Monday, July 13, 2009

Conservative NextGen Thinkers

Writing in the Boston Globe Drake Bennett introduces four young conservative writers and thinkers.

There's Luigi Zingales, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. He's written recently about the importance of the difference between helping business and helping the market. Business, you could say, is a special interest, and conservatives should fall out of love with business and back in love with the market.

In an argument that’s begun to catch the ear of a few conservative thinkers, Zingales suggests that it’s often business itself, rather than the government, that the market needs protection from.

Actually, I thought that conservatives have been saying this for decades. But it's a theme that needs to be constantly renewed, because business, for all its reputation as a powerful force, clearly sucks up to government. Ande it has to, because government has the power to destroy it--unless we take that power away.

Then there's L Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. He's been working to put an empirical basis under the conservative faith in family values. Recent research is pretty clear:

Children not raised by their married mother and father are more likely to drop out of high school, be depressed, and even commit suicide. Boys from broken homes are more likely to end up in jail; and girls more likely to be teen mothers.

Wilcox is working on reminding us that there are two important factors that help break up the family: divorce and single parenthood.

He argues that it is counterproductive to insist, as many liberals have, that all types of families are equally good for kids. Overwhelmingly, he points out, it is poor and working-class families who are grappling with the effects of divorce and single parenthood.

Lower class Americans struggling with fractured families deliver increased inequality, something that liberals say they care about.

Megan McArdle is an editor and blogger at The Atlantic. Her blogging provides a kind of nodal point, a conversation centered around libertarian conservative ideas, and provides a go-to place for people with like interests.

Finally, there's Reihan Salam, a fellow at New America Foundation. He wrote Grand New Party back in 2003 with Ross Douthat, and he's a big-government conservative.

In [Grand New Party, Salam and Douthat] return again and again to the issue of how a modern Republican party could strategically embrace government, allaying the economic anxieties of important white working-class voters without fostering a culture of government dependence and waste.

All this is encouraging. But let us not forget the importance of foundations. Take the powerful ideas of Michael Novak in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. He argues for what I call "the Greater Separation of Powers." This notion starts with the idea that just as government has its three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial; society has three sectors, political, economic, and moral/cultural.

The idea of the Greater Separation of Powers is that the three sectors of society, political, economic, and moral/cultural, should be separate and coequal. They should be independent, and each should be a strong critic of the other two sectors.

In other words, the economic sector and the moral/cultural sector should each have a lot to say about the power of the political sector and how it should be limited in the economic sphere and the moral/cultural sphere.

Meanwhile the political sector should be jealous of overweening power from business and economic interests, and also excessive militance in the moral/cultural sector.

What everyone should guard against is two sectors ganging up on the other sector--i.e., when religious leaders get too close to politics, either left-wing or right-wing.

There's nothing quite like solid first principles to help nurture good political and social thought. That goes for young conservative thinkers and older ones too.

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