I think it’s fairly common for people to wonder “Are my conservative friends insane?”, so I’ve set out to provide a short primer on factors that influence modern conservative thought. The following points will obviously be generalizations, both of conservative and liberal thought.
Outcome, not Intention
To a conservative, the intention of a law or government program is generally meaningless. At first, that might seem odd, but think about this way: Who in their right mind intends badly with legislation? Given that almost nobody intends badly when legislating, a conservative is instead focused on the outcome: Does the law or program do what we want it to do? If it doesn’t, the legislation can be the most well-meaning program in the world, and conservatives still won’t support it.
Federal Government is not the Only Tool
Even if a federal government program is effective to one degree or another, a conservative is next going to ask: Is the federal government the most effective tool for accomplishing this goal? Could this goal be better accomplished on a local or state government level? What about with private programs? In general, the burden of proof is on the a federal government program to prove it could not be accomplished effectively on a more local or private level.
No Solutions, Only Trade-Offs
If I could frame a youtube video and put in on my wall, I would frame this youtube video.
Thomas Sowell summarizes a philosophical cornerstone of conservative thought: There are no solutions, only trade-offs. I think Sowell fairly contrasts the different paradigms underpinning modern conservative and liberal thought. For the liberal, if we could only get our institutions right, all would be well. For the conservative, no amount of institutions can ever make man right because man is inherently flawed. We can only hope to mitigate man’s negative impulses, and any attempt to mitigate one negative impulse has the possibility of encouraging another. So we have to ask of any law or program: Are the positives of this legislation going to outweigh any negatives it might introduce? Or, as Sowell puts it, “At what cost?”
How These Principles Turn Out in Practice
With these general principles in hand, one can hopefully start to understand conservative thought. A great example to test this understanding is minimum wage laws. Walker and Nathaniel have written quite a few articles on how minimum wage laws intend well but in reality only hurt the people they are meant to help. Another great example is equal pay laws. We can all agree that women deserve to be paid as much as men, but any legislation addressing the issue is going to cross every one of these principles: Does the proposed equal pay law actually work? Is federal government intervention the only or most effective means of addressing this issue? Will these equal pay laws be worth any trade-off incurred?
These examples also represent topics where conservatives are often impugned for their intentions and conversation breaks down: Do you hate poor people? Do you hate women? Of course not. We’re deeply concerned about the welfare of others. But we want to know that what we’re supporting actually works, is done at the most effective level, and is worth the cost. If legislation cannot jump over those three hurdles, we’re not going to support a program simply for the sake of its good intention.
As a final thought, one can understand conservative thought and still disagree with it. I have no problems with that. My only goal is that people first understand before they disagree. Otherwise, conversations are unproductive at best and nasty at worst. And in keeping with this thought, if you think I’ve misrepresented either conservative or liberal thought anywhere, let me know! I’ll probably still debate the comment, but as my momma came to understand, just cus I’m debating doesn’t mean I’m not listening.