By Joe Boyles
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that I’m a self-proclaimed conservative. While my republican credentials are less than sterling, I’m a rock solid conservative. Of the three brands of conservatism (economic, social, and security), each is important to my political philosophy, but my bottom-line is economic. To me, if it doesn’t “add up,” everything else is moot.
But what does it mean to be a conservative and where does that come from? I’ll endeavor to answer those questions personally.
I believe in free-market capitalism. I think when government interferes with the free-market economy, it generally does so for the wrong reasons and mucks things up. So I side with that first and great (small d) democrat Thomas Jefferson when he said, “that government which governs the least, governs the best.”
I don’t believe in central planning. That’s for communists and socialist wannabees. Decentralization is much like entrepreneurism; it unleashes the individual to, as the army likes to put it, “be all you can be.” Accordingly, I believe in individual responsibility — if we all take responsibility for our individual actions and not look to others to blame when things go wrong, the world will be a better, more civil place.
I think one of the greatest creations of the American form of government was federalism – we are a united nation of fifty sovereign states. This is in keeping with the theme of decentralization. Each state is different and has a unique set of laws which apply only to that state. When the heavy hand of Washington weighs in and trumps the rights of each state to make its own laws regarding issues reserved to the individual state, it angers me. Not surprisingly, I am an “originalist” when it comes to interpreting the Constitution.
I believe in the elements of private business like profits; capital investment; cash flow; return on investment; cost of goods; customer satisfaction; competition, etc. As a rule, these are concepts that are foreign to government and the public sector. They live in another world. They don’t have a clue about what makes the business cycle tick. Naturally, I put my faith in the private sector economy. If you want to see economic growth and greater employment, then place your emphasis on the private, not the public sector. This is where I think the president has it exactly wrong.
So where do these ideas come from? Maybe some of it had to do with my economics training in the late 1960s and my introduction to Milton Friedman. A few years later, I did meet Barry Goldwater, but by then, his heyday had eclipsed. I was a big fan of Ronald Reagan and the people who introduced us to supply-side economics. Jack Kemp was one of my heroes. But who laid the ground work conservative philosophy?
Quite possibly, the answer is a brilliant Austrian economist by the name of Freidrich A. von Hayek. Writing from London in 1944 (he was in exile during the Nazi years), Hayek published the classic work, “The Road to Serfdom.” What a simple but elegantly descriptive title! Hayek rejected all forms of totalitarianism, whether in the form of communism, fascism, or anything else. He argued that this would lead to subservience to the state or serfdom as he described. And it wouldn’t be sudden. There would be a road we would travel upon that would gradually eat our liberty and swallow our individual freedom to make our own choices, our own mistakes.
Hayek warned us that growth in planning was inevitable and that we must guard against it. Today, we see this in the form of ever-growing regulation and increased tax burden. These were battlegrounds that Ronald Reagan fought against during the 1980s. Coming from central Europe, Hayek would see the economic turmoil of the European Union today as a natural progression of socialism and the welfare state. It cannot be sustained and like all forms of totalitarianism, eventually will collapse under its own weight. The central question is how much damage will it do before the fall?
One of the things that Hayek wrote about was “the law of unintended consequences,” legislation that often goes astray when bureaucrats and judges take over interpreting the new law. That reminds me of a story told by Monica Crowley when she served as an intern to Richard Nixon during his post-presidency. Crowley asked him what he was thinking when he signed the Endangered Species Act twenty years before and now was being used to economically hamstring farmers and other builders. Nixon sheepishly replied, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Hayek died nearly two decades ago, but his good ideas have stood the test of time.