Friday, September 26, 2008

Vulgar Conservatism

If you ever venture around the LeftLibertarian Yahoo Group, or read much from the left libertarian blogsphere, you'll notice a term we use quite often - "vulgar libertarianism".

Vulgar Libertarianism is a term coined by Kevin Carson and it refers to those who use libertarian words and ideas to promote or excuse definitely unlibertarian actions. The Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute are examples - they say they promote free markets and enterprise, but have no qualms with government bailouts or the enforcement of laws and regulations designed to favour certain companies or industries to the detriment of others. (Update: To be fair in this instance, the Cato Institute is against the bailout. However, they have been known to indulge in vulgar libertarian at other times, which is why they are included in this.)

For all their talk, these people aren't libertarians, but economic fascists who merely want the state to work for their enrichment and benefit, rather than removing state barriers and enhancing liberty.

With the current meltdown in the US economy affecting our election, we are witnessing the rise of what I call Vulgar Conservatism. That is, the use, by the Conservative Party and their supporters, of the myth that the CPC is a party of small government and free markets. Even some Conservatives I respect and that are normally quite intelligent, are repeating this talking point.

The most obvious example is the idea that only Harper and the CPC are fiscally conservative and responsible to ride out tough economic times. And while Harper talks that way, he and Jim Flaherty act different. As Andrew Coyne pointed out a year-and-a-half ago:

The budget maintains, notwithstanding a $25-billion increase in spending over two years, that the government is showing unwavering fiscal discipline. How? Because it has kept the growth in spending to no more than the growth in the economy, “on average.”

Now, people like me would argue the percent-of-GDP measure is misleading: it implies that, so long as spending has not grown faster than the economy, it has not grown at all. But I suppose that’s within the bounds of acceptable political chicanery.

Or would be, if in fact spending had grown slower than the economy. But, again, the budget’s own figures show that it hasn’t. Program spending was 12.8% of GDP in fiscal 2006, 13.1% in 2007, and will be 13.3% in 2008.

How, then, do the Tories maintain that spending has grown no faster than the economy, even “on average?” By including in the average fiscal 2006, a year in which nominal spending actually declined slightly (though only after a nearly 15% gain the previous year). Just one problem: the Liberals were in power in fiscal 2006, or all but the last two months of it. The Tories are claiming credit for Liberal “restraint.”

Or, as he put it a few days earlier:

"With this budget -- including another 6% increase in spending, on top of last year’s 8% blowout -- Jim Flaherty officially becomes the biggest spending finance minister in the history of Canada.

It’s true. The $200-billion in program spending Mr. Flaherty has budgeted for this year works out to about $5,800 for every man, woman and child in Canada. Even adjusting for inflation and increases in population, that’s more than Paul Martin spent in his frantic last hours. It is more than the Mulroney government spent in its last days. It is more than the Trudeau government spent in the depths of the early 1980s recession. All of these past benchmarks of out-of-control spending must now be retired. Jim Flaherty has outdone them all."[emphasis mine]

That is "vulgar conservatism". Say you are for fiscal responsibility and restraint and act completely the opposite. His assessment of the 2008 Flaherty budget wasn't much better.

This is fiscal conservatism, apparently - outspending Paul Martin, Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau at their worst, while cutting taxes (or claiming to). I was under the impression fiscal conservatism was about reducing taxes and spending, keeping the books balanced and getting government "out of the way".

Then this same Prime Minister and Conservative Party claim that it is the opposition that will drive the country into deficit and only they can keep us afloat. Even after their actual record while in office and even after their own "orgy of pre-election spending", amounting to $8.8 billion or $94 million per day. And after years of massive surpluses under the Liberals, it was the Conservatives that sunk into deficit this spring for a few months. It is the Conservatives that cut $45 million in arts funding under the guise of fiscal prudence while maintaining $1.5 billion in subsidies to the most profitable industry on the planet, oil and gas.

Reminds me of when Jim Flaherty was the Finance Minister in Ontario under Harris and Eaves and drove us into deficit, while telling us we were in surplus. Deja vu?

This is nothing compared to the very idea that someone can be a small-government fiscal conservative on one hand, while demanding the state intervene in private matters such as marriage or abortion on the other. They wish to move the state out of the boardroom and into the bedroom.

Now that is a lot of things - populist, authoritarian, reactionary - but it is not "conservative". It is a repeat of both Reagan and Bush, where promises of small government and fiscal prudence gave way to growth in government and massive debt and deficit.

Right now, no party is fiscally conservative and no party has sensible plans to manage government finances well. But only the Conservative Party is trying to tell you that they are the "natural fiscal responsibility party" when they are not.

Ask your self this - if you suddenly found yourself in a lower paying job, with less income than last year or the year before, would you opt to spend more money or less? Seems Stephen Harper would spend more, but have you stop buying one coffee a day and call it fiscal conservatism and think that will get you through the hard times.

That is vulgar conservatism and that is what the Conservative Party is.

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At 12:35 PM, Blogger Pal Hal Pall said...

Excellent entry. It is indeed quite true that the Conservative Party and the Conservative movement in general is fraught with contradictions. I also find it amazing how Conservatives can advocate small government, but excuse military spending from the equation. Bush is (I think) the biggest spender of all American presidents, and that is because of the obese military budget. This should count as a public expenditure just like anything else, and it would if we'd finally cut out the patriotism and the taboo surrounding any kind of discussion of military matters.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger susansmith said...

They wish to move the state out of the boardroom and into the bedroom after screwing over the kitchen table.


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