After spending much of last year going off the deep-end over Bush, George Will has finally come back to doing what he does best – articulating the big thoughts.
Today, conservatives tend to favor freedom, and consequently are inclined to be somewhat sanguine about inequalities of outcomes. Liberals are more concerned with equality, understood, they insist, primarily as equality of opportunity, not of outcome.
Liberals tend, however, to infer unequal opportunities from the fact of unequal outcomes. Hence liberalism’s goal of achieving greater equality of condition leads to a larger scope for interventionist government to circumscribe the market’s role in allocating wealth and opportunity. Liberalism increasingly seeks to deliver equality in the form of equal dependence of more and more people for more and more things on government.
Today’s proper debate is about the modalities by which entitlements are delivered. Modalities matter, because some encourage and others discourage attributes and attitudes — a future orientation, self-reliance, individual responsibility for healthy living — that are essential for dignified living in an economically vibrant society that a welfare state, ravenous for revenues in an aging society, requires.
This reasoning is congruent with conservatism’s argument that excessively benevolent government is not a benefactor, and that capitalism does not merely make people better off, it makes them better. Liberalism once argued that large corporate entities of industrial capitalism degraded individuals by breeding dependence, passivity and servility. Conservatism challenges liberalism’s blindness about the comparable dangers from the biggest social entity, government.
Comment: Anyone who thinks “Big Education” isn’t as corrupt as “Big Tobacco” isn’t paying attention.
Conservatism argues, as did the Founders, that self-interestedness is universal among individuals, but the dignity of individuals is bound up with the exercise of self-reliance and personal responsibility in pursuing one’s interests. Liberalism argues that equal dependence on government minimizes social conflicts. Conservatism’s rejoinder is that the entitlement culture subverts social peace by the proliferation of rival dependencies.
Comment: This is what is so foul about the left’s embrace of “Identity Politics.” They don’t care about the betterment of the people in any one group. To the ideological left, indentity politics is a Divide and Conquer strategy. Anything that would acutally help a black person succeed (access to better charter schools, a personal account for Social Security, a Health Savings Account that can be used to get to a local clinic) dismpowers the “race-baiting poverty pimps” (J.C. Watt’s phrase, not mine) who flog the victimhood-oriented, identity politics mule.
The entitlement mentality encouraged by the welfare state exacerbates social conflicts — between generations (the welfare state transfers wealth to the elderly), between racial and ethnic groups (through group preferences) and between all organized interests (from farmers to labor unions to recipients of corporate welfare) as government, not impersonal market forces, distributes scarce resources. This, conservatism insists, explains why as government has grown so has cynicism about it.