In 1987, Thomas Sowell published a landmark book entitled “A Conflict of Visions,” in which he identified and explained the historical and intellectual roots of the differences between the modern worldview of Western liberals and that of Western conservatives. Since that first work, Sowell has published other works expanding on this theme. For any conservative who wants to fully understand the philosophical root cause of our political and cultural divisions with the modern left, these books are essential for your reading list.
But I want to focus on a more basic and practical conflict of visions facing us in 2012, and challenge you to listen to what our leaders say over the next two evenings. As you know, tonight the four remaining Republican Presidential candidates will debate in Florida on national television, to be followed tomorrow night by President Obama’s State of the Union speech. As you listen to these five men, I ask you to listen for their views on one topic: what provides for the general wellbeing of the people of this country? If you listen closely, the answer to this question will illustrate the basic conflict of visions between our two parties, and what is at stake in this election.
I believe you will find that the four Republicans, though they each will articulate the answer differently, will agree that the general well-being of the people is provided by private-sector jobs: jobs that employ people; jobs that provide for families and churches and neighborhoods; jobs that expand wealth by creating new goods and services, and return on investments to be re-invested to create new jobs; jobs that provide tax revenue for our infrastructure and schools; and jobs that channel and nourish individuals’ energies, hopes, dreams and ambitions. In turn, they see the role of government, like a private-sector business sees its staff or administrative departments—necessary to provide security and support for the people engaged in the creation of revenue for the company, or in this case for the creation of wealth by the private sector, but not as the primary creator of that revenue or wealth. For more than a generation, the private sector has been reducing the footprint of staff and administrative jobs, and making those functions more responsive to the needs of the people producing the goods and services, and the revenue, of their businesses, and conservatives believe that government at all levels should be similarly reformed. It doesn’t matter whether the conservative has been a lifetime elected official, a private-equity investor, or an entrepreneurial professional, conservatives share this fundamental view.
But what you will hear from President Obama is a completely different vision. He and his fellow travelers believe that government provides for the well-being of the people, and that all institutions, including private-sector businesses, function at the pleasure and direction of the government. Whether it is a re-distributive stimulus to try and spark employment, re-distributing resources to increase public-sector employment, or increasing taxes and then re-distributing them from providing security and infrastructure to providing entitlements, the underlying vision is that government owns and controls your wealth to use as it sees fit to provide for the “masses.”
Let’s see how the left’s vision works in the real world. Take public elementary and secondary education. The production of education occurs in the classroom between the teacher and the student. While we have re-distributed so much money to school districts over the last generation that we by far lead the world in per pupil expenditures, look at where it has gone. It hasn’t gone to the classroom, but instead to bloat the size and scope of staff and administration and their facilities to the extent that in many school districts the number of staff and administrators now equals or exceeds the number of teachers. When government sees itself as providing for the well-being of society, it increases its size, and runs every agency the same way—the perpetuation of the agency through increasing employment of staff and administration is seen as more important than the production of the service the agency was designed to provide. Because of this inherent inefficiency, little or no effective service is provided, and the wellbeing of the people is not furthered. Rather than reform this model, the left’s insane answer is to just continue to increase the wealth redistribution and the size of government until they “get it right.” The joke on all of us is that they’ll never get it right following this model.
The left’s model—its vision—simply doesn’t work in the real world over the long run. Not in Europe, and not here. And, as we are seeing in Greece, and throughout the Western world, we can’t afford (culturally, economically, or politically) indulging this vision anymore.
Regardless of who you are supporting in the Republican primaries this year, remember that it is this basic conflict of visions between the importance of a private sector job and the importance of bureaus and bureaucrats, which is at the foundation of our battle this year for our nation’s future.