Acton Institute Powerblog

Samuel Gregg: Conservatives Need Bold Economics Moves, But With Moral Tone

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Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, is looking ahead to a post-Obama economy. He notes that every presidency has problems it leaves behind upon exiting the White House, but we have some major economic and moral obstacles to overcome.

Gregg outlines the challenges: mounting debt, entitlement programs that keep growing, crony capitalism, unemployment. What to do?

Doing nothing isn’t an option for American conservatives. I’d suggest, however, that the incremental approach generally followed by conservatives—which often amounts to trying to adjust, rather than override or completely dispense with, policies enacted by progressives—isn’t going to be enough either. Conservatives are instinctively wary of major upheavals. Yet if they really believe that progressive economic policies are seriously damaging the common good, they should perhaps do what progressives do: implement fundamental changes.

Gregg suggests changes to the tax code and ending corporate welfare, for starters. However, he says the reform that is most necessary is moral, not economic.

Progressives don’t enjoy a monopoly on narratives about the good and the economy. Yet many conservatives seem reluctant to discuss economic issues in moral terms. Crony corporatism is fundamentally unjust. A lengthy and excessively complicated tax code does undermine rule of law. So why do so many conservatives handicap themselves by relying on strictly technical arguments, mixed with occasional antiphons to negative liberty and appeals to be “pragmatic,” when addressing these matters?

The oddness of this situation is underscored by the fact that American conservatives can draw upon numerous normative resources to make their case. These range from the commercial republicanism espoused by Alexander Hamilton and other Founders, to the economic vision portrayed in Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Though differing in certain emphases, these sources share an understanding of commerce and the institutions that promote economic liberty as indispensable to societies that take the good life seriously.

In short, pro-market conservative reformers need to grasp what progressives have recognized for decades: that people who embrace social democratic views of economic life will become increasingly disinclined to protect the values and institutions undergirding a market economy.

Read Gregg’s piece in its entirety at Public Discourse.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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