Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Real Legacy of Conservatism

I've expressed here before a certain admiration for the more rational strains of reality based pragmatic conservatism. Garth Turner represents the fading strain of realist Progressive Conservatives, so of course the current triumphalist extremists in the Conservative Party had to purge him - and yes he would make a good fit with the center right thing the Canadian Green Party has become.

Andrew Sullivan made the same jump Scott Brison made, to realize that incompetence and willingness to pander to extremists trumps ideological affinity. Even the free market high church the Cato Institute, observing the smoking ruin of the deregulated electricity markets has reluctantly advocated returning to some kind of regulated environment.

However finding the more moderate elements of the Conservative movement less bat-shit insane then those currently infesting the corridors of power in both Ottawa and Washington is hardly a tough curve to be graded on.

Stirling Newberry writes that the misty eyed nostalgia among the ostensibly clear-eyed reality based conservatives ignores the real legacy of the Reagan/Thatcher years when the resurgent right looted the wealth created over decades by worn out progressives:

Reagan and Thatcher brought in hard people. People willing to inflict misery on other people. People willing to lay the lumber down on the working class, and even more so on the day laboring class.

They were willing to warehouse urban criminals in jail forever, they were willing to impose a stagnation tax on wages, and they were willing to let people slip into a permanent state of semi-poverty, floating between jobs on one hand, and lotteries and alcohol on the other. This hardness was projected in foreign affairs, in domestic affairs. It brought with it a wave of people who had been waiting to lay into the "softness" of all kinds - in education, in criminal justice, in economics, in society.

The right might want to run and hide from the reality that they are, in fact, a bunch of conservative inflationists who have a wide streak of political sadism in them, but it does not take long wandering in the wilderness of right wing ranting to realize that what unifies the right wing is not a love of small government, nor a love of rights, nor any particular economic theory, but a personal belief that other people's right to a face stops at your fist, and that problems are best solved by beating the guts out of whoever crosses you - whether in the foreign or domestic environment.

And of course as he points out, the conditions that allowed Reagan and Thatcher to keep the party going as long as they did no longer obtain:

The retreat of the conservatives to the happy haven of Reagan is also doomed as policy. Virtually every circumstance which allowed Thatcherism and Reaganomics to work is gone. Far from being over-taxes, holders of rent are under taxed dramatically, and the resulting lack of research has created a pervasive lack of investment supply. The United States is no longer a creditor nation that makes more from its investments than it pays out, but one that pays out more in investment service than it takes in. The Baby Boom is not about to enter its peak earning years, but its peak "burning years". The rest of the world is not half enslaved, but competing for a diminishing flow of the very same oil that Carter had no chance of weaning us from. Developing nations now know that allowing Western finance to come in too soon, is to be stripped bare of assets - and China and India are both taking steps to prevent this, as the oilarchies long ago did. They can buy our companies, but we cannot buy theirs on equal terms. Worker's wages are now not high relative to the size of the economy, but after a generation of standing still, are not even enough to pay the debt service they have taken on. There isn't a generation of pension funds to pillage, but instead a middle class with a negative savings rate.

In short, the Conservative Troll, not Soul, wants to go back to the idyllic moment when Liberalism was both rich in savings to loot, and poor of energy and ideas to prevent it. When the world was, indeed, ready for a generation long spending binge, when there was a fat bank account to tap. All of this is gone, as gone as the polluted rivers and monolithic network news broadcasts. It is a waning memory, like the sound of Walter Cronkite's sign off of "and that's the way it is." We look back on it through an increasingly smokey lense, as E.L. Doctrow looked back on the turn of the century in Ragtime.

1 comment:

Larry Gambone said...

I think what I have decided to call the "New Authoritarian Tendency" (NATS) which has gained global hegemony since the late 1970's is feeling its age and is on its way out. Who knows how many lives it destroyed in its 26 years in power. Who knows how many it will destroy as it goes down. It won't be a pretty sight...

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