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Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Kesher Conserativism-Part III-A Just and Compassionate Conservatism- In the Judith Weiss piece that I cited Sunday, she was doubting that Republican economic policy “aligns with our deepest desires for a just compassionate society.” OK, lets give this a look-see. Just and compassionate. First, let’s look at just. The dictionary doesn’t help us much-definition 1 in my Webster’s New World Dictionary in my office is “right or fair; equitable; impartial.” To the liberal, it isn’t fair for one person to make more than another; to the conservative, it isn’t fair that one person should be taxed to pay for someone else’s mistakes. Free markets aren’t equitable since some people will earn more than others, but they are impartial in that the government isn’t stepping in deciding who will get taxed and who will get the money from the taxation. Using the definition of just, you can trot out a fair and equitable “social justice” platform or a fair and impartial free-market system. Let’s look at compassion-“sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by a urge to help; deep sympathy; pity.” Compassionate people show compassion. Let’s take welfare for starters: liberals are trained to have sorrow for the sufferings of the poor and want to spend government money to help. Conservatives have sorrow as well, but have a longer-term view of how to help. Policies that predicate help on gaining skills and moving quickly towards employment seems to be more helpful in the long term than simply writing a check without any strings attached; it’s “tough love” but seemingly more compassionate than classic welfare policies Liberals are inclined to show that compassion by spending money on the poorer parts of society and taxing the wealthier parts to pay for it. However, conservatives have compassion on the non-poor as well. They feel sorrow for the working stiff who sees his take-home pay dwindle with higher taxes. The feel sorrow for the businesses that didn’t open (or had to close) and the jobs that didn’t get created (or were lost) due to the higher taxes. A compassionate society isn’t just compassionate for the poor; it should look to create a system that maximizes the commonweal, the collective well-being of society. It needs to weigh the benefits of spending money on the needy with the pain caused by the taxes. Those losses aren’t just the direct losses of pleasure by the taxpayer, but the slowing down of the economy due to higher taxes. As taxes get higher, leisure becomes less expensive, as the benefits of an extra hour’s work go down. Spending looks better than savings, since the after-tax returns on investments go down. This will thus create a more shortsighted and less robust economy, hurting more people than just the taxpayers. If voters are compassionate towards their fellow man, they should strive to elect people who will enact policies that will maximize the commonweal. In my not-so-humble opinion, liberals tend to have their compassion focused too tightly on the poor. Yes, many conservatives have their compassion focused too tightly on the own wallet. However, voters who are looking to make the country a better place need to take a closer look at the total economic costs of government programs. There isn’t a bogometer that can measure pain and give us a neat formula as to what policy maximizes the commonweal; that’s left up to the individual voter. If I thought that a more socialist policy would do that, I’d support it, but I think that smaller (but also smarter) government would better maximize the commonweal. I do think that the current administration’s policies are leading towards a more just and more compassionate society than the alternatives. Neither party has a monopoly on compassion. Republicans are just as compassionate as Democrats; they just have a broader definition, looking at the country as a whole rather than just certain segments of it. I would suggest that Democratic-inclined voters give that broader definition an once-over. You might still thing a big-government program is worth it even after you give the costs of a program a clearer look. Note that even conservatives will back some welfare programs on those grounds. Having a broader view of compassion might not turn you into a fire-breathing supply-sider, but it might give some respect to conservative opinion.

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