A New Conservatism: Focusing on the Working Class

Regardless of Donald Trump’s own personal future in politics, his election as President in 2016 resulted from his support by the working class.   The working class is now up for grabs by both political parties, and future political success will depend on who can most successfully compete for its support.

An article from the current issue of Foreign Affairs, “A New Conservatism” by Oren Cass lays out a general framework for an effective political approach.  Consider the range of political ideologies from libertarianism to conservatism to progressivism:

  • Progressives and libertarians both exhibit an inclination to reason from abstract principles toward absolute commitments: progressives prioritize care for victims of oppression while libertarians are obsessed with economic liberty.
  • Conservatives tend to exhibit a broader range of moral concerns giving equal weight to care, liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. “They believe that people need external structures or constraints in order to behave well, cooperate and thrive.”
  • Conservatism gives somewhat less weight to guaranteeing individual freedom and more weight to reinforcing obligations and constraints. The conservative affinity for free-markets is still important because markets limit the power of the central government.  Their quality is contingent on the norms and rules by which they function and the vitality of other institutions operating alongside them.

As a practical way to contribute to this conservative vision, Mr. Cass proposes a wage subsidy to take the place of, and improve, the popular Earned Income Tax Credit, see here and here.

His wage subsidy works like this.  If the target wage is $16 per hour and a worker earns $10, the subsidy is $3.00 per hour, provided by the employer, and deductible from the employer’s federal taxes.  This approach to welfare ties redistribution directly to productive employment.  It would be more inclusive and operate more smoothly than the current EITC.

Conclusion.  The need for less-skilled work is not going to go away.  How will society provide a living wage to the large numbers of low-skill workers who will always be needed?  The conservative viewpoint is uniquely qualified to answer this question and provide practical solutions as well as a governing philosophy to get this job done.

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