The conservative bind

Excellent paragraph from Jack M. Balkin, “The Last Days of Disco: Why the American Political System is Dysfunctional” (SSRN), describing the dilemma that radical Republicans find themselves in:

They disdain the expertise- and elite-driven politics that the progressives championed. But they face the opposite problem. The acceptance of scientific policymaking as the proper mode of government action, and widespread popular expectations that the government is now responsible for social welfare, social insurance, full employment, environmental protection, and economic prosperity, means that libertarian radicals will find it almost impossible to dismantle the modern policy state wholesale. Instead, the best they can hope for is to undermine it and prevent its further expansion, leading to… a “permanent siege” against the policy state.

This strikes me as an excellent summary of the bind that Canadian Conservatives find themselves in right now. And while it does not manifest itself in the form of “dysfunction,” the way it does in the United States, it does explain the peculiar paralysis of the federal government (remarked upon by many disappointed conservative commentators), where they can’t seem to find anything better to do with their time than pick fights with the civil service.


The conservative bind — 2 Comments

  1. But to what extent are conservatives actually libertarians in the first place (or vice versa)?

    It seems to me that libertarians are a minority constituency on either side of the spectrum (with representatives in parties on both sides, but nowhere close to controlling either). Their importance is inflated by their over-representation among certain politically-influential social elites (a few billionaires; a few contrarian journalists and academics).

    In other words, is the primary political constraint on right-wing libertarians the entrenched power of liberal governmental structures? Or is it the lack of support for a pure libertarian agenda from within their own political camp? At the least, I’d wager that self-described “conservatives” are much happier with their political parties than self-described “libertarians” who happen to belong to those same parties. And it ’twas ever thus.

  2. Why does the CPC pick fights with the civil service? As far as I can tell it’s because they have an anarco-capitalist agenda (in part). Enabling certain large corporations in their rent-seeking behaviour also shows a disturbing trend of fascism/corporatism. Like the tax breaks for Royal Bank which happened just as RBC was abusing the TFW program to directly replace and fire Canadian employees. Or the political push for the Keystone pipeline instead of what a true conservatives would do, which would be a renegotiation of NAFTA to get oil refining done in Canada.

    While their anarchist tendencies (anti-environmentalism, anti-industry safety regulations, etc) certainly suggest there may be libertarian elements in their party, the fascism/corporatism suggests otherwise.

    Assisting corporations in rent-seeking behaviour (but only select corporations) is combined with endless revolving doors – Towes being appointed judge, the CRTC-telecom employment circuit, senate appointments, that RCMP liason dude living large in Manhattan, etc. Call me cynical, but the only end-game I see for the “Conservative” agenda in Canada is feudalism under the veneer of “free-market” capitalism, which is a far cry from a libertarian utopia.

    Social freedoms mean nothing if economic freedom isn’t there for individuals. And I’m sorry, but small tax breaks for the middle class won’t result in real economic freedom for individual citizens. Programs like TFW are being expanded, unions are under a constant assault, and the national human resource planning is based around telling all our youth they need to move to Alberta and become a welder.

    For these reasons, I disagree with the author’s premise of a “paralysis of the federal government”. It isn’t paralysis. It is deliberate and gradual change, intended to dismantle the economic and institutional foundations that enable a modern socialist state. The tax breaks for example are a double-whammy: they get to please the CPC base (thus increasing the donations they need to stay constantly in election-mode), while also dismantling the future tax base which will impede any future government after they eventually lose power. It’s easy to lower taxes, it’s politically very difficult to raise them after.