For years I’ve had a theory that economic and social conservatism actually do go hand in hand, in accordance with popular belief and contrary to the claims of libertarians.
I used to be enchanted with libertarianism, whose major draw was an obvious-sounding take on economics without the mess and fuss of religion, sexism, xenophobia, racism etc. I’ve since found out that the movers and shakers of the real world libertarian movement do indeed muck in and enjoy the mess and fuss of all that I wanted to escape, but that is besides the point. In theory Libertarianism’s draw was that it was socially liberal while being economically conservative.
Economic conservatism is really a rather appealing philosophy. It is, at its core, a very optimistic theory, one that has scads of faith in the innate awesomeness of human ingenuity and survival skills. Leave people alone, it says, no rules no schmools, just room for people to work, create and build unhampered by meaningless regulations or crippling taxation, and we will CONQUER THE UNIVERSE! YEAH! There is a lot of fist-pumping and cheering, inspirational speeches and lavish celebrations of success. Very like a football game in that way. It is exhilarating to be a true believer.
Economic liberalism is the sad and mopey sister of this studly jock. But what about the losers, she whines. One cannot be anything but sad and mopey when losers are one’s constant preoccupation. Studly jock wants to brush this aside with airy cliches like “failure is but a stepping stone to success” and “if at first you don’t succeed, try again!” But economic liberals know life is not a football game. The losers aren’t going to end up with an empty spot in their trophy shelves, they’re going to end up dead of exposure and starvation and disease. (Verily this economic liberalism sister is the killer of all lighthearted jokey analogies.)
The studly jock espouses a certain brand of dog-eat-dogginess in the realm of the marketplace. He wants the survival of the fittest in the economic sphere. He not only celebrates the victorious, but also the death of the inefficient, the unprofitable, the slow.
Now, some economic conservatives might fool themselves that fitness in the marketplace is determined by talent and hard work, but the sad and mopey sister knows for a fact that’s not true. Fitness in the marketplace is determined mostly by luck: if you were you born in the right country, in the right neighbourhood, with the right skin colour, with a penis, without deformities, with a well-functioning brain, to the sort of family that values its children and values education and believes in giving kids a step up in life instead of letting them wallow, then you pretty much have it made. Without ever factoring in your talent or hard work, you’ve reached a level that most people struggle their whole lives never even glimpsing: your basic survival is guaranteed and your path to additional success is clear.
Most people, though, are born the wrong colour or the wrong gender or in a Somalian slum or without hands, and chances are they’ll never even get to look at the marketplace, let alone participate in it. All they will ever be is grist for the market mill.
There is no room in the marketplace for the disabled or the stupid or those erroneously percieved to be disabled and/or stupid (women, minority races, poor people). There isn’t even any room in the marketplace for those who are unpopular with the “fittest” i.e. luckiest (queer folk, most foreigners, ugly or deformed people).
It’s hard to get into business when VCs and banks and clients and customers implicitly mistrust you, whether for tribal reasons like ohnoes look at your skin colour it’s so much darker than mine, or insecurities like ohnoes a man wearing a dress halp my masculinity is in question, or because they think you’re going to take their money and then quit to do stupid womanly things like having and raising babies, which everyone knows is the most useless activity ever – can we see the next applicant please?
No, there’s little room on the “free” market for these very troublesome types of people, who become impoverished, dependent, and yes, even a little bit degenerate sometimes because life without hope can do that to people.
~ sniffles can be heard in the audience as the mopey sister pauses dramatically ~
Here comes the question at the heart of my theory: what do you suppose happens to the lucky ones, the “fittest” ones, when they see the perpetual “failure” of the “losers” who are unable to thrive in the FAIR! BALANCED! FREE! marketplace?
They begin to believe that they are inherently superior to the degenerate losers. They become racists.
They begin to believe that women are only good for having sex with and popping out future workers, and do not belong in the marketplace, and while they’re home they might as well cook meals and wash dishes, right? They become sexists.
They notice how the successful members of the marketplace look and behave exactly like they do, and their affinity for conformity becomes even more entrenched. They become xenophobes, and they develop rigid social codes of behaviour which serves as an elaborate secret handshake into the inner circles.
The best among them begin to question the callousness, brutality and immorality of the free market, and seek to correct it by forming private organisations to encourage morality and charitability. They invent religions.
The marketplace has given these people money. Money is power – the power to enforce these beliefs on the rest of the population, the power to repeat these beliefs often enough and loudly enough to brainwash the rest of the population into believing them too.
The cycle is complete. Economic conservatism has resulted in social conservatism.