Bryan Caplan  

The Curious Absence of Socially Conservative Economics

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Public intellectuals often talk about "conservative economics."  The truth, though, is that conservative economics is essentially non-existent.  Academic economists range from liberal to libertarian.  While Republicans are rarely libertarian, Republican economists are the exception that proves the rule.

This is a classic "dog that didn't bark" situation.  What can we learn from conservative economics' failure to launch?

For starters, note that social conservatism is now the main source of intellectual conflict between libertarians and conservatives.  The simplest explanation for the absence of socially conservative economics, then, is that economics doesn't provide any plausible arguments in favor of social conservatism.

But the simplest explanation has an obvious problem: Rationalizing social conservatism using Econ 101 is child's play.  Just close your eyes, tap your heels three times, and say "Negative externalities."  So-called "self-regarding behavior" clearly impacts your family - yet many people fail to take the interests of their family members into account when they engage in risky behavior.  Think about how many people would drastically curtail their use of alcohol, illegal drugs, and casual sex if they deeply cared about their parents' feelings. 

Also note that familial love often makes bargaining and punishment ineffective.  Most people's parents quickly forgive their kids' broken promises - not to mention their heinous offenses.  So why not use government to pick up the slack - to enforce the "family values" that the family itself is so often impotent to enforce?

Once government starts enforcing family values in the interests of intra-family harmony, it's easy to make parallel arguments at the level of the neighborhood, the region, the state, the country, and the world.  If your "self-regarding behavior" can hurt your family members, it can other hurt your neighbors, fellow citizens, and humanity itself.

This remains true, by the way, when your fellow citizens have no decent argument for their view.  In economic terms, widespread distaste for, say, gay marriage can have a massive social cost even if the only negative side effect of gay marriage is strangers' unreasoning disgust.

Normatively, of course, I am not a social conservative.  But in purely economic terms, the case for socially conservative economics is surprisingly strong.  The main reason I feel little need to critique economic arguments for social conservatism, in all honesty, is that almost no social conservative bothers to make the arguments.  My question: Why don't they?



COMMENTS (48 to date)
Art Carden writes:

Interestingly, a lot of socially conservative arguments are based on externalities. They're just not framed as *economic* arguments. They usually take some form of "contribution to national greatness" or moral fiber or what have you.

Ryan Murphy writes:

What about Jennifer Roback Morse?

Steve J. writes:

In economic terms, widespread distaste for, say, gay marriage can have a massive social cost even if the only negative side effect of gay marriage is strangers' unreasoning disgust.

Ok, what would be the "massive social cost"?

LD Bottorff writes:

I am a libertarian leaning conservative who has never understood the libertarian case for changing the definition of marriage.

And that is what same-sex marriage requires.

Don Boudreaux talks of the spontaneous development of laws which requires society to agree that certain behaviors are expected and others are proscribed. Language is the same. Language and social institutions evolve as they are needed by society. They go through the same evolutionary process that biological characteristics do; characteristics that assist in the survival of society are passed on. Words and institutions that do not assist in the survival of society usually die out or are constrained to the margins of society. The institution of marriage has existed in every known society and it has been the institution that defines the expectations and obligations required for men and women to operate together.

So, the economic argument for social conservatism is that society's institutions arise like markets where order emerges from the cooperation of its members. Modern social liberalism is a top-down approach, attempting to correct the evils of the market, or the inequities of traditions. I don't see why libertarians will disagree with top-down economic solutions will support the imposition of top-down changes to social mores and language.

BLM4L writes:

Bryan, didn't you participate in a bloggingheads on Charles Murray's work wherein you suggested that the U.S. cut welfare payments to induce socially conservative familial behavior (e.g., marriage before childbirth)?


I know that you do not advocate laws that force people to act in socially conservative ways. But you do suggest that the U.S. adopt policies that seem highly social conservative (e.g. natalism).

So, how are you not a socially conservative economist?

HH writes:

@Steve J.

The social cost is the "disgust" by other people. That's a negative effect on society that society has to bear. If that effect offsets and outweighs the benefits to gays of same-sex-marriage, then society as a whole could suffer a net loss.

