The Conscience of a Conservative

The Book of the Week is “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater, published in 1960. This slim volume lays out the political opinions of the late conservative Senator from Arizona.

Goldwater believed that Conservatives considered the spiritual as well as economic needs of their constituents; Liberals; only the economic needs. There was a conflict between freedom and order, but the Conservatives wanted to maximize freedom.

“Throughout history, government has proved to be the chief instrument for thwarting man’s liberty.” He thought that government power grew with allowing people to live their lives as they saw fit.

Goldwater was a big advocate of limiting the power of the federal government not just because the people deserved the most freedom possible, but because their local governments knew better how to take care of them.

The Senator lamented that federal programs were being imposed on the states in the guise of States’ Rights. And the programs were conditional– the Fed was using both the carrot and the stick to achieve its aims while having the states do its bidding. Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. A recent example of this was the 2009 “Race to the Top” education dollars that rained down on the states that changed their policies to get with the program. It emphasized standardized testing, teacher evaluations, other easily manipulated statistical measures and common standards whose results were questionable with regard to actual education improvement.

The Senator took issue with a few other areas besides education that he thought the states, not the federal government, should control:  welfare, public power, farming, public housing and urban renewal.

Goldwater also related his views on labor unions. He felt that membership should have been voluntary, and that their political activities should have been banned. For, only unions’ top leadership had a say in their affiliations and funding with member dues, and the workers were forced to comply. He thought that the purpose of the union should have been solely to give workers the ability of collective bargaining. He made many generalizations and did not differentiate between government unions and private-sector unions.

This blogger thinks that current unions in the private sector should be allowed to continue their activities, but they are unnecessary with the way things are in the United States today.

Economics 101 says that a nation requires a healthy, well-educated workforce. Unions in the private sector discourage upward mobility– why should workers want to acquire more training and edification in their careers if they’re making a decent living and their jobs are protected? Unions in low-skilled positions especially, foster complacency. This blogger thinks that private-sector unions foster a lazy, poorly educated nation of low-skilled employees who go to work to collect a paycheck.

Non-union employees need no protection in the private sector. Employee satisfaction gets the same score as customer service. Free-market competition usually keeps employers in line.

If employees walk off the job en masse, other employers will gladly accept employees and business lost by the wayward employer. Customers and employees can go over to Wendy’s if McDonald’s is unsatisfactory, or to Target if Walmart doesn’t deliver. Low pay and difficult working conditions should encourage fry cooks and greeters to go to school to get a better job.

In the early 20th century, there was a need to protect workers– who were easily subjected to exploitation because many workers were poorly skilled, poorly educated new immigrants. There was limited opportunity for education, and limited transportation options even if workers were willing to relocate to find a job. Today, workers have more resources than ever to find work or engage in professional improvement if they want to.

Unions are needed in civil service, and a few monopolistic industries (such as couriers, transportation, education and healthcare services), because they are exceptional. They are providing essential services (health, education and welfare), or else the work they provide is a matter of life and death. Government employees who are providing essential services deserve due process, in exchange for not striking.

Striking is illegal, and rightly so. There would be massive economic and/or societal disruption, and possible deaths, if they were to walk off the job en masse. Therefore, civil service unions are a necessary evil.

Read Goldwater’s book to learn more about his take on government, and American foreign policy. Here’s a hint:  “… if all nuclear weapons suddenly ceased to exist, much of the world would immediately be laid open to conquest by the masses of  Russian and Chinese manpower.”