Conservative Policy Solutions
Conservatives on Global Warming
Take global warming. Here’s the rough conservative reaction to it starting in the early 90s:
- It doesn’t exist.
- It exists but it isn’t manmade.
- It’s manmade, but it’s too expensive to do anything about.
Even this is a generous assessment. A lot of conservatives are still stuck at #2, and sizeable chunk at #1. What this means is that they’re basically shut out of the conversation entirely. Which is too bad, because I’d actually be sort of interested to hear a conservative take on how to address global warming that accepts both its reality and the necessity of doing something about it. If we really are facing a global environmental catastrophe, what shape would a conservative solution take? I don’t think anyone knows.
On the first, I’d note that John McCain made quite a bit of noise about being a Teddy Roosevelt Republican and the need to do something about the problem. He launched a set of policies he dubbed the “Lexington Initiative” and mentioned it quite frequently. It was, however, not at all a centerpiece of his campaign. Newt Gingrich has been touting the need to adopt a sensible strategy on global warming for nearly two years now and included some interesting market-based suggestions in his book A Contract with the Earth. There was even a group blog called Terra Rossa, to which I was a very occasional contributor, that tried to suss out a center-right approach to energy and climate issues.
None of these initiatives took off.
In my own case, it’s just not a topic I’m particularly interested in at a wonkish level. I’m pretty sure global warming is happening and that human technology is a contributor to it and even think we’ll need government — indeed, intergovernmental — solutions. I just don’t have the scientific interest to get excited beyond the margins.
More generally, though, I think conservatives were skeptical of the motives of the environmental movement and this particular aspect of it and always viewed it as a backdoor attack on business and progress. That, combined with a general conservative faith in free markets to solve problems and lack of same in government, explains the general dearth of useful discussion of the issue on right-of-center blogs.
Presumably, though, there are conservatives who take the issue seriously. Presumably, too, their solutions involve market-based incentives. What are they? Who’s talking about these issues? Why am I not seeing it on the center-right blogs?
Conservatives on Wage Inequality
Likewise, conservative reaction to wage stagnation and growing income inequality has gone down a similar road:
- It doesn’t exist.
- It exists, but consumption inequality is what really matters.
Again, conservatives are dubious of motives here, as well as means. The Left generally hasn’t been helpful here, framing the problem as one of a handful of rich people making obscene amounts of money (Why, the CEO of Acme Corporation makes 10 gazillion times what the guy who mops the floors in the executive washrooms makes. It’s an outrage!) rather than figuring out to make people at the low end of the wage scale more competitive.
Second, most of us do in fact think absolute living standards matter much more than the distribution of income. Bill Gates’ lifestyle is of little interest to me; that of me and my family is of great interest. If our real purchasing power goes up a third and his triples, I’m pretty pleased.
That said, it’s important for a variety of reasons that there be a huge middle class rather than a division of haves and have-nots. We’ve still got that — we live in bigger houses and have more stuff than our parents did at comparable points in their lives — but it’s taking two incomes, constantly changing jobs, and 24/7 connection to the office to do it.
What’s the solution to that? The hackneyed consensus solution for decades has been “Education!” I’m not sure that’s sustainable anymore as an answer, given the diminishing returns on college degrees. If it takes an MBA to get a job flipping burgers, we’re not making much progress.
Just as surely, though, the answer isn’t some sort of salary cap on what executives can make — although I’m amenable to reforms on how executive compensation is set, given the incestuousness of corporate governance — or an arbitrary minimum wage that’s not related to a worker’s value to the firm.
I don’t have the answer. What are the smart folks on the center-right who actually focus on these issues (one presumes there are in fact people who fit that description)offering up as solutions?