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Team Reebok versus Team Nike is not exactly an appealing political choice for most people. Sure, some voters like the hip Progressive feel of the Team Reebok shoes while others prefer the massive corporate influence of Team Nike.

My sense is that politically we will always have a choice that boils largely to having a world run by elites who either prefer truly liberal social policies and attitudes but very illiberal economic ones, or elites who prefer truly illiberal social policies and attitudes while supporting liberal economic policies.

Before thinking about the choice, I’d remind you that Team Donkey which nominally pays heed to a liberal social program often does things that are not in the interests of a liberal social order (more on that later). Similarly, Team Elephant is really no friend of a liberal economic order, despite paying great lip service to it.

Now, I prefer neither Nikes nor Reeboks, I like New Balance shoes myself, but what if we were forced to choose between these two alternative regimes – which would be superior? Another way of asking this question is, “Why do you rail so much more on Progressives than Conservatives?”

The very short answer is that it is far easier to ignore, blow-off, civilly disobey restrictive conservative social policies than it is to blow-off and ignore restrictive economic policies. For example, the protectionism favored by the Progressive left has been show throughout all of human history to make countries miserably poor – going farther back than the disasterous Chinese Ming experience, all the way up to modern sugar subsidies and tariffs. Or think about restrictive tax policy – it is overwhelmingly clear that a confiscatory state reduces incentives to work, save and invest, and thus makes everyone (except criminals and the government elite) poorer than otherwise.  While you might argue that I can ignore bad economic policy by working in the black market, I cannot avoid the fact that I am much poorer as a result of bad economic policy than I otherwise would be. So, I will have fewer medicines, fewer conveniences, less time for leisure, a dirtier environment, a colder home oin winter and a warmer home in summer, and so forth – and there is nothing I can do to call forth the wondrous things which come along with economic growth.

What about restrictive social policies – such as those banning gay marriage, institutionalizing certain religions, etc.? In that world, we presumably would have a wealth of economic resources at our disposal, so at least we’d be better fed, more comfortable, etc. But more important, I argue that social mores are very difficult to police, so operating in the black market in your social life is far more a realistic option than in your economic life. Furthermore, when the government pursues stupid social policies, it does not generally extinguish from existence the very social policies you wish to follow. For example, if I wish to engage in sexual activity with other men, whether the government allows it or not, I am physically able to do it – and it is awfully difficult for that kind of activity to be effectively policed, especially if much of society sympathizes with my desires. The act of saying, homesexual activity is illegal, does not make it go away. No doubt it would diminish my pleasure with such a lifestyle, and make it harder to find partners, but unlike economic restrictions, the actual thing I am interested in does not go away. When you pursue awful economic policies, you cannot make 1950 appear like 2010.

Furthermore, another reason to support a liberal economic order is that, as Hayek (and history) cogently showed us, it is highly likely that liberal economic institutions will lead to the liberalization of social institutions as well.

Of course there’s lots more to say, but that is a glimpse as to why I hold particular contempt for the “Progressives” who worship at the alter of government. Believe me, modern Conservatives are not much better.

One Response to “If You Could Have Only One”

  1. Harry says:

    I might average a second per day bothering about how other people live their lives, but I do worry about the forces that threaten my family’s future. Larry Kudlow says it best: free market capitalism is the best road to prosperity.

    Does that make me a modern conservative?

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