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Conservatives Really Do Hate Markets

James Peron:  President, Moorfield Storey Institute Posted: 03/13/2012 9:18 am


Conservatives hate “free markets.” I mean that quite literally. I define markets as institutions where individuals are free to make voluntary exchanges according to their own personal values, without politics distorting their actions. While conservatives say they believe in the market process, actions speak louder than words.

During the shameful kerfuffle where Rush Limbaugh engaged in misogynistic, slanderous comments toward a university student for speaking about birth control, something was missing. I don’t remember a single conservative coming out with an obvious position, consistent with open markets: allow birth control pills to be sold over the counter, no prescription necessary.

Virginia Postrel did make that point, but she’s not a conservative, she’s a libertarian. Perhaps some conservative did make this point, but he or she would certainly be the exception, not the rule.

Risks from the pill are extremely low, as billions of doses have proven. There may be a tiny number of women who shouldn’t take the pill because of adverse affects. But similarly, about 4 million Americans are allergic to peanuts, and one-third of them are sufficiently allergic that a peanut can kill them. Peanuts can still be bought over the counter.

Even something as innocuous as aspirin has risks. “For 50-year-old men, taking an aspirin every day to prevent heart disease and stroke carries a risk of 10.4 deaths per 100,000 men per year over and above their overall death risk.” Life entails risks. We’ve found no way to avoid that. But, on a rational scale of risk, the “threat” from over-the-counter birth control pills is very small indeed and it’s time to deregulate them.

Doing so will have two results. First, it will lower the price. Second, these contraceptives will become more accessible. This is precisely the reason conservatives are NOT speaking out in favor of “deregulation” of birth control pills. They don’t want them easily and cheaply available — especially to the young.

They desire adverse consequences. Prevalent in conservative circles is the view that “sin” must be punished. Religious conservatives in particular argue that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful. They don’t support a depoliticized market in birth control pills because it wouldn’t produce results commensurate with their religious beliefs. They believe the fear of pregnancy is an important tool for restricting sinful, sexual activity. Pregnancy and disease, to them, are the earned results of disobeying God.

When we look at the evolution of attitudes toward gay people and same-sex relationships we again note that markets are more accepting than governments.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 87% of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 58% will provide health insurance coverage for the spouses of gay employees. HRC notes: “The higher a company ranks on Fortune magazine’s list of the most successful businesses, the more likely it is to provide comprehensive protections and benefits to LGBT employees.”

When it comes to political bodies, the opposite is true. Take marriage laws as an example. If marriage was regulated at the local level there probably would be hundreds, if not thousands of cities where same-sex marriage would be legal. It is likely that most, if not all states would have at least one such island of tolerance.

However, the higher up the political food chain you go the more difficult it is to secure equal rights. There are 50 large political bodies: the states. Yet the percentage of states recognizing same-sex relationships does not even come close to what prevails with Fortune 500 corporations. When new marriage laws in Maryland and Washington go into effect, and providing there is no repeal in New Hampshire, the percentage of states that recognize same-sex relationships will rise to 16%. Among the Fortune 500, it is 58%. Our largest political bodies have a long way to go before they catch up with our largest businesses.

Consider recent attempts by right-wing zealots to use market boycotts in order to push their agenda. The “One Million Moms” boycott of JC Penney for hiring open-lesbian Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson, fell flat. JC Penney told the “Moms” to go take a hike. The same group demanded Toys R Us remove an Archie comic book because it depicted a same-sex wedding. That demand removed the comic from the shelves, but not through a boycott, the comic almost instantly sold out thanks to the publicity.

Rick Santorum expressed this sort of view when he said, “This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view.” He described libertarians as believing that “government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we should get involved in cultural issues… Well, that is NOT how traditional conservatives view the world.”

The Religious Right may talk about “markets,” but in the end they get their way through regulations, controls and legislation. As I previously noted, while many conservatives invoke the classical liberal thinker F.A. Hayek, they ignore his actual views. Hayek was highly critical of the conservative mentality. He accurately described the conservative’s fear of depoliticized markets. According to Hayek, conservatives “are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rates to whatever appeals to the more timid mind.” Whether they like to admit it or not, the Religious Right is really the Regulating Right. They do hate markets.

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