Regarding the economy, one of the basic philosophical differences between the Liberals and Conservatives concerns responsibility. Conservatives favor individual responsibility, while Liberals want social responsibility.
Liberals believe that society must provide all citizens with a minimum standard of living. All citizens have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That includes food, shelter, clothing, health care and other services. Even if a citizen cannot afford to buy the product or service, society has an obligation to provide these things to everyone.
To administer this there has to be a large role for government. To pay for this, higher rates of taxation must be imposed. The most equitable way to tax would have those who earned the most income pay the most taxes.
The result is trillions of dollars of income are transferred annually from those who have earned it to those who, for whatever reason, haven’t. This includes programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Welfare and others.
Conservatives generally have a different view.
Recognizing that the US went from the birth of a nation to the largest, most prosperous economy in the world in about 150 years, they believe there were four basic principles followed. The most important was that the country encouraged individual freedom. That meant, as long as you didn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights, you were free to pursue your self-interest.
Second, we encouraged individual responsibility. As long as an adult was mentally and physically able to contribute, everyone (usually with their family) took care of themselves.
Third, we had very low rates of taxation, so whatever you earned you knew you were going to keep almost all of it. This is a powerful incentive.
And fourth, a very limited role for government. The government provided certain public goods like the defense of the country, a legal system and leadership. Other than that, they stayed out of the way.
As such, individual responsibility, not social responsibility, should be one of the government policy goals. That will contribute to more individual freedom, lower rates of taxation and a smaller role for government, which is consistent with all four principles.
Conservatives believe rather than having the government pay for a service that an individual cannot afford, the government should provide the opportunity for the responsible individuals to earn enough money to pay for the goods and services themselves.
The key to the conservative argument is trying to determine exactly how the government can provide opportunities for every responsible individual.
One role of government is to ensure individuals can take advantage of opportunities. To do that everyone must be educated. As such, each citizen must be able to get the best quality education at the most reasonable price.
As an adult, when individuals gain the most freedom, they must have the opportunity to earn. Conservatives believe as long as there is growth in the economy and a well-educated population, there should be opportunities for everyone.
They further believe that an economic system that follows these freedom-oriented principles will not only see a great economic benefit, but the country will tend to have far fewer social problems, mostly because individuals will feel self-esteem. Income inequality should be reduced by pulling the bottom up rather than pushing the top down.
The Liberals say it doesn’t exactly work that way. The result of the Conservative view is a very unequal distribution of income. There will always be low-income workers who will be exploited by large profit-motivated corporations. That leads to a super-wealthy class and a very low class. This can only be resolved by large income transfer programs.
As such, they argue, the highest income-earning and wealthiest Americans should pay high taxes. That money should be used to fund programs for low-income people. After all, they argue, every American has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And the wealthy don’t need that much money.
Even with the bitterness in the country caused by the deep divisions of political thought, I believe most Americans seem to favor the conservative view on this issue.
As long as the government follows those four basic principles and provides opportunities for all Americans, each individual should be better off so the country, as a whole, will be better off.
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