Fiscal Conservatism is Social Conservatism, You Can’t Separate Them


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President Eisenhower described himself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. A lot of younger conservatives do that today. The difference of course was that Eisenhower was saying that in a far different era, a decade in which economic conditions were far different than today. The terms mean different things now, and times have greatly changed.

I read the recent battle over whether or not one can be “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” both the argument you can’t and can. My takeaway is that there is a large misunderstanding of how these things collide today. I have no doubt that even young conservatives, as they age into adults, will oppose things like gender discrimination, voter suppression, and anti-LGBT behavior. The millennial generation is much more tolerant of the “other” person in the room, in part because they didn’t grow up in the Civil Rights movement’s era, or a time of great consternation between races, genders, and sexualities. That is not the point here though, nor is it really even what matters. Whether or not one hates other people is irrelevant when the policy prescriptions they put forward are bad for those people. I don’t think Mitt Romney has a racist bone in his body, and yet I think he would have been a disaster for poor and minority voters. Some of this is obvious, most of it is a product of the way the world has changed in recent times.

The biggest misunderstanding of “fiscal conservatism” is that there are real world consequences to “cutting government.” When you reduce Food Stamp spending, families have less food to eat. When you cut Section 8 Housing vouchers, people either lose their home, have to move, or have to dip into their meager earnings further to afford housing. When you cut Welfare spending in general, you cut the ability of the poor to spend into our economy. This is bad for everyone, but it’s really bad for the poor person. This idea that if you cut their aid, these people will go work harder is actually really silly. This supposes that people are poor by choice, and not by condition. There’s no evidence of that. In fact, since the 2008 crash of our economy, we have statistically just not had enough good paying work available for our workforce, which is why more and more people with college degrees are working in unskilled labor jobs. It’s not that people want to be poor, it’s that they can’t do anything about it.

Let’s also be very clear here, poverty is much more common amongst minority groups, as a percentage, of all kinds. Homelessness, unemployment, lack of access to education, and general lack of access to capital is more common amongst people who aren’t white, straight, Christian, suburban males. So when I say that “small government” is hurting the poor, I’m also essentially saying it has a racist effect on society, even if the reasons behind it have no racial motivation.

Let me also be clear that “fiscal conservatism” has a lot more support amongst white people. It’s a “white” thing. The reason for this of course is that there is a lower percentage of white people needing assistance (though there are more white people on assistance in raw numbers). White people tend to interact with more white people than not as well, and so they aren’t even seeing the effects of these policies many times. There’s a certain blindness to support of “small government” born of our demographics and interactions.

Finally, it’s important to be clear here that the impacts of “fiscal conservative” policies have social consequences. Cutting aid and medical access to mothers causes more abortions. Bad schools lead to more unemployment and more crime. Cutting housing spending makes more homeless people.

I get that some libertarians and “fiscal conservatives” will argue there’s no “proof” that getting government out of the way makes many of these problems worse. What this shows me is that they don’t understand the role of the market, and what it is capable of doing well. The market is capable of creating wealth. It’s there to make money for people. Left uninhibited, market forces will push more money to the top, capital owners, and less downward, to the interchangeable working and lower classes. That is what markets do. The point of government is to correct that, and to make sure we don’t go back to feudalism and have “serfs” living together as squatters. There are places in the world with incapable central governments- places like Somalia for instance- that show us what happens when government doesn’t fulfill it’s role.

I concede that there is some waste in government, and thankfully some people make it their point to follow it. I even concede that we might spend too much money each year- just not on many of these social programs. With those things in mind though, it’s important to understand that penny-pinching social spending programs that benefit the poor have serious social consequences, many of which are racist outcomes (even if race was not an initial factor). You can’t claim to be socially liberal while taking the disadvantaged’s food right out of their mouth. That’s just conservative across the board.

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