I got into the conservative movement as a 19-year-old economics undergraduate at Ohio State University.
My OSU professors were all recent graduates of the University of Chicago and were true believers in the free market. The theory was elegant, simple and humane. I was instinctively suspicious of anyone to the left of Milton Friedman. But recent developments have persuaded me to reconsider at least part of that elegant equation. Never in my wildest dreams, did I expect to feel as much resentment toward the wealth of certain people as I do today. Let me explain.
As a young free marketeer, I developed a sensibility that I should not automatically be suspicious of wealthy people, (even though I didn’t actually know any.) An honest person could do well in an economy like ours. “Do well by doing good.” Serve large numbers of consumers. Give the consumers what they want, at the lowest possible cost.
I developed unbridled contempt for people who used the coercive power of the State to enrich themselves. Bilking the taxpayer, bullying competitors through regulations, generating artificial demand for your product by government fiat: this kind of thing made me angry. It still does.
I couldn’t care less how a person spends his or her own money. Ostentatious conspicuous consumption. Keeping up with the Jones’. Their shallowness was their problem, not mine. As long as they came by their wealth honestly, I hold them no ill will. The gap between their income and mine, the gap between their income and the person who cleans their house: that still doesn’t much bother me. The wealthier person provides employment for others, without harming their dignity.
But now, I have come to see that some rich people are doing something I really do resent. They are using their wealth to manipulate the political system. They are trying to change the rules for everyone to remake the world in their own image.
I first noticed it in my area of social conservatism. I saw people like Paul Singer passing out money to get “marriage equality” enacted in New York State. People like George Soros form organizations to manipulate public opinion and lobby the government. (See the Tax Form 990 for the Open Society Institute for 2014, Part XV, Line 3, here.) Rob Reiner and his Hollywood friends formed an organization to overturn Proposition 8, which had been duly elected by the largest grass roots campaign in history.
Warren Buffett has spent over a billion dollars promoting abortion, “comprehensive sexual education,” and “peer counseling,” (read: propaganda) for promoting the early sexualization of children. This same handful of rich people financed the research that overturned the Texas abortion clinic regulations, which were duly enacted by the duly elected representatives of the people.
This weekend I went with my husband to the Gun Rights Policy Conference, sponsored by the Second Amendment Foundation. Guess what I learned? They are dealing with the same problem. In their case, Michael Bloomberg is the Sugar Daddy of the campaign to disarm law-abiding citizens. I heard speaker after speaker describing “astro-turf” (that is, fake grass roots) organizations lobbying the legislature.
Different issue, same problem. Rich people figure they are entitled to throw their money around to enact the laws that will bring their fantasy ideology into being. They spend their money to promote massive publicity campaigns to manipulate public opinion, so people will go along with it, and maybe even come to believe it.
The fantasy ideology of gun control is: “If we only had enough new gun laws, criminals would all obey those laws and firearm violence would disappear.”
This fantasy requires a lot of propaganda. "If we never run a news story in which an armed and trained citizen interrupts a crime, no one will ever notice that a good guy with a gun actually can stop a bad guy with a gun. We will make a “documentary” that we edit to make supporters of citizen self-defense appear foolish. Those dopes in fly-over country will never notice."
The fantasy ideology in my line of work is: “Kids don’t really need their own parents.” This fantasy also needs a lot of propaganda. "If we just “educate” everyone early enough and often enough, kids won’t miss their missing parents. We can change the storyline slightly to accommodate the fact that some kids lost contact with their parents through divorce, single parenthood, or third party reproduction. But it is the same story: kids don’t really need their own parents. If we never mention in a news story the connection between fatherless boys and violence, or fatherless girls and early sexual activity, or mothers’ boyfriends and child abuse, maybe no one will ever notice."
What does this have to do with the free market, and my personal regrets? When my friends and I were promoting the free market, we were thinking of small businesses, minding their own businesses. We were thinking of Dave Ramsey-style, living within your means, ordinary folk taking personal responsibility for themselves and those around them. We thought that by speaking out against crony capitalism, we had done our duty. We were not taking seriously the ways that highly concentrated wealth could be used to manipulate the whole political system.
Perhaps some of you agree with “marriage equality.” Maybe you agree with abortion on demand and sexually explicit sex education in the schools. Maybe you agree with highly regulated guns and highly unregulated abortion clinics. But do you really want to be manipulated by a handful of unelected, unaccountable wealthy people? I sure don’t.
I am now wondering whether some of the people I considered Leftist adopted those beliefs because they were worried about these very things. I still can’t’ imagine myself going full bore down the left-side of the spectrum. But still, maybe some of these people have more to say than I gave them credit for. If you are suspicious of the rich, or of the free market, for these reasons, allow me to apologize. I should have listened sooner. I still don’t know what to do about it.
But, maybe we should talk.
Jennifer Roback Morse Ph.D. is Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, a global non-profit organization, dedicated to creating a Christ-like solution to family breakdown. Visit at www.ruthinstitute.org or facebook.com/TheRuthInstitute/ To hear more from Dr. Morse, sign up for her e-newsletter here and receive a free gift.
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