Monday, August 23, 2010

Libertarians and Conservatives

The other day my daughter told me that a couple of her colleagues had just discovered that she made considerably more money than they for essentially the same job and they were very upset about it...upset at her. The truth is my daughter does more than they, it's just that the work is not always as visible. Moreover, she brings to the position more experience as well. (Frankly, we're talking about very small sums here. I'm amazed sometimes that my daughter can make it at all. God bless her.) Anyway, she told them they needed to take it up with their mutual boss, not with her.

As she vented over the phone with me about the episode, it got me to thinking about the differences between a libertarian and a conservative.

One difference that emerged was that a pure libertarian in similar circumstances would simply say to their colleagues, "It's none of your business what I make." Fair enough, as far as it goes, and that's essentially what my daughter did say to them. If the terms of their employment were unacceptable to them, they should approach their employer. If they remained unsatisfied, they should seek employment elsewhere. If the employer could replace them easily, and for the same salary, he would do so. If not, he'd renegotiate with them. The market would work. Optimal efficiency would be assured. Hosannas to Adam Smith and Milton Friedman.

By contrast, while a conservative would no doubt nod in agreement with everything in the above paragraph, he might add this observation: What troubled my daughter's two workmates in the first place was not the presence of an apparent injustice -- they were being fully paid in accordance with the terms of their employment -- but, rather, the presence of envy in their souls.

Envy is more, much more than a private peccadillo. To the extent that it remains private, it can, and often does, become all-consuming and soul-destroying. But it rarely remains private, and this is why a libertarian might, but a conservative definitely would fret over it.

At the very least, my daughter's colleagues productivity declined as they stewed over the injustice they had convinced themselves they were victim to. And, as their agitation grew and they became increasingly vocal about it, they reduced, for a time, my daughter's efficiency as well. Imagine what might have happened had they persuaded my daughter and others that their workplace, that all such workplaces, were but convenient venues for similar injustices. By God, something has to be done about it. Why, there ought to be a law....

For a society to function well, for it to become a Great Society, to coin a phrase, it most definitely does not need institutionalized envy posing as altruism, the modern liberal project. But it does need more than a simple, straightforward, essentially cash-contractual relationship among its people. The relationships must run deeper and thicker. A conservative worries about this, a libertarian may or may not.

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