Patrick Appel shares a thought from Jonathan Bernstein:
"I do think that there's something authentically different between liberals and conservatives, at least some of the time, and at least in some cases. If not first principles, though, perhaps we can call them impulses. To me, the liberal impulse is basically: We Can Do Better. And the conservative impulse? Don't Make It Worse. Liberals, or perhaps all of us when we're inspired by the liberal impulse, look around and see a variety of problems and available resources and want to alleviate pain and suffering; they want to solve problems. Conservatives, or perhaps all us us when we're inspired by the conservative impulse, remember all the cases of noble intentions gone awry, the cases of unintended consequences, the cases in which problems seemed terribly severe but then they seemingly melted away without anyone, and certainly not everyone collectively, trying to address them. Liberals appreciate the promise of the future; conservatives appreciate how rickety the accomplishments of the present are, and how easily what we think is safe can be destroyed."
This is of course reminiscent of the old adage that liberal economists say "markets fail, use government", conservative economists say "markets work, use markets", and an assortment of other economists say "markets fail, use markets".
I guess it makes some sense to assign these "impulses" this way, but the whole exercise strikes me as kind of dumb. Do people honestly have one of these impulses and not the other impulses? I suppose some people do, but that strikes me as wrong. The "impulse" we have oughta be context-dependent. With some market failures I'm tempted to say "markets fail, use markets" either because the public choice problems are so great, there's no feasible non-market solution, or there's an ethical reason to maintain the market. With other market failures, I'm tempted to say "markets fail, use government" because the public choice problems are not as significant and the prospects of success are greater.
But this doesn't seem like an impulse that you should naturally have based on an ideological predisposition. It seems like an impulse that should be contingent on the situation at hand.
I think it's also pretty dumb to say that the liberal impulse comes from the impulse to "solve problems" while the conservative impulse comes from the recognition of "unintended consequences". When a liberal suggests we act, it's usually precisely because they are highlighting the unintended consequences of the market institution. When a conservative suggests that we don't act, it's precisely because they want to see a problem solved. And that's all before we even get into the wrinkle that often liberals say "don't act" and conservatives and libertarians say "act".
The more I think about this quote the less I like it actually! If nothing else these judgements should be context-specific, not person-specific. And the underlying motivations they identify I think are all wrong.
Now I'm starting to feel like a political orphan again...
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