Conservatism At Its Worst

I lived in a blue state for five years: Colorado. For heaven’s sake, we even decriminalized marijuana.

I recently moved to a red state: Indiana. Yet it feels the other way around.

Not entirely of course. You’ll find some of the worst roads in the country in Indiana and Indianapolis. I suspect it’s because of the brand of fiscal conservatism here that is championed by people such as former governor (now vice president) Mike Pence. Penny wise and pound foolish. That’s a generous characterization.

It’s conservatism that thinks the only thing that matters is lower taxes, regardless of the impact on living standards or social well-being. It’s conservatism that shifts costs from the rich to the poor and working class (often via hidden subsidies). It’s conservatism that rejects the ideals upon which the country was founded and instead embraces the radical ideology that government is inherently bad. In essence, it’s a conservatism that is inherently anti-democratic.

As noted investor Jim Chanos recently remarked:

In the U.S., an attitude of hostility toward government involvement in the economy has developed over the last several decades. In the U.K., when it comes to the economy, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party both see a role for government. The Conservatives see a role that needs to be shaped and controlled and limited, while Labour feels that government should have a bigger role. But they both understand that it has a meaningful role to play. In the U.S. we have a much different situation. The Democratic Party in the U.S. is more like the Conservative Party in the U.K., while the GOP is a party that is actually opposed to the government, taking the view that the government is bad and needs to be reduced or limited. That’s a significant difference, and it shows up in our infrastructure.

And so it does. Indiana, as a bastion of conservatism, has a lot of shitty roads and streets.

With exceptions. Fortunately, we live in one such exception: Carmel (great roads!).

I’m told Carmel is really conservative, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s investment in public infrastructure and economic development far outstrips any place we’ve ever lived. As a result, it’s a vibrant place to live, replete with cultural, entertainment, outdoor and other amenities. (To be fair, however, it’s also obvious Carmel has more money that many other cities in the state and that it’s success would not be easily replicated in other parts of the state.)

In any case, compare that to my blue state experience in Loveland, Colorado, a city that sits square in the middle of one of the fastest growing, dynamic economies in the country, spanning from Fort Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south, with Boulder and Denver in between.

Loveland’s downtown is shoddy and embarrassing. Yet city council refuses to invest even a few million dollars in infrastructure upgrades and streetscaping. They finally initiated a big downtown project, but did so begrudgingly while still refusing to upgrade the adjacent commercial and retail corridor.

Loveland’s schools aren’t first-rate, either. I can’t think of anything more important than the quality of a community’s schools. But kids aren’t the highest priority in Loveland.

Meanwhile, Loveland sits on more than $200 million of reserves in the bank (on which it actually loses money due to its dubious investment policies and management), and stubbornly refuses to finance public infrastructure with bonds. The mayor and council persons tout their fiscal conservatism, but in reality they’re simply making some imprudent, short-sighted decisions.

But that’s the way much of conservatism in the States is these days: short-sighted and self-destructive. Perhaps there is no greater example of the self-destructive nature of this ideology than Kansas.

If this new brand of conservatism thinks it’s a good idea to ignore public infrastructure, public education and the growing inequity of income and wealth in our country, its adherents will be in for a surprise. The impact on their economies, competitiveness, standards of living and social stability will be profound over the mid to long term.

Moreover, if this newfangled belief in the inherent evilness of self-government spreads, people will be in for a harsh surprise by what such an ideology yields.

We’re seeing conservatism at its worst today. But this too shall pass, Vera. Will it pass before it gets worse? That isn’t clear.

In any case, I’m eager to see what it looks like when you’re old enough to vote. I hope it will look better. A lot better.

(P.S. Liberalism At Its Worst will be forthcoming.)