Redefining Conservatism in the US

Here’s a term we really need: Center-Right In Name Only.

John Sides at The Monkey Cage – a political science blog from The Washington Post that you should be reading – recently took on the often-repeated claim that the United States is a center-right nation, which is mainly based on polls showing that many more Americans identify themselves as conservatives than as liberals. Mr. Sides, in a post published on March 6, pointed out that if you ask people about their position on issues, as opposed to how they label themselves, the picture is reversed: “Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are ‘consistent liberals’ – people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics,” Mr. Sides, a political-science professor, wrote. “Only 15 percent are ‘consistent conservatives’ – people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics. Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views. The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.”

Mr. Sides also surmised that when people call themselves conservative, they’re talking about lifestyle choices – and this means their personal lifestyles, not necessarily their desire to impose their choices on others. Americans who go to church, and/or are faithful to their spouses, and/or are devoted to their children, say that they are conservative – but more often than not, they also favor a higher minimum wage and stronger social safety net programs.

Basically, economic conservatism has very little popular constituency. If it has often dominated policy nonetheless, that has to do with the power of organized money and the popularity of conservative ideas among the political elite.

Market Domination

The recent article in The New York Times by David Streitfeld about top tech firms agreeing not to compete for workers is really amazing.

We’re accustomed to the notion that firms that win the race to dominate some technology segment become temporary monopolists; indeed, that temporary monopoly is the reward for successful innovation (although sometimes it ends up being a reward for just establishing an early market lock, rather than being either first or best with the technology).

What isn’t often mentioned is that the top few tech firms dominate certain specialized labor markets, too; this gives them an incentive to collude to hold down wages, and collude they do or at any rate did.

As a certain Scotsman once said: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”

But then we all know that Adam Smith was a left-winger – I mean, he also favored paper currency and bank regulation.