Jeremiah is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, so there! Regular readers know the centrist position to be more nuanced, but we wanted to cop to what Salon calls the most childish political position ever. The online debate is here, and the latest attack is Greta Christina’s article.
Christina starts plausibly enough, with the assertion that social issues are inseparable from fiscal issues. Unfortunately, her attribution of social problems to fiscal policy relies heavily on stereotyped “conservative” positions and simplistic policy analysis.
Even if you, personally, oppose racist policing, supporting fiscal conservatism makes you part of the problem.
She tells us, for example, that “fiscally conservative means slashing support systems that help the poor, lowering taxes for the rich, cutting corners for big business, and screwing labor.” Seriously, have you ever heard anyone claim those as policy objectives? Who’s being childish here?
Christina simply enumerates policies that are presumed to help the poor, and which fiscal conservatives resist – public education, unions, and the minimum wage, among others. She overlooks the first rule of policy analysis, which is that there are no unalloyed goods. Unions do not always help the poor. More often, unions keep the poor locked out of jobs. So does the minimum wage.
You may feel that the government should spend more on public assistance, and pay for it by raising taxes. Never mind about balancing the budget, or how narrow our tax base is. Do you really want the federal government to have all this power? Why not state governments? Does government have to administer, say, education – or can it simply send a check?
People can reasonably debate these issues, but Christina doesn’t. She has her official list of bad policy outcomes, and she proceeds to attribute all of them to the “fiscal conservative” straw man. This is precisely why good debate avoids the use of labels. You need to look at the actual policies, not the label. Ironically, the last time Jeremiah inveighed against a label, it was socialism.
If there is a general principle called “fiscal conservatism,” it is that big, government directed programs are to be avoided. This definition places many of Christina’s bad outcomes on the other side of the fence. We covered the prison situation here. It is the result of incompetent government and … an irresponsible trade union. The drugs war, likewise, is a big (expensive) government program.
Fundamentally, Christina is undone by her thesis. Fiscal conservatives are obviously different from social conservatives. The people are different, the objectives are different, and the policies are different. To show that the outcomes are somehow correlated would take a lot more evidence than the “all conservatives are alike” argument presented here.