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:
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.