Wednesday, March 2, 2011

20 shibboleths

Interesting development over at Primer, where folks are reviewing how they align with twenty "conservative" shibboleths. These are in the US context, but fun to adapt nonetheless.

1: anti-union

Pro-union. Capital combines through corporations in order to negotiate with labour; it is appropriate for labour to combine through unions to negotiate with capital. I am strongly in favor of solidarity (not just class solidarity, but class solidarity at least) and am vehemently pro-union from this point of view as well.

2: anti-immigration

This is Canada. Only fools and nuts are anti-immigration here. I am, though, what you might call a staunchly pro-Canadian multiculturalist. Although internationalist in outlook, I believe strongly in distinctly Canadian values.

3: pro-life

In my personal life, yes. As a public policy, no. I believe in a woman's right to choose, on broadly libertarian grounds (no one should be compelled to give up bodily autonomy to allow another to live - I would feel the same way about forced blood or tissue donations).

4: pro-death penalty

Although I believe that a state has no right to kill, to decide life or death, I can be persuaded of the wisdom of the death penalty in certain cases. This makes me all the more against it as a policy matter and a matter of right, because the penalty is irreversible.

5: pro-military spending

Generally in favour, at reasonable levels. I am strongly in favour of defense spending in the Canadian context.

6: anti-taxes

Meaningless. Not anti-spending, so not I suppose anti-taxes. I am strongly in favour of changing the tax mix.

7: anti-gay rights

Pro-gay rights on all fronts.

8: pro-school prayer

Not really relevant in the Canadian context, although I support the ability of students in public schools to pray (although reasonable accomodations not to disrupt school discipline should be made - no prayer meetings in the hallways during class time, etc.)

In the Canadian context, especially Ontario, more of an issue is government funding for religious education. I am generally against this, while recognizing the constitutional right of Catholics. I would prefer a constitutional amendment that ended public funding for separate schools, but this is neither practical nor a political priority.

9: anti-welfare state

Social welfare is one of the great achievements of humankind in an otherwise bleakish 20th century. However, in our country in particular I am dismayed at the distortionary effects of the welfare state. I much prefer a guaranteed income system, while respecting the paid-in entitlements of existing systems. Anyway, pro.

10: pro guns/ anti-gun control

The debate here takes place at a different level, like the gun registry. I dislike the long gun registry as an inefficient use of resources, but ending it is a low priority. I am strongly in favour of tight regulation of handguns and semi-autos, but strongly in favour of the right of competitive shooters, strongly in favour of the rights of hunters outside areas of human population, strongly in favour of extremely tight regulation of hunters in areas of human population.

11: state's rights/ 10th amendment fetishism,/federalism

In the US context, this is largely inside baseball. The fact is that the commerce clause is designed to be of wide application.

In the Canadian context, there are similar federalism issues, like the "spending power" and so forth. There is a left/right dimension to it, with provincial rights having a sort of states' rights component, but it's not nearly as clear-cut. I am pro-"spending power" in general but not a big fan of mission creep in that field; I think from a legal point of view the Canada Health Act has problems and frankly, I think it's a political overreach as well. Provided access to medical services in all provinces remains unimpeded, I think the federal government should be satisfied.

This is really an inside baseball thing. Long story short, government is government, and these days in most places the province is no more local than the feds.

12: Thomas Jefferson worship (except for that unfortunate "wall of separation" comment which must have been taken out of context since he could not have meant that...

Pro TJ except for his farcical views on black slavery and ethnic cleansing of aboriginal peoples.

13: The US is a "Christian nation"

Is that a descriptor? It's not a very good one. (For Canada, the same applies). If it's some sort of statement of political or cultural principles, it fails worse.

I think, though, that the way this phrase is used is actually aspirational, because clearly it fails badly in any descriptive sense. Whether I like the aspiration depends entirely on whose Christ you mean; whether it's a good idea, I definitely think not, theistic states are problematic from the point of view of liberty.

14: Reagan is teh best

A scoundrel with a corrupt, stupid and venal royal court who tried to bankrupt the country while engaging their morbid and violent id. Mulroney, writ large.

Mulroney is his Canadian equivalent. I despise Mulroney.

15: Clinton was a scoundrel

The guy who actually accomplished much of what Reagan is, curiously, given credit for. I don't like him. Jean Chretien, but shiftier.

Chretien is his Canadian equivalent. I'm lukewarm on Chretien and his government from a policy point of view - they gutted the welfare state and yet failed to put intelligent checks in place to tame the monster - yet wholly admiring from the point of view of politics. Chretien is the finest politicial leader we've had in Canada in a long time.

16: Balancing the Federal budget is a moral imperative

Looked at over history, budgets are always balanced. Unless there is a default. I remain opposed to a default (although fascinated, since high school, with Solon's "shaking off of burdens" and the birth of Athenian glory), and consider no general default on federal debt to be, essentially, a moral imperative. So yes. From a practical perspective, the question is more about shifting responsibility for spending. I am generally very much against this, but it is not a moral imperative.

17: Pro- "teach the controversy" ("Intelligent Design" vs. Evolution a/k/a Reality)

I don't think this is a conservative position, it's a nut position. I think ID has a role to play in teaching about the philosophy of science, and would happily see it taught in high schools on that basis. However, it is not science and doesn't belong in science classrooms.

18: Pro-law and order

Pro-rule of law, more, which is a different thing. I am generally eager to see people's rights respected by the police, but I am strongly in favor of a substantial and well-trained police force, although I would to a considerable extent reorient priorities if I had my druthers.

Policing is something we largely get right; we actually more often get the law wrong. This is pretty shameful... the law end should be easy and the policing hard.

19: pro-business

Very much so. Not particularly pro-capital, and usually anti-managerialist, but business, sure. Unless this is unpacked, it's hard to know where to go here. I don't like handouts to business, I believe in regulation to cope with informational and market inefficiencies (safety and labeling standards, consumer protection laws, competition law, some government regulation of scarce but public goods like water, air, spectrum) but I really do believe in giving business a key seat in the table in these.

I don't like rent-seekers, monopolists, and handout specialists.

20: Anti-Government healthcare

See my comments on federalism and the Canada Health Act above. I believe strongly in public single-payer as efficient, fair and just. I believe, though, in "2-tier" care - that individuals should have the right to buy health care services in Canada. I also believe in an extremely strong and robust public system, even at high expense, but in reducing cost as much as possible through public health and efficiency measures (which we don't really do now).