VIEWSnEconomic Ideology and the ConservativenDilemma by William R. HawkinsnFrom Edmund Burke’s distrust of “sophisters, calculatorsnand economists” to Calvin Coolidge’s boast thatn”the business of America is business” on to George Gilder’sn”economy of heroes” has been a long journey that conservatismnhas not weathered well, either intellectually or politically.nWhat was once a robust philosophy concerned withnall of humane culture has been reduced to a few slogans innbehalf of the “conservative opportunity society” and “democraticncapitalism.” No need to worry about moral philosophynor social traditions: Tax reform will solve the nation’snills.nSome observers believe that the pressures of competingnfor political power in a democracy could only produce thisnkind of degradation of our public discourse. But peoplenseldom pledge their loyalty to a party or a movement solelynout of economic motives, and the attempt to build politicalnmovements on these motives will prove counterproductivenin the long run. The business cycle follows its own pattern,nuncoordinated with the election cycle. A governing partynthat ties itself primarily to economics is betting that thenbusiness cycle will always be up in the fall of everyneven-numbered year. Yet no school of economists hasndevised a way to ensure that this happens. Definingnelections as plebiscites on the business cycle is not justnnonsense, it is dangerous nonsense.nLoyalty to a party, movement, or philosophy must benbuilt on foundations that will survive an economic downturn.nWill the “yuppies” to whom so much of the politicalnrhetoric about “opportunity” is now pitched remain loyal tonthe GOP—or even to free-market principles—when theirnstock portfolios start losing money?nA great deal of effort has been spent on attempts tonexpand economic doctrines into a rationale for all ofncivilization. Marxism is one such attempt. To Marx, all ofnsociety was merely a superstructure based on