Earlier, I wrote about a difference between conservatives and liberals in regards to their views on how taxes affect behavior. Today, I want to look at a more fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals: the way that they view the role of government.
I think the difference here is pretty simple: equality vs. freedom. The conservative’s foundational principle is freedom, while the liberal’s foundational principle is equality.
Conservative Viewpoint – Freedom
Conservatives believe in freedom. Individual freedom. They believe that the individual should have the ability to do what he wants to do, with very little interference from the government. From this value of individual freedom flow values like personal responsibility, free markets, and smaller government.
A few examples:
- Less regulation of business – companies should be allowed to prosper (and fail) on their own. If they make a stupid business decision, they should be allowed to fail. This isn’t to say that conservatives believe that ALL regulation should be done away with (though some do). In general, conservatives are also opposed to bailouts.
- Fewer government programs – conservatives believe that, in general, the private sector can do a better job than the public sector. If a private sector company can do something well, then the government should not be involved.
- Smaller “social safety net” – conservatives believe that the “social safety net” shouldn’t necessarily take care of everyone, or take care of some people with ALL of their needs. While conservatives may believe that programs should take care of people, this care shouldn’t be free (in most cases), and shouldn’t be long-term. For instance, conservatives advocated welfare reform in the 1990s, saying that welfare should be short-term help, and shouldn’t completely support someone long-term.
- More “freedom” – not everything in life needs to be equal or fair. Each person does what they want to do, and they reap the consequences of their actions.
Liberal Viewpoint – Equality
The liberal viewpoint begins with equality. Liberals believe that everyone should have equal opportunity, and believe that the government should provide this. Out of this belief flows a general belief in larger government, and more government control.
A few examples:
- More regulation of business – businesses take advantage of their employees and customers, liberals say, so there must be extensive regulation to prevent such abuses.
- More government programs – liberals often advocate for larger/more government programs, because they believe that taking the “middle man” out of the economic process makes these services cheaper for those that need them. Making services cheaper makes it accessible to more people, which makes people more equal.
- Larger “social safety net” – liberals believe that everyone, as equals, deserves certain things, and campaign for an ever-increasing list of “rights:” a golden retirement, free healthcare, etc. They want everyone to have the same security in life as the rich used to have.
- More “fairness” – my statements on this area might seems prejudicial… liberals want everything in life to be “fair.” The rich must pay their “fair” share. The poor must get their “fair” share of retirement income and healthcare services. This can lead to price controls, which I addressed in a recent post.
I’m sure that there are ways in which conservatives advocate for “equality” and liberals advocate for “freedom.” For conservatives, however, freedom will often trump equality; and for liberals, equality will often trump freedom. There are long-term consequences to each viewpoint, and I plan to tease out each of these viewpoints in future posts.
Question: Do you believe that these are accurate foundations for conservatives and liberals? If not, what would you suggest? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Here’s a very interesting, slightly-related video:
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