@LD

"Changing the definition of marriage" is a semantic argument that distracts from the underlying issues. 1) We change definitions all the time when needed. For example, the Swiss re-defined "citizen" to include women so women could vote. 2) The real question is one of rights and actions. If the law (misguidedly, I find) grants rights to married people, the question is whether gays should be able to have those rights as well. You can call this whatever you want ("marriage" or "civil union" or "same sex marriage" or "bananas"), but the underlying question of rights is what drives the libertarian view.

Steve J. writes:

The social cost is the "disgust" by other people.

Hurt fee-fees aren't a "massive social cost" as I understand the phrase.

HH writes:

Hurt fee-fees aren't a "massive social cost" as I understand the phrase.

In economics, good feelings are a benefit. Bad feelings are a cost. Lots of bad feelings is a big social cost, even if you think the feelings of those people don't matter.

Norman Maynard writes:

Social conservatives are pretty consistently deontologists. Consequentialist arguments are superfluous at best, and downright insulting at worst.

The limited consequentialist-sounding arguments they do make are really more about signaling. They want everyone to know they belong to the group that believes "doing what's wrong has [and, often, *should have*] the side effect of being bad for you."

As long as the signal is clearly sent, it doesn't matter if it makes sense. In fact, to the extent that sound consequentialist reasoning would fill the room with consequentialists when what they want is a room of deontologists, having consequentialist arguments that make sense is a bug, not a feature.

Ryan Murphy writes:

HH-

Ssssshhhhhhh! Preferences over others' behaviors breaks economic intuition so we aren't allowed to talk about it. Look up what Sen has to say about Pareto optimality and this.

Merrcer writes:

"Academic economists range from liberal to libertarian."

What field in academics has social conservatives? If you spend your time with academics you should not expect to interact with many conservatives.

Brian writes:

I have to admit I'm scratching my head over this post. Bryan not only seems to mix terms without regard for important distinctions, but he makes questionable claims to boot.

"conservative economics is essentially non-existent" When public intellectuals refer to "conservative economics," they mean the economic principles that self-described conservatives hold. These principles are scarcely distinguishable from classic free-market economics, so, while not dominant, are far from essentially non-existent.

Bryan seems to be using the term differently, namely to mean the use of economic principles to justify a social position. I agree that THIS is rare, but such rarity is not unique to conservatives. I don't know of any ideology that uses economic principles as its primary justification for its social (ethical) principles. Even when economists appear to do this, they are really just using economics to rationalize a social position they already hold.

Bryan claims that "Academic economists range from liberal to libertarian" and implies that Republican economists are really libertarian, not conservative. But the paper he cites contradicts this claim. The hyperabundance of Democrats among academic economists is really no different than is observed for ALL academics, nor is the percentage of Republicans or Libertarians. And the positions on issues clearly show differences among the three groups: Democrats are least (classically) liberal, Libertarians are the most, and Republicans hold middle ground almost exactly between the two. Given this data, I'm not even sure what Bryan's point is.

All in all, this seems to be an odd post. Perhaps he could clarify by giving examples of socially conservative positions where no economic arguments are brought to bear, but where the liberal or libertarian position is firmly based on economic arguments.

MikeDC writes:

Linking to that Wikipedia article is laughable.

I tend to think that most "social conservatism" is a construct to give otherwise conservative academics and professionals a way to call themselves libertarians and not Republicans.

To wit:
1. I almost never encounter anyone who's a true "social conservative" in the sense that they really a) seek to impose draconian social control by government force or b) even see those as the most important ends of political action. In short, to most called "social conservatives" social issues still tend to be dominated by economic issues and at most they seem to seek an end to government actively destroying what they see as the social fabric, rather than government imposing it.

2. In practice, libertarian-conservatives tend to be socially conservative in practice. By that I mean that while they tend not to want to impose government sponsored mores, they tend to see those mores as socially useful (as in Caplan's post here!) and live their lives largely within those confines.

shecky writes:

The wikipedia article seems to be pretty accurate. Responses here, on the other hand...

The modern Republican party is notoriously social conservative. In contrast to libertarian leaning varieties, social conservatives are very much top-down rulers, sometimes oddly populist, easily found in neoconservative varieties. Ever heard of Rick Santorum? Michele Bachmann? Newt Gingrich? Or almost any of the top Republican politicians with national exposure?

Steve J. writes:

In economics, good feelings are a benefit.

I recall that many economists prefer not to consider feelings at all.

Kevin Driscoll writes:

@Steve J.

