With the possible defection of Vanguard online editor Joel McGrady to The Portland Spectator, PSU’s occasionally published, conservative monthly magazine, a closer look at the magazine and what is called “conservatism” seems warranted. Does the Spectator or its conservative ideology offer astounding insights, a pay package, or a free meal plan that the Vanguard does not? Serious inquiry’s answer: no, no, and nope.
The Spectator’s mission statement says that, in general, its staff “believe in the Free Market, and that the sole role of government in economic matters is to provide the institutional arrangements that allow the Free Market to flourish.” Oddly, the Spectator’s stated belief in the free market has not led the magazine to call for an end to the existence of corporations, which would not exist in any true free-market economy. Corporations, non-human collective entities, are government creations that, due to the decisions of activist judges, have the rights of immortal persons. The government guarantees a corporation’s shareholders limited liability, so that if the corporation’s assets cannot cover its debts, the individual shareholders are not legally responsible. In a free market people would form partnerships, but they could not form corporations. That people choose to form corporations today rather than partnerships, despite having to pay a corporate income tax in addition to an individual income tax, shows that it is more profitable to do so. That is, by creating corporations and ignoring free-market guidelines, the government helps the wealthy acquire more wealth.
If the writers at the ‘Tator had a healthy, conservative distrust of those in power, they would suspect that when government leaders use delightful words in small phrases to describe big policies, something, perhaps, is amiss. When government leaders say words like “free” and “freedom,” then, the ‘Tators and conservatives might hear a euphemism. In fact, they would notice that what Republicans, Democrats and the media refer to as “free-trade agreements,” like NAFTA and CAFTA, have almost nothing to do with free trade. A key part of most trade agreements the U.S. signs requires the strengthening of patent and copyright protections. But like corporations, in a free market patents and copyrights would not exist – patents and copyrights are protectionist measures. Not surprisingly, these government-granted and -imposed monopolies help the wealthy who own corporations avoid competition and further increase their wealth.
Libertarians and conservatives, including our friends at the Spectator, actively support the Republicans, despite the alarming similarities between the Republican and Democratic parties. Traditionally, the Republicans were the fiscal conservatives and the Democrats were the big government tax-and-spenders. Today, however, support for the Republicans based on fiscal policy makes no sense at all. In the 1980s the Republicans and Democrats reversed roles, with the Republicans becoming the spendthrifts and the Democrats coming closest to what is called fiscal conservatism. By cutting government revenues while increasing government spending, Republicans have brought the national debt to its highest levels in history, while Democrats have not only urged a need for fiscal restraint, but in the ’90s actually implemented policies that could have eliminated the national debt (had those policies not been changed by President Bush). Over the past quarter-century, no one seems to have noticed this reversal. Republicans still claim to be fiscal conservatives, and people who call themselves conservatives and libertarians continue to vote for them, despite the fact that the socially liberal, fiscally conservative libertarians have more in common with Democrats than Republicans. Ignoring this role reversal, liberals and conservatives argue based on a false perception of the two parties. The Spectator criticizes the Democrats for their health care plan, even though, in reality, they have none. According to article one, section eight of the Constitution, Congress has the power to collect taxes “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” If the Democrats wanted to, they could justify a universal health care plan using the Constitution. Unless we regard the health of the population as irrelevant to the general welfare of the U.S., today Congress has the power to provide health care to all Americans.
Despite the contradictions of its stated beliefs and its actual policy suggestions, The Portland Spectator, like the conservatives in government, remains ideologically observant. The actual, unstated ideology is that those who have should take as much as they can. Those who write the rules, those with wealth, benefit from those rules. Those who help to disguise this fact benefit, too.
Practically, that is, without any revolutionary changes, when it leads to poverty and misery, the free market should be restricted. When it will lead to greater equality, the free market should be encouraged. But all of this is neither here nor there. Joel – darling, sweetie, sweetness – if the rumors are true, please come back.