Traditional conservative and liberal values are being replaced by a frightening new politic –a new liberalism (“neo-liberalism”). It’s a phenomenon that is causing western society to devolve from strong free-market democracies into a type of modern feudalism. New-liberalism disguises itself as conservatism, because like conservatism, it moralizes over behaviour, but in the sense that it lacks vision, it is different. To understand this new liberalism, we first need to consider the meaning of traditional conservatism and liberalism.
At the heart of conservatism is the desire to to manage ones affairs with prudence and temperance; to delay gratification and live within ones means. As a political ideology, conservatism is visionary. It seeks to prescribe morality through law in order to protect people from themselves, thereby ensuring a safe, equitable world in which everyone has the ability to profit.
Conservatism is a vision for society in which we can profit collectively by creating a rigid structure that demands individuals act responsibly, and therefore have the ability to prosper individually for the general good of the society. Therefore, conservatives believe in fairly rigid criminal codes, governing people’s behaviour. They are morality-based and restrictive for people’s own good: for example, laws that prohibit drug use.
This ideology is not without its detractors. Liberals object to conservative’s moralized worldview. They argue that the government has no right to tell individuals how to behave, and liberals are particularly resentful of policy that discriminates against individuals and blames their plight on “bad” behaviour. And so traditional liberals tend to take a more humanistic view of society, demanding that social structures be put in place that allow people more individual freedom: for example, universal health care.
As a political ideology, conservatism would demand that governments regulate financial institutions in such a way as to ensure their solvency. So, for example, a truly conservative government would abhor the thought of mortgage-backed securities, which are investments in debt, and as such, are inherently risky. Conservatives would have ethical concerns about the pyramidal shape of investment that was founded on a presumption that property values would escalate forever. Conservatives would have been concerned about how those increasing values were far outpacing the trend of the rest of the economy. A true conservative would predict that this cycle would eventually correct itself, and would be loathe to risk money on it. As a matter of fact, Canada, through some fairly conservative regulatory policy, managed to escape the trauma that many nations faced when the mortgage-backed securities crisis hit in 2008.
In hindsight, liberals’ objection to mortgage-backed securities was that the collapse of the market led to a situation in which the consequences of bad policy were felt most acutely by the people who, lured by unscrupulous brokers, assumed debt they couldn’t afford. To liberals, it was unconscionable that the most vulnerable in the scenario lost everything, while the rich got bail-outs and golden handshakes.
Neither conservatives nor liberals would wish to see CEOs earning twenty times more than employees of their own company. This kind of profit skimming would not be seen as prudent by conservatives, and it would not be seen as fair by liberals. Nor would it escape the notice of either conservatives or liberals that corporations’ profits go toward lining the pockets of a few very wealthy people rather than trickle back into the greater economy. Both liberals and conservatives would expect the profitability of industry to benefit the nation as a whole. And therefore, they might insist through policy that corporations re-invest in the economy of the nation where they do business. Globalization is not necessarily a “conservative” policy.
Neither conservatives nor liberals would wish to see governments propping up large corporations with government hand-outs. Spending of tax dollars on corporations would be seen as risky by conservatives, and elitist by liberals. To conservative thinking, entrepreneurialism is a private matter that should not rely on handouts from government. This attitude would stem from the conservatives’ moral code which would say that one shouldn’t live beyond his means, and this missive would apply to corporations. To liberals, the corporations would be seen to have a responsibility to the society at large, and therefore should not receive government subsidy which would necessarily limit government’s ability to finance humanitarian social structures.
Conservatives , like liberals, also recognize the need for public ownership of some things. Education, for example, is seen both by liberals and conservatives as a mechanism for ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to succeed in a market economy. Conservatives would see public education as an investment.
Conservatives do not necessarily see government ownership and regulation of various industries as a bad thing, as long as ventures are well-managed. Although conservatives might be likely to mistrust government in managing industry efficiently, they would have no philosophical opposition to public ownership of such things as the power grid and the communications grid. After all, it may not be prudent to trust such necessities of life to the whims of a profit-driven corporation.
Although it is liberals to whom we ascribe concern for social problems, true conservatives do not hide from real issues. For example, a true conservative, seeing the inevitable environmental calamity caused by our dependence on petroleum and fast food, would enact preventive measures to mitigate the crisis. He would enact strong policy to try and stop this. To ignore scientific evidence is not the kind of folly one can attribute to a liberal or conservative worldview; it is simply folly.
Similarly, the devolution of our socio-economic structure in general is not one that we can attribute to a preponderance of liberal or conservative values, though at least partly to blame is the tendency to moralize, which is a more “conservative” tendency.
Today’s realpolitik is a new liberalism, one that liberates individuals without regard for the consequences to the society at large. The new liberalism is fiscally irresponsible, treating corporations as individuals, and staying out of their business, allowing them to profiteer without demanding that they contribute to society, and without regard for environmental impacts or the human misery that their policies engender. New liberals espouse laissez-faire policy. They strike down labour laws that prevent corporations from taking advantage of vulnerable workers. They exonerate corporations from paying taxes, and wash their hands of social issues like poverty, health and education.
Many of these new-liberals brand themselves conservatives, because in the name of efficiency they seek to privatize anything that is publicly owned, but they are not really conservative in the sense that I propose here. Steven Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada is a prime example of a party of new-liberals.
Far from a visionary ideology, the new liberalism lacks vision. Attached to this new liberalism is an ugly selfishness –“get it while you can, and bugger everyone else” mentality. Paradoxically, this liberalism holds on to some traditionally conservative moral thinking, but it lacks compassion and it willfully blinds itself to truth, muzzling intellectuals and de-funding demographic and economic research. It assumes that the poor deserve to be poor, and therefore takes no interest in the plight of individuals within a society.
So what happens is that unchecked, the powerful prey on the weak. The powerful multinationals, whose only motivation is profit, and who have no interest in the success of the country they exploit, ensure that government allows them carte-blanche –often to the detriment of society at large. They do this by using their considerable wealth to back politicians who will give them free reign.
This new liberalism is a scourge to the whole world. We now see politicians as lapdogs for the corporate elite, enjoying black tie dinners and limo rides as long as they adopt the corporate strategy as their political agenda. There is no vision here.