Saturday, March 6, 2010

Big business conservatism? No way.

I really appreciate this article written by Jonah Goldberg, which discusses why "big business" does not equal "conservative."

In fact, the interesting bit of information he opens up with is how much big business seems to support the Democrats: "It's worth remembering that Obama was the preferred candidate of Wall Street, and the industry gave to Democrats by a 2-1 margin at the beginning of last year."

Yet, as Goldberg points out, the generally left-leaning newspapers would rather focus on whatever support big businesses are giving Republicans. What they fail to highlight in stories with headlines like "Wall Street shifting toward Republicans" is that Wall Street is still giving a majority of their political contributions to Democrats, despite whatever gains Republicans have made.

In casual political conversation, it's almost a given that Republicans are in line with big business while Democrats are trying to protect the little guy from those big evil corporations. Could it be that big evil corporations had a change of heart last year and decided to support the liberals in office?

I doubt it. Here's Goldberg's take on things:
The lesson here is fairly simple: Big business is not "right wing," it's vampiric. It will pursue any opportunity to make a big profit at little risk. Getting in bed with politicians is increasingly the safest investment for these "crony capitalists."
It's all about profit. Would anyone seriously be surprised to hear that?

The scary thing is that sometimes politics can actually feed the desires of powerful companies to maximize profit. And in our day, this is how "progressive" policies end up actually working. By being overly involved with which businesses are profitable or unprofitable, the government is actually favoring the powerful, not the little guy.

In a just system, powerful people should not be able to gain financially from laws passed by Congress. Markets should be driven by what consumers want, not by what politicians want, especially politicians who are driven by pressure from wealthy political supporters.

This is why it would be so wonderful to have genuine conservatives in government, who believed not in big business, but in free markets. That means restrained government--not "small" government, as many conservatives would put it, but simply disciplined government that didn't use its power to play favorites.

But chances of that appear dismal, as even Goldberg admits: "For years, the GOP defended big business in the spirit of free enterprise while businesses never showed much interest in the principle themselves."

It's no wonder Americans get so apathetic about politics. For all of our conversations about basic political ideology, neither party actually seems to represent the ideology to which is pays lip service.

Yet I do think our conversations about such things are important, because we do have power over politicians in this country. At some point they will listen, because they want votes. See? Politicians are just like businesses, really. Just as you can always count on businesses to desire maximum profit, so you can always count on politicians to want to win elections.

The question is whether the American people, consumers both of goods provided by business and of government provided by politicians, will be able to restrain these desires for profit and power. This means taking responsibility for what we value, both in what we buy and in what political opinions we hold.

Of course, it's easy to get cynical about that, too. Can we really expect Americans as a people to take more responsibility for our values as consumers and as voters? But we can't afford to ask that question. We really don't have an option; American democracy depends on taking this responsibility on ourselves.

To me, this is fundamentally what being a conservative is all about: I think that society should be structured so that people are capable of being independent--not independent from one another, but independent from ruling elites.

From that point of view, it's sheer nonsense to suppose that conservatism is anything like "pro-big business." Big businesses are powerful elites that need to be restrained from exercising too much authority over people. But on the other hand, it is natural to restrain big government for the same reason.

My only question is whether your average, everyday Democrat would disagree with me. Being surrounded by liberals in the academy, I know there are plenty of elitist liberals out there who genuinely believe in meritocracy--which of course means they should run the country because they're so smart.

But I'd like to think that most Americans do value independence from any sort of aristocracy, whether it's based on how rich you are or how smart you are. I just wonder, then, what leads people to vote for such flaming liberals like Barack Obama.

Oh well. Some things I will never understand. At least I have enough freedom to blog about them.

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