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What’s the Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives? The Economic Dimension

Posted: October 28, 2015 | By: Dennis Goldford Tagged: About the Caucuses
By Dennis J. Goldford, Harkin Institute Flansburg Fellow Professor of Political Science, Drake University Besides the moral dimension of liberalism and conservatism in America, there is an economic dimension. We ordinarily distinguish them by speaking of economic or market liberalism and economic or market conservatism. What confuses the matter is the fact that economic or market conservatism is actually a form of liberalism, a form that is typically called 19th-century or Manchester liberalism. See, for example, the way conservative economist Milton Friedman characterizes his views in his book Capitalism and Freedom as liberalism in its 19th-century sense. Also see “conservative” economist F. A. Hayek’s essay, “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” Lost in the polemics of difference is the fact that in their economic dimension American liberalism and American conservatism share a fundamental commitment to the idea of market society, the central principle of which is this: under conditions of fair competition and equality of opportunity, inequalities of outcomes are traceable to differences of individual effort and achievement and are therefore just. Given that principle, then, for economic conservatives, the free market, left to itself, will operate optimally indefinitely. Because the chief danger to and source of problems in the […]