You recall incorrectly. The fundamental corner stone of classical economics is the utility function. A utility function is nothing but feelings. Sure, some things produce measurable effects on your life, but what really matters economically is how you FEEL they will impact you.

There are a number of simple models (I think we discussed two in my principles of macroeconomics class) where at least part of the utility function is assumed to reflect how society feels about some issue. The two I recall were a negative reaction to wealth disparity and a positive reaction to buying domestically produced goods. In both cases, what we're talking about are just the feelings of the society.

Graham Peterson writes:

"Externalities" is the economic version of "the rest of the social and human sciences," which economists largely consider to be ritualistically unclean. It's not surprising that they don't follow the logical implications of externality theory into other human sciences given the cultural traditions everyone's working with.

LemmusLemmus writes:

Bryan writes:

'If your "self-regarding behavior" can hurt your family members, it can other hurt your neighbors, fellow citizens, and humanity itself.'

But, as commenters above have sort of pointed out, this requires that people have their feelings hurt by the actions of strangers that do not otherwise have an impact on them. For example, people must be hurt by the idea that other people have homosexual relationships.

But that makes the argument circular. The externalities only appear because people accept a socially conservative position. If they didn't, the negative externalities (hurt feelings) would disappear. Thus, the argument for social conservatism from externalities presupposes social conservatism. Put differently, one might propose to solve the above externalities problem by reducing social conservatism.

CH writes:

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S writes:

Theory and beliefs aside, it should be noted that as the population becomes less socially conservative (implied here) it is also becoming more dependant on the welfare state. Unfortunately, social norms you like often come bundled with ones you dont.


SJ writes:

Social conservative here. I definitely agree that the economic way of thinking can be harnessed to advance traditionalists' agenda. For one thing, the main insight in Bastiat's What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen could be applied just as easily to social policy as economic policy.

There are plenty of horror stories about the harsh judgment that things like out-of-wedlock pregnancy used to generate. The fairly easygoing attitude today is certainly more pleasant for single mothers, but their numbers seem to have increased quite a bit since the bad old days...and the evidence is pretty clear that intact families are better for kids. So maybe the old stigma served a useful purpose, even if it pushed some women into unhappy lives on the margins of society.

I remember David Brooks saying something to the effect that the U.S. has gradually shifted from a country optimized for the needs of normal people to one optimized for the needs of unusual, outlier people. The current laws and attitudes are better for those people, but that doesn't mean they make society happier on net.

AC writes:

I feel like Ronald Coase would have some interesting input for this discussion. Essentially the same-sex marriage argument could be put in the framework of "How much should we restrict homosexuals to prevent harm to others (social conservatives) in society." (To expand on this, many religious people actually believe a deity will punish the country for immoral behavior so their perceived harm may be high.) That being said I would like to paraphrase a brilliant point made by Russ Roberts during an econtalk podcast about Ronald Coase. Taken too far we can overstep our moral boundaries, and, while Coase points out the reciprocal nature of social cost, the issue of morality should also be considered when creating regulations. I personally believe the moral choice is to allow same-sex marriage to be legally recognized, and I don't see a convincing moral argument against it.

LemmusLemmus writes:

SJ:

I am skeptical about your claim that "the evidence is pretty clear that intact families are better for kids". I've seen tons of research which show an association between growing up in a nonintact family and negative outcomes, but never one that showed convincingly that this is a causal effect of the family structure on the outcome. Do you have a reference?

LD Bottorff writes:

HH,
You and I may have an honest discussion about this issue, but the semantics are pretty important to people on both sides of the issue. In California, civil unions were legally equivalent to marriages under state law. That wasn't enough for some people. They insisted that same sex couples be called "married" and anyone who disagreed was a hater.
You are correct that we redefine terms all the time. Either we gradually redefine words through their use or we can impose the changes legislatively. I object to the judicial changes being imposed on society.
I am a social conservative. I don't object to change. I object to changes made by the few and imposed on the many.

RPLong writes:

What's the likelihood of winning grant funding for socially conservative ideas? Could a dearth of funding explain the absence of socially conservative economic research?

I know some socially conservative academic economists, but they do not tend to write much about social issues.

SJ writes:
SJ:

I am skeptical about your claim that "the evidence is pretty clear that intact families are better for kids". I've seen tons of research which show an association between growing up in a nonintact family and negative outcomes, but never one that showed convincingly that this is a causal effect of the family structure on the outcome. Do you have a reference?


Here is a recent one.

Of course, you could always say that studies looking at correlations are afflicted with underlying bias. What evidence would you have to see to be convinced? I don't know of any attempt to address this issue with a randomized controlled trial, which would probably be politically impossible anyway.

I find the single-parent case convincing, but my broader point was that social policy should seek the best trade-offs overall. We shouldn't put inordinate emphasis on the problems of unusual people, which is the equivalent of using heart wrenching stories of unemployed steel workers as evidence that free trade is bad.

LemmusLemmus writes:

SJ:

Thanks for pointing out the paper, which I had missed and which looks very interesting. Can't read it right now, but have sent a request for a pdf to the first author.

On your more general point, I agree; however, as arguments from the unseen are somewhat hard to comprehend and have low emotional appeal, they will tend not to win in a democracy.

sourcreamus writes:

People make economics arguments about economic issues and moral arguments about moral issues. Many people think making economic arguments about moral issues is unseemly. For most people they are unconvincing as well. Take the issue of Head Start, economically it is an obvious waste of money, but morally the issue is helping poor kids. Thus Head start has been wasting money for thirty years with no end in sight. The moral argument has succeeded despite the obvious economic objections.
Gay marriage is another obvious example, I have never heard anyone make an economic argument for it except for the easily debunked one about all the money to be made by supplier of gay wedding paraphenalia. The moral argument is that it would make gays happier is the only one actually argued and it has won in the courts, though not yet among the voters.

Kyle Walter writes:

If by social conservatism one simply means advocating traditional moral norms without necessarily wanting the government to enforce such norms, I think Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams are clearly social conservatives in that sense.

NZ writes:

Steve Sailer majored in econ at Rice.

This prompts me to wonder, how many social conservatives (by ratio, perhaps) study econ but just don't go on to be economists?

Arthur_500 writes:

I understand the so-called liberal support for Keynes as it pretends to say gubment can spend all the money it wants. However, by its nature economics is essentially libertarian.

We can utilize economic principles to "nudge" a political ideal such as taxing something deemed undesirable. However, economics is about getting the most out of scarcity. Therefore, an economic ideal in and of itself would embrace openness and freedom.

Getting hung up on marriage is not economics at all. The State has no real interest in marriage.

We have offered a tax benefit to married couples in order to support a healthy child rearing unit. However, in recent years many have ignored that and come up with a bizarre argument that this has to do with civil rights. As a result we are seeing a rush to get the tax benefits by those for whom society gets no return on those tax benefits. If there were any true conservative economists they would have tried to explain that the civil rights argument has no validity.

James A. Donald writes:

To get left wing economics you close your eyes, tap your heels three times, and say "Negative externalities."

However to get socially conservative economics, indeed patriarchal reactionary economics, you open your eyes and start looking for really gigantic in your face elephant-in-the-living-room externalities.

What has the largest negative externality? Filthy smokestacks that raise sulfur oxide pollution to one thousand times the levels permitted by the EPA, or single mothers?

On the big island, the volcano regularly and routinely raises sulfur oxide pollution over much of the big island to one thousand times the levels permitted by the EPA. It has been erupting almost continuously for the last twenty or thirty years.

Would you prefer to live near the volcano, or prefer to live in a suburb where there are many children of single mothers?

Doubtless you will piously say that bastards are no problem, but reality is that people pay a great deal of money to live near the volcano and far from the children of single mothers.

[broken url removed. Please check your links before posting. --Econlib Ed.]

Steve Sailer writes:

There's this fellow you might have heard of named Pat Buchanan.

Miguel Madeira writes:

An example of "conservative economics" could be the studies on the effects of culture and "social capital" in economic development (in the style, "country X is richer than country Y because citizens of country X trust more in each other than citizens of country Y").

Miguel Madeira writes:

A problem with using the "externalities" argument to defend a social conservative position is that (specially in the way Caplan puts it) is not really an argument to defend TRADITIONAL values; it is an argument that can be used to defend any kind of value: both prohibition of "sodomy" and prohibition of "hate speech" against gays can be defended with that argument.

Andrew_FL writes:

Because economics is irrelevant to the matters in question. On the question of abortion, either it is morally wrong or it isn't, there is no economic analysis to do. Does one make economic arguments why murder should be a criminal offense? No, absolutely not, that would be absurd. One simply says, it is morally wrong to kill another human being and the force of law is necessary to prevent or punish said action-That is by and large the reason why law exists. On the question of same sex marriage, the matter may be somewhat different. I haven't thought about it much, I don't really care to.

If you actually expect "social conservatives" to make the arguments you want them to make, you don't understand them at all. Apart perhaps from the old "Christian socialist," no social conservative has ever used the kind of bogus, left wing economic reasoning you impute as necessary to justify their beliefs economically speaking.

HH writes:

A large part of the explanation is probably religiosity. The values of religion are sacred and thus become "sullied" if they have to be justified by cost/benefit analysis and the appeal to reason. Basically, the religious conservative won't sink so low as to use analysis to argue that certain behaviors are beneficial or damaging. This would lower them from the sacred, non-negotiable status down to the realm of policy. You give up a lot of the game by making your propositions less than "unquestionably true."

Phil Tetlock explains:

"When people are asked to trade their sacred values for values considered to be secular—what psychologist Philip Tetlock refers to as a “taboo tradeoff”—they exhibit moral outrage, express anger and disgust, become increasingly inflexible in negotiations, and display an insensitivity to a strict cost-benefit analysis of the exchange."

Tetlock, Scientific American

Matt Curry writes:

If rationalizing social conservative economics could be justified by simply stating 'negative externalities', the argument probably would have been made already. The flaw in the initial premise is assuming a child's poor behavior is not interalized through social or familial contract. By proposing that "Most people's parents quickly forgive their kids' broken promises - not to mention their heinous offenses." due to any reason other than choice removes the assumption of rationality. It should be assumed that the expected utility to the parents from continuing the relationship in its current state is perceived by the parents to be greater than the expected utility from attempting to change the behavior.

Furthermore, when you attempt to maximize utility through encroachment of other's liberty you begin flirting with the tyranny of the majority. As Mill stated in the introduction to "On Liberty", "[man] cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else." Other than the cause of abortion, social conservatives would have much difficulty convincing anyone that the causes they are rallying against produce actual evil to anyone else.

HH writes:

@Andrew_FL

no social conservative has ever used the kind of bogus[1], left wing [2] economic reasoning you impute as necessary [3] to justify [4] their beliefs economically speaking
.

1: Citation needed
2: Citation needed
3: Citation needed
4: Citation needed

Andrew_FL writes:

@HH-On the point that no social conservative has made the arguments suggested, it appears to me that Bryan agrees-at least he has never seen the arguments being made. But actually, not citation is needed, it is true by definition. Someone who makes those kind of arguments is a "christian socialist" or a "traditionalist socialist."

This is true because I get to decide what terms mean when I use them. So they are true by definition.

"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'" ~Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

As for the point that it is imputed to be necessary, Bryan's post speaks for itself.

I do note however that you don't seem to be interested in addressing the substance of my point. Economic reasoning is not relevant to the questions social conservatives concern themselves with. If you disagree, I'll ask the question again, does one use economic reasoning to decide if murder should be considered a criminal offense, or does one recognize the issue that murder is immoral?

ThomasH writes:

"Why don't they?"

Because all they are interested in is lower taxes on high wealth people?

HH writes:
Economic reasoning is not relevant to the questions social conservatives concern themselves with. If you disagree, I'll ask the question again, does one use economic reasoning to decide if murder should be considered a criminal offense, or does one recognize the issue that murder is immoral?

I've conceded above that a lot of things are no longer subject to trade-offs (which are central to economic thinking) once they're considered sacred or absolute. But to your specific question, there are still plenty of economic analyses that can be offered:

1) What is murder? That is, what differentiates murder from manslaughter or negligent homicide or war?
2) What is the proper punishment for murder, once you've defined it? Is it tied to retribution, or to deterrence of future murders? Does the punishment differ based on the answer to your question?
3) What is the optimal number of murders? I believe the ideal number would be zero, but in the real world, preventing murder is costly - if it costs billions to prevent the last few murders in a society, is it worth it?
4) Why is murder immoral? If you invoke God, I can't argue with you. If not, I'd argue it's considered immoral because we evolved in societies in which murder was detrimental in the long run. Basically, murder was inefficient, and thus we consider it immoral. Does this affect the analysis.

I think #3 is a big point here. Even conceding that murder is an absolute wrong, economic analysis must come into play to determine how resource are allocated in response to it. This becomes even more important when such absolute norms conflict with one another (like the various biblical instructions that contradict one another).

There's more to discuss here, but it's already too long for a comment.

Andrew_FL writes:

@HH-I will concern myself chiefly with your point 3. I can't disagree that how one addresses murder once it is deemed wrong is a question in which economic analysis may be relevant. But economics is not relevant to the question of it being wrong in the first place.

On point 4, I would not invoke God, but I would regard your explanation for why murder is wrong as bizarre. No offense, but I really hope that no one actually thinks this way. Murder is wrong, not because of God, or "inefficiency," it's wrong because it is immoral to deprive someone of the basic right to live. Indeed, from an atheist perspective, the case is stronger, since we are talking about denying another person's right to exist.

Now you might argue, this is a libertarian sort of argument. I agree, but it is a moral argument, not an economic one. And I would not agree that it being an argument a libertarian would make would exclude a social conservative from making the same argument and concurring with it.

I'm not sure where you are going with 1 and 2, but I believe it is far afield of my point and not relevant to it.

I would also add that you seem to confuse, as many people often do, being socially conservative with being a religious or christian person. I would just say that I don't think those are either necessary or sufficient conditions to be socially conservative.

Jacob A. Geller writes:

Allow me to put on my praxeological hat for a moment...

Might it be that conservatives don't *need* formal economic arguments to make their case? They have constituents, after all, who find non-economic reasoning about many issues very compelling, and formal economic reasoning -- the process of developing a theory, expressing a formal model (or models) to approximate the theory, gathering data to test and calibrate said model(s), subjecting the theory and the models to the most rigorous empirical testing allowed by the data, and so on -- is very difficult and time-consuming.

Why do something the hard way when doing it the easy way will suffice?

The Bible quite clearly makes numerous conservative points explicitly. If the conservative base overwhelmingly finds the Word of God sufficient, then formal economic reasoning is not only unnecessary, it might even be counterproductive.

...that's just a theory, BTW.

HH writes:

Murd

er is wrong, not because of God, or "inefficiency," it's wrong because it is immoral to deprive someone of the basic right to live.

I agree, but that determination must come from somewhere. I'm just arguing that it evolved in humans. [It has also evolved in many other mammals. Yet in some it hasn't: male lions can basically kill other lions' children at will, and the punishment they get is sex with their mother.] We've also had many societies in the past that tolerated certain killings that we would consider murder - revenge killings and the like. This was largely because, without a relatively fair judicial system, feuds were a way of managing crime. Given the rise of the state, this has changed, and now many more kinds of killings are considered murder and prohibited and wrong. I'd argue that tells us that "murder is wrong" is not as black and white as it seems, unless you say that our present-day definition of murder happens to be the morally correct one across all time and space. I'd argue that's unlikely.

Meanwhile, I try not to assume that all social conservatives are also religious, but it does seep into my writing because they overlap so much in the US.

Miguel Madeira writes:

And, against what I (and some other commentators) had write some posts ago, we have a (non-economist) social conservative talking about externalities in defense of social conservatism:

http://www.std.com/~mhuben/bork.html

Floccina writes:

Maybe because conservatives believe that if certain things were not subsidized through the welfare state conservative living would result.

terrymac writes:

"Once government starts enforcing family values in the interests of intra-family harmony" -- most social conservatives whom I know, if they have any interest in economics, see that path as a slippery slope indeed. How might such a power be used in the hands of liberals?

In all the discussions I've had with self-identified social conservatives, only two issues distinguish them from self-identified social liberals -- antipathy to same-sex marriage and to abortion. You may think the War on Politically-Incorrect Drugs is a "social conservative" issue, but it has widespread support across the spectrum - including support from notorious drug dealers, who see it as a protectionist measure to support their profits and keep down competitors.

I would argue - as has Alan Carlson - that economics has a lot to offer social conservatives, but not by "enforcing family values" per se. In this article, he explores the many ways in which government policies have undermined the strength of the family, beginning with free and compulsory government education, which takes away what was once the prime responsibility of the parents.

http://mises.org/daily/1406

It is my belief that the reason "developed" countries have smaller families is not the "wealth effect" per se, but the fact that they have an over-developed government, with all the anti-family attributes thereof. Being a parent under such onerous conditions becomes more difficult and unattractive than it has to be.

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