Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Common Sense Conservative Agenda

With the presidential election now over, the future of the conservative agenda is being examined. Even as a liberal, I would be attracted to a conservative agenda like the following.

Fiscal responsibility is essential to the long-term strength and prosperity of our country. Steps to reduce the deficit and move toward a balanced budget are steps in the right direction.  Economic discussions must include frank discussions of economic externalities. These externalities must be honestly identified and some plan for meeting their costs has to be established. For example, if fracking is being advocated, then the full effects on the environment, along with the consumption of the resource must be accounted for. This may require establishing effective environmental regulations, careful choice of fracking fluids, planning for the restoration of polluted water, restoration of lands, and creation of an annuity to offset the rapid consumption of a nonrenewable natural resource.  In addition, the simplistic nature of many prevalent economic models must be acknowledged and corrected. For example, GDP is clearly a poor indicator of wellbeing, and myths about the effects of certain macroeconomic actions, such as trickle down theories, need to be abandoned.

Use the tax code only to raise revenue, not to shape a social or cultural agenda.  Simplify the tax code dramatically to include only reasonable definitions of income and a progressive tax rate on that income. This simplification will make taxation transparent and much fairer. At the same time we need to migrate to a system where we tax what we want less of, such as pollution and financial speculation, rather than what we want more of, such as work that create lasting value.

Recognize that tax policy and spending decisions simultaneously affect macro-economic status such as growth rate, employment rate, inflation, and the deficit. Only a broad discussion of the many effects of any policy proposal, rather focusing on only one effect, is a fair representation of that policy. 

Government regulations may be good or bad, depending on the protections they provide and the interest they serve. They are often an effective countermeasure to economic externalities.  For example, regulations that preserve clean air and water are essential protections against exploitation of these common goods by private interests.  Move toward fewer regulations when this can be done safely. Don’t add regulations that unfairly protect special interests, including various corporate subsidies.

Deciding on the size of government is less important than deciding on the role of government. Certainly legislating restrictions on sexual expression between consenting adults is not a role of government and it certainly is not a role of small government.  Reduce even military spending to the level needed to defend our country.  Rely more heavily on diplomacy and promoting peace. Don’t use military spending primarily as a mechanism for subsidizing military contracts. 

Embrace moral virtues based on principles that transcend religious dogma. Promote democracy, not theocracy. Religious dogma is fundamentally inconsistent among the various religious traditions and is therefore divisive rather than unifying.  When calling attention to the importance of values, take care to identify what particular values are being advocated.

Recognize that contraception prevents abortion. Reducing unintended pregnancies improves woman’s health, strengthens families, and reduces the incidence of abortions. This is an important common ground.  Advocate birth control.

Promote good faith—the virtue of honesty.  Advancing falsehoods, distortions, and misleading information is wrong, even if it is used to defend or promote a strongly held ideology. Increase fidelity to consistently align what is, what is believed, what is said, and what was said. If promoting a particular ideology requires compromising the truth, abandon or modify that ideology. 

Because facts define the political center, it is important to assimilate reality more quickly:
  • Denial resists positive change; it certainly is not leadership. When facts challenge a particular worldview, ideology, or agenda, then these conceptual models must assimilate this new information and change to align with reality.  When the facts differ from the ideology, go with the facts and abandon that ideology.
  • Embrace settled science, especially including the age of the universe, the age of the earth, the history of the dinosaurs, the evolution of the species including humans, and the threat of global warming.
  • Acknowledge and plan for reaching limits to ecological growth and limits to economic growth.
  • Welcome our increasingly diverse population including Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, homosexuals, Muslims, self-reliant women, and so many others who bring their rich cultural heritage to this country.
  • Remain curious and open to new ideas, discoveries, and experiences.
  • Recognize false dichotomies as logical fallacies. Pursue solutions on common ground rather than restricting ideas to only one pole or the other.
  • Seek simplicity while rejecting simplistic thinking.
The basic principles of conservatism—smaller government, personal freedoms, and personal responsibility—are sound. Political leaders need to align more closely with these principles while they assimilate the many changes that define our modern world.  I hope that some of these ideas can help us identify common ground and reduce the polarization of our politics.

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