Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Conservatism Is This?

Guest post by Ben Carmack

Indiana, my home state, prides itself on being one of the most conservative and Republican states in the Union. In the past 50 years, Indiana has voted for a Democrat for president only twice. 

In such a milieu of conservatism, looking at a few stories in the newspaper in the last couple of weeks, I have been left asking, This is conservatism?

Gov. Mitch Daniels, the man many people wanted to run for president this year with the fiscal conservative seal of approval, is pushing two big pieces of legislation in his final year in office. In 2010, Republicans won big majorities in both houses of the Indiana legislature.

His legislative agenda? Right to work and a statewide smoking ban.

Union members and Democrats are doing all they can to resist right to work, as they should. As any good conservative should know, there is no "right" to work. If one offers one's labor for hire, one must accept the terms given by the employer. Often these terms can become inhumane, which is why we need government to act as economic umpire, ensuring workers' rights.

One hard-won right of the working class is the right to organize and to form unions. When workers can bargain collectively, they can cut deals that result in better wages and working conditions. They can fund training for one another, and increase the standing of their trade or profession, much like the old-time medieval guilds.

Protections and dignity for workers in an industrial system do not come from the free market. The free market will tend to enrich the most economically powerful, who tend to be the holders of property and capital, who in turn tend to be the employers and "job creators." However, if strong unions exist and are allowed to thrive, workers can be protected of their own accord, without coercive government intervention.

"Right to work" legislation takes away the right of private unions and private businesses to make arrangements that require would-be hires to join a union and pay dues as a condition of employment. It is active government intervention in the private marketplace to weaken workers' rights and place more economic power in the hands of the wealthy.

How can such government intervention be "conservative"? What values are being conserved? What noble traditions does "right to work" come from? Surely not any that we should want to continue. Do we want to go back to 19th Century factory conditions, when workers functioned essentially as industrial slaves? Do we want to "conserve" that?

Then there's the smoking ban. 

How can anyone call himself a conservative and support a state regulating the people's private vices? Human beings have been smoking tobacco for hundreds of years. They have breathed it and smoked it and inhaled it, often to excess, which has resulted in health problems in old age. The fact that some people over-consume and destroy their lives in old age does not make smoking tobacco a grave sin that the state must regulate. 

Tobacco smoking has its benefits. It is social. It is fragrant. It is relaxing. Do these benefits count for nothing? Does the bad behavior of marketers in the tobacco corporations outweigh the relative innocence of the product itself? Marketers are the problem, as they usually are, not the smokers, producers, waiters or convenience store clerks. 

Money men who only know how to generate revenue and are otherwise clueless about the life of the world are the real cancer of our time, not people who smoke tobacco in a restaurant or bar. I would hazard that the stress and dis-ease induced by mindless consumption causes far more death and destruction than any mere cigarette. After all, why were we at war in Iraq for 9 years if not to maintain an economy of mindless consumption?

Good grief. What's a conservative to do these days? Certainly not vote Republican.

1 comment:

  1. It is a form of conservatism, just not American conservatism.

    Rather is the conservatism of the Pharisees -- of Caiphas, Saul of Tarsus, white-washed sepulchers, temple merchants, and money-changers.

    Keep the lowly law-gazers knit-picking their neighbors' a-moral habits, and they will not object to the workings of Officially-Sanctioned Thieves and Felons.