As the American economy continues to draw out a slow recovery, hampered at every turn by the Obama Administration’s insistence upon collectivist politics over American economic well being, it seems more crucial than ever that the American Right remain committed to the trajectory that the Tea Party has introduced and rather successfully advocated since 2009’s ObamaCare rallied them into action: a reform toward free markets, fiscal responsibility, and Constitutionally-limited government. Though neither the Tea Party’s rank-and-file nor its elected leadership has been flawless in its advocacies, its departure from the policies of pre-2009 Republicanism and the role it has played in beginning a discussion that challenges the role of government in American society deserve eminent praise.
Unfortunately, as recent events have shown, the apparent transformation remains strikingly incomplete—both in terms of the extent to which it has permeated throughout the party as well as the depth to which it has affected individual party members and their conception of the issues they face as leaders. In the last month, Republicans on the national and state levels have consistently demonstrated a capacity to fail on all three of the Tea Party’s guiding premises.
Most prominently, in the ongoing fiscal debates over sequestration, Republicans yet again stumble directly into the president’s and senate’s political traps by failing to make an outspoken, pro-active argument for allowing sequestration to take effect. By virtue of sequestration’s automatic nature (it takes effect in the absence of action taken to avoid it), the president yet again enjoys the privilege of pinning Republicans to the wall with the ultimatum that they either submit to his plan or face the public charge that they failed to “do something”—along with a laundry list of sensationalist, groundless characterizations of what will happen in the event that sequestration takes effect. (John Boehner deserves particular blame for inexplicably advocating the sequester and inflaming fears of how “deep” the effects will be.) In what has become a typical scene on Capitol Hill, Republicans accept undue guilt in the performance of their positions, all because they fail to defend their policies vocally, by citing the evidence at their disposal and acknowledging the reality that, as Coolidge said, “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” Instead, they cast their votes like a hooded hangman dutifully climbing the gallows. What they fail to recognize is that politics is a large part of policy. As Ayn Rand said, “In moral and intellectual issues, it is not enough to be right; one has to know that one is right.” So, in politics, it is not enough to be right; one must effectively communicate to others that it is right if one hopes to achieve a long-term goal. Instead, Republicans present Americans with a picture of economic and moral uncertainty. So much for fiscal responsibility.
The problem is not limited to the national level. Though Republicans have made much of the potential that comes with their having attained such a remarkable number of governorships across the US (30 in total), their numerical advantage will mean little for Americans if it is wasted in pursuit of the same statist policies that they purport to oppose when carried out by the President Obama. Witness this month’s announcement of a plan by several governors to pursue higher education through state colleges and universities. Through a plan advocated by Governors Scott Walker (WI), Rick Perry (TX), and Rick Scott (FL), their states would guarantee a four-year college education to state residents at a cost of $10,000.
No plan could better demonstrate politicians’ failure to understand the economic crises of the last five years than this. Beginning with a good or service, X (higher education, though not often discussed as such, is a service like any other), that politicians have promoted as an intrinsic good to be pursued by all Americans regardless of their economic standing, ambitions, or circumstances, the government asserts that the price of the service is excessively high for the average person and initiates programs attempting to lower the cost and barriers to entry. It then perpetuates a system of federally subsidized loans to encourage consumption in that market. This effective subsidy drives up the rate of consumption and, correspondingly, market prices. Eventually, however, the vast quantity of good X in the marketplace is recognized and its value is realized to be much less than what was paid for it. (The best direct explanation of the rise in tuition costs can be found in Spontaneous Order’s video, “Why Is Higher Education So Expensive?”[i])
If this description appears to you to be referring to our nation’s recent housing bubble, you are correct. If you take it to refer to the potential education bubble created by politicians’ insistence, despite market demand, that a college education is the right economic decision for every individual, regardless of their circumstances, you are also correct—with one caveat: the added variable of government not only providing the loans, but subsidizing the cost of the asset in question (education), potentially leading to an even greater rate of over-consumption. (This is not to say that the resulting crisis would be of the same or greater magnitude.) Fox News’ report on the plan quotes the director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation as saying “The public has come to realize that the degrees that cost far more than $10,000 aren’t delivering… They’ve come to the realization that you don’t get what you pay for.”[ii] If college degrees are not yielding higher incomes in the market now, what more can be hoped for when the price is lowered to accommodate many more consumers of education into the market?
Another curious parallel exists between the governors’ plan and a controversial government policy in recent years: ObamaCare. Despite their having all been outspoken opponents of the ObamaCare legislation, the governors are supporting a policy that carries its fundamentals almost point-for-point into the realm of education. Much like Medicare and Medicaid, both subsidies, having raised the cost of healthcare since their implementation over forty years ago, subsidies in education do the same. Now, so it seems, as President Obama and Democrats opted to create a social welfare plan in the Affordable Care Act to help cover the added costs generated by previous social welfare plans instead of simply phasing out the source of the problem, so the Republican governors are matching subsidy with subsidy to the same tragic effect. Should one believe that the analogy is completely lost on Republican lawmakers, one need only look to the proposal of California Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue who urged students to back the plan in his own state under the title of the “Affordable College Act.” So much for the free market.
A final disappointing episode brings us back to Florida and Governor Rick Scott. In a sad scene of senseless capitulation, on February 20th, Governor Scott announced that under his leadership, Florida would be moving forward with ObamaCare’s Medicaid Expansion. Governor Scott had begun as an outspoken opponent at the forefront of the fight against ObamaCare, championing Conservatives for Patients’ Rights in 2009. The centrality of the ObamaCare fight to Scott’s governorship and his rise to national prominence as an executive member of the Republican Governors’ Association and host to the 2012 Republican National Convention make the governor’s turnaround an entirely baffling move that can ultimately yield neither political gain from his support base, nor lasting benefit to his state’s economy. Under his administration, it now appears that Medicaid exchanges will be needlessly established in Florida in total disregard of the last three years of the governor’s leadership and, most offensively, the individual rights of the people of Florida. So much for Constitutionally-limited government.
What is the value of principle to human action? Rational metaphysical principles—such as a belief in objective reality and an understanding of the world in which we live as constant, reliable, and independent of man’s mind—make possible a recognition of the law of causality, the idea that actions have consequences and that one cannot rationally attempt to act without respect for those consequences if he hopes to succeed, whether in a pursuit as concrete as engineering or as abstract as economics. Proper epistemological principles—such as reliance upon reason and logic to discern one’s understanding of the world— permit one to form a coherent understanding of the facts of existence upon which one must base one’s choices, identifying trends and making generalizations. Ethical principles— such as rational egoism and a belief that force can never properly be used in dealings with others—enable man to adhere loyally to a standard of the good and to direct his actions so that the totality of his life might amount to a sum total, the successful pursuit of a coherent aim.
In modern intellectualism and academia, discussions of political principles are often discussed as if emerging from a void, without reference to the fundamentals that make them possible. In truth, all of these philosophical fields and the principles one holds in each of them have a direct and eminent effect in determining the concrete political beliefs that one will advocate. By failing to recognize the significance of principles and neglecting to uphold and adhere to them, one proverbially relinquishes one’s moral rudder and becomes subject to external forces, the plaything of whatever passing wind may come about. Never was this truer or more observable than in the history of American conservatism over the last sixty years.
Despite having long held the title of being America’s pro-business party, Republicans in particular and conservatives in general have been responsible for some of the grossest violations of individual rights ever carried out against businessmen. Being responsible for the creation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, it was conservatives who brought anti-trust law into existence and who would later oversee its more egregious transformations, as influenced by the theories of Chicago economist Frank Knight. It was conservative judge Learned Hand who would prosecute one of the most vicious antitrust cases in American history against the executives of ALCOA. It was conservatives who sought government controls of the broadcasting industry in the 1950s and who have persistently demanded that businessmen serve, first and foremost, the “public good.” It was a conservative, Republican president in the form of Richard Nixon who enacted wage and price controls—perhaps the most abhorrent violation of capitalism in the US since the New Deal.
Moving into the present, it is again, sadly, the conservatives who, despite the positive signs indicated by the their Tea Party faction, remain mired in the pragmatic, collectivist, range-of-the-moment thinking of their past and unable to divorce themselves from the same fundamental ideas of those whom they claim to oppose. Years later, they look back at a program or a crisis spun out of control and insist that there was no way of foreseeing that it would fail—some programs fail and others succeed and who is to know what is what? (Metaphysics.) They claim that those who point to theory for guidance lose sight of the real circumstance, that theory and practice do not always coincide; that a man of action cannot find himself tangled in abstract ideas, but must focus only on the here-and-now. (Epistemology.) They dismiss those who point out their contradictions and the abandonment of their proclaimed values, citing the imperative of compromise as an inevitable part of man’s life. (Ethics.) It is from this philosophical chaos that emerges today’s moderate conservative who remains helpless against the Left’s onslaught of guilt trips, smears, distortions, and accusations, asking “What am I to depend upon?”, “How am I to know?”, “What should I stand for?”, “What am I to do?” (Politics.) If Republicans maintain a hope of reversing the trends of this country drifting ever more towards statism, these are the questions that it must answer, in the order provided, with each answer leading consequentially to the next. And in the pursuit of those answers, it is neither to whim, nor tradition, nor popular opinion, but to principle that they must turn; for it is only principle that can save us.
[i] “Why Is Higher Education So Expensive?” Spontaneous Order. http://spontaneousorderedu.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/why-is-higher-education-so-expensive.html
[ii] “$10G Degree Deal: Governors Push State Schools to Offer Bachelor’s Bargain.” Fox News. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/02/06/more-governors-university-systems-pushing-10g-bachelor-degree/#ixzz2La9571w0