelong non-theist; I have never been religious. At the same time, I am a fervent believer in “Americanity” or “Americanism” or whatever one wants to call a reverence for this country and its founding principles, philosophy, and documents. I recognize that religion, mostly variants of Christianity, played a large role in the founding of the United States, and I have no problem with that. I have read the evolution of the philosophy of natural law through Plato and Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas to Huig de Groot¹/(Hugo de Grotius) to Locke.

      In any event, I have defended “In God We Trust” and “Under God” as official US phrases, I have written extensively that the Treaty of Tripoli does NOT mean that Adams and other founders believed that America was not a Christian nation, and I have fought on the side of limited government free market Constitutional principles for decades.

      Moreover, I have about a dozen or so nonbelievers as friends; all are more or less conservative. While they are not generally complete “social conservatives” in the usual sense, they advocate for such decisions to be out of the Supreme Court and back in the hands of individual states as the Constitution prescribes.

      I always appreciate not being counted out of the ranks of allies by other Constitutional conservatives.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      ¹ Was Vin Diesel’s T-shirt a homage to natural law? It read “I AM DE GROOT” or something like that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tannngl says:

        Keith, please accept my deepest apology. I never meant any derision to anyone, and especially not to you. Your comment above was such a good one. And I see we both agree on basic conservativism as well as Jeff’s cohesive, coherent, well thought out and very well worded basis for our country’s economic strength!

        It’s never good to generalize, and yet since my 70 years experience is with that generalization, I threw it out there. I’m so happy to meet you, a non-theist who is a true patriot and constitutional constructionist. It’s very good to know there are people such as you who are pro-United States Constitution and patriotism.

        As for Groot, and Vin Diesel, I had to do some research on that. My comic books were Sluggo, Superman, Lone Ranger. Today I don’t watch movies or read today’s comics. I have far too little time left to waste it on something I have no interest in. Mostly I read medical literature, Faith blogs and politics due to the dire circumstances we are in, both our country and the world. But I think I might see the connection to Natural Law and Groot, the tree monster. Ha ha ha, he looks a little like a depiction of Ha Satan. And when Groot says, “I am Groot” it is somewhat similar to “Yahweh”.

        I appreciate your allowing me to address your post.


        • No apology needed, as no offense was taken. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.

          As for comics, while I have never been a comic book enthusiast, I have come to know the authors of several on-line comic strips, and enjoy their work. One of these in particular has a medical theme; the artist spends six days a week treating patients (he’s a general practitioner in Australia) and one day a week drawing comics about a GP in Australia … who is a rat, with all sorts of animals as patients. These began as gag-a-day jokes and puns of a usually medical flavor, but have branched into some quite excellent storytelling. The comic is called Doc Rat. (The strip has been running for nearly a decade, but he’s just moved to a new website and most of the archives have yet to be reloaded.)

          I chuckled at the Vin Diesel “I AM GROOT” shirt, and it happens that the rather silly movie was one of the few that I have seen in the past year.

          Huig de Groot, which we Anglicize through Latin as “Hugo de Grotius,” was one of the commentators on the philosophy of natural law. He is perhaps most famous for a statement he made attempting to reconcile the doctrine of perfect goodness with the existence of evil. As Robert Heinlein described it:

          There is an old, old story about a theologian who was asked to reconcile the doctrine of Divine mercy with the doctrine of infant damnation. “The Almighty,” he explained, “finds it necessary to do things in His official and public capacity which in His private and personal capacity He deplores.”

          I read a lot of medical literature as well, as I write scientific research proposals these days (after retiring from running a technology business for a third of a century). This research grant-writing involves me being a “gun for hire” helping people get money from the government in my official capacity, while being privately annoyed at the notion of the government’s funding of such things. As a result, I think I know what de Grotius was talking about.

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Grumpa Joe says:

    Reblogged this on Grumpa Joe's Place and commented:

    An excellent treatise on conservatism.


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