Sunday, September 6, 2009

Are Conservative Christians Dupes of Big Business?

This is a commonly heard charge made by liberals against conservative Christians, who, motivated by concern for social issues like abortion, euthanasia, marriage, etc., vote Republican. Now, is this valid? What are the assumptions behind this charge?

First, it is assumed that support for capitalism means support for giant, impersonal, multi-national corporations. But conservatives who support capitalism are primarily concerned to defend the family farm, small business, the right of people to go into business for themselves, low taxation, less government regulation and interference with local businesses etc. Many conservatives tend to be suspicious of giant multi-national corporations, which are perceived by conservatives as being in bed with big government and the enemy of small and medium sized businesses. So support for free enterprise is not necessarily a blank checque for big business.

Second, conservatives regard liberals as "dupes of big government." Liberals seem to think that because governments are elected democratically and corporation boards are elected by shareholders, that automatically means that government is benign. Conservatives are suspicious of this and for good reason. The gigantic bureaucratic welfare state is not run by the "people" but by the managerial class of experts and civil servants, who get to impose their worldview and their morals on the population as a whole. The average conservative is as alienated from big government as the average liberal is alienated from big business.

Third, both big government and big business pose a threat to individual freedom and can easily become tyranical. Both are so big as to be a constant threat to overthrow the rule of law and both can exercise vast power over ordinary individuals, families and civic organizations. But the difference between conservativism and collectivism is that in collectivism the power is infinitely more concentrated in fewer sets of hands. In a capitalist system money and power are dispersed among many hands and there are multiple power centers. Liberals are naively willing not only to place all economic power in the hands of the bureaucratic state, they are also impatient with the division of powers wisely built into the American political system that makes fundamental change very difficult. If the problem, from a liberal point of view, is that multi-national corporations exert too much power and influence in the world, then the solution cannot be to combine their power into one set of hands and join it to the power of the state!

Fourth, conservatives are not naive about the potential of big business to do bad things (ranging from fixing prices to harming the environment to exploiting workers), but they are also not naive about the utopian faith that placing all power in the hands of the managerial class of the bureaucratic welfare state will get rid of all these problems. Competition is good for the individual; monopoly is bad. Yet, while monopoly capitalism is the least attractive aspect of capitalism, that is the one aspect of it which is preserved and intensified under socialism! Conservative argue that the solution to the problem of too little competition is more competition, not less!

Fifth, conservatives who believe in free enterprise do not beleive that government has no role to play in the economy. On the contrary they hold that the government plays a vital role as umpire, the entity which sets the rules for competition, the source of democratically mandated rules by which corporations must operate. When a rule is made for all business to follow, then justice is blind and we have the rule of law operating. No one business or person is singled out for harm or benefit. It is fair for all. But in collectivism, the rule of law is replaced by administrative law operated by bureaucrats whose job it is to ensure equality of outcome. This is not the rule of law; it is the rule of bureaucracy. In collectivism, in order to ensure equality of outcome, there has to be unfairness to individuals. When government abandons its proper role as rule-maker and rule-enforcer, then it becomes unjust and tyranical. And its main function is discredited because one of the competitors is now both competitor and umpire.

Conservative Christians are not dupes of big business because they are well-aware of the failings of business and the ways in which they are a threat to liberty, especially under conditions of monopoly. But considering that the alternatives offered by collectivism only serve to intensify and deepen the problems, conservatives believe that the status quo is better than the proposed solution. The real question conservatives wonder about is why are liberals the dupes of big government?

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