Friday, August 2, 2013

Let's Talk Conservative Populism

Everyone has been talking populism this week, after Ross Douthat started the ball rolling with his country vs. court party oped.

That would mean a change in the current party setup where Democrats are supposed to be social elitists and economic populists and the Republicans are supposed to be social populists and economic elitists.

Except of course that the current Democratic Party is social elitist and economic crony-ist, and the Republicans are social populists and crypto-economic populists as well.

In other words, conservatives are market supporters rather than big business supporters.  The Democrats feel most comfortable when they regulate big business into dues-paying puppies.  Well that's what they think, but really they end up feeding the beast of crony capitalism.

OK.  It's fine to talk about economic populism, but what would it actually look like?

It would be different from the old populism, that's what.  The populists of the late 19th century were victims railing against the injustice of big banks and corporations.  We conservative populists are different.  Conservatives are people of the responsible self.  We don't experience ourselves as victims, but as sober and responsible contributors to society.  So our populism is not a populism raging against the machine.  It is the populism of the responsible self that argues simply against privilege, whether it's crony capitalism at the top or benefit cadging at the bottom.

Now, my own approach to populism grows out of my basic view of government spending, which is $1 trillion a year for pensions, $1 trillion for health care, $1`trillion for education and half a trillion for welfare.

This conservative populist, a populist of the responsible self, looks at the trillion dollars a year in pensions and says: We want to be responsible for our own savings and pensions.  We don't want our savings sequestered in corrupt government programs and used by the government to buy votes for 30 years until we retire.  Plus we have other ideas with what to do with our savings in the mean time, such as buy a home, start a business, educate the kids, have a nest egg to tide over Great Recessions.

Then we populists look at health care and say: We people of the responsible self want to be responsible for our own health care; we don't want the government's one size fits all approach.  And we want the flexibility to direct our health care dollars to our children, our parents, and our other loved ones as the need arises, not as government policy permits.

We look at education and determine with Cato's Andrew Coulson in Market Education that government education pits parents against each other.  And education ends up as a producer's cartel.  We want to direct our own money at our children's education, and we want that money going to things that we value, not things that some activist or bureaucrat values.

We look at welfare and we say that we want to spend our own money on the relief of the poor.  We want the poor to look to us, the responsible middle class, for relief, and we do not want them looking to some community organizer waving government money around in return for their votes.  Since conservatives are the most generous donors to charitable works, we have standing on the matter.

President Obama has just come out with a proposal to cut the taxes of big business with lower corporate tax rates.  But he proposes nothing for small businessmen that pay taxes at the personal tax rate.

Here's a chance for good conservative populism.  To heck with President Obama and his big business cronies; they can take care of themselves.  What about helping the real job creators: small businessmen.

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