Economic Conservatism and Social Conservatism are “Indivisible”

Original Article

Jay Richards, I am glad to report, is now back at Discovery Institute full-time, having left a few years ago to work at Acton Institute on issues of entrepreneurship and free markets (among other things, he helped produce the films The Call of the Entrepreneur and The Birth of Freedom, and the book, Money, Greed and God), to start a blog for AEI’s The American and to edit several manuscripts for Heritage Foundation. It is a fine mix of talents Jay has assembled in his career. A Phd from Princeton, he has expertise in theology, science, economics and culture, all very helpful for the mission of Discovery Institute. (In his earlier Discovery stage, among other things, he co-authored the book and film, The Privileged Planet, with Guillermo Gonzalez.)

Now comes a very useful new book, Indivisible, that Jay edited for Heritage Foundation on the natural linkage of social issues and economic issues. We are hearing a lot lately about how the subjects should be separated, supposedly because social issues damage conservative candidates for office. But that, I would suggest, derives mainly from the success of the left in misrepresenting and then stigmatizing conservative positions on social issues. As Scott Brown showed in Massachusetts, however, conservative candidates can surmount the criticism.

In the battle over health care, similarly, there is no doubt that the opposition by Catholic bishops and other Christian groups to abortion provisions in the Senate bill helped kill the whole thing. The bishops weren’t demanding that no one with government provided insurance coverage be allowed to have an abortion, but only that such procedures not be financed by taxpayers. Yet this principled and prudent distinction had the effect of providing tremendous assistance for economic conservatives’ objections to the health care bill on myriad other grounds.

In other words, social and economic conservatives need one another, and, on health care, as an example, should work together for positive, not just negative, aims. It is a huge mistake for libertarian conservatives who are socially liberal to try to ignore the concerns of social conservatives, just as it would be folly for social conservatives (of a religious bent, for example) to try to decouple their concerns from the moral issues of capitalism versus statism.

This is my view, anyhow. The Heritage book that Richards edited—Indivisible—digs deep into this subject. In a creative approach that yielded a positive result (and reminds me of how the late Herman Kahn of Hudson Institute operated) social conservatives like James Daly, President of Focus on the Family, who wrote for the book were asked to examine economic issues, while free market economists such as The Wall Street Journal’s Steve Moore and AEI’s Arthur Brooks were asked to consider social issues. (Other writers, such as Heritage’s own Ed Feulner, obviously cross all boundaries, which is something of the point.)There are a number of editorial writers and columnists who might do well to read their product before the political process goes much further.

(Jay Richards’ own blog post (February 5) on Indivisible is at The Enterprise Blog of AEI”s The American.)

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.