Socially Liberal, Economically Conservative

Greg Ordy, June 1999

I would like somebody to explain to me the popular phrase, socially liberal, economically conservative. This phrase appears to describe a growing number of Americans who consider themselves to be in the intelligent middle of the political spectrum. It is sometimes stated with a bit more informal language: I want the government out of my bedroom, and I want the government out of my wallet.  Folks who like this description probably believe that they are taking the best parts of the two major political parties. Social liberalism from the Democrats, and Economic conservatism from the Republicans.

My problem with this perspective is that it is based upon an incorrect assumption. The incorrect assumption is that economic and social policies and ramifications are mutually exclusive. They do not interact with each other. As far as I can tell, they do indeed interact. In the end, this forces one to select their priorities. Sitting on the fence, trying to maintain a delicate balance, is simply not possible.

The reason for the interaction is simple. A growing number of the so-called social liberties are costing all citizens more and more real dollars. In other words, there is a price to be paid for the reckless and irresponsible choices that some people make. There would be far less linkage between social issues and economic issues if people were required to clean up their own social messes and not pass the bill on to others. This is not the case. We live in the era of the government solution. We try to solve problems by collecting money from everybody, and transferring it to the problem, which is often cast as a victim.

The key question becomes, when others choose to be socially liberal, are you willing to spend your money, via the government, to help them fix situations which they caused?   These situations may often involve behaviors and choices which you might never even remotely consider appropriate for your own life. Is this being economically conservative?

Let me further observe that these situations often involve children. It is nearly impossible to not be touched by the plight of children. Children represent a precious innocence today, and the future of the country tomorrow. We all want to believe in infinite promise and potential for all children. We want children to make the most out of their life. We do not want to punish children for the mistakes of their parents or even their early environment.

Children are put at increasing risk by the enormous decline in the family unit. This key institution has been on the decline, both due to neglect and assault.

I must now confess to holding what I would call traditional beliefs. The belief that the job of raising quality children is most strongly supported by raising that child in a two parent loving and secure family, where the parents are the biological parents who produced the child. Does this mean that I am against single parents, or homosexual parents, or any other permutation? No at all. I simply believe that the odds are better, usually substantially better, with the traditional approach. As I look out on the decades of divorce, unwed mothers, declining test scores, and more recently and more troubling the increase in violent and savage acts by children, I can come to no other conclusion than we are simply taking too many risks. I do not want to tell or even suggest what people should do. I also do not want to be handed the bill when their choices require a bailout.

Being in the era of government, we react to these trends with more and more programs. In the end, I believe that this is an approach that will not work. It has not worked to the extent that we have tried. Do you really believe that these disturbing trends will be slowed and even reversed by government programs? Is there anything other then a rebirth of the family that will turn the tide? Do you believe that the current role of government encourages family development, or rewards and subsidizes risky behavior? And even if you believe that the government is doing good, will you at least acknowledge that the money that the government spends comes from taxes extracted from families that may very well have far better use for that money - their money. On what moral basis can we extract money, under threat of jail, and then fund risky behavior?

I do not claim that raising children can be done without money. Far from it. I do not believe, however, that government should have a role in the raising of children. Historically and constitutionally it does not have a role. It's recent intrusion has not been successful. It is simply the wrong institution for the job of raising children. If a family needs financial help, the far more appropriate institutions are extended family, churches, and the large number of charity groups that exist for this very purpose. Getting government out of this function will provide substantial funds which can be redirected to these much better alternatives.

The Libertarian in me does not want to suggest what people should do with their lives, especially in the most personal and private areas. While I do not personally approve of most all so-called alternative life-styles, I do not wish to make them illegal. Immoral will suffice.


Copyright (c) 1999, Greg Ordy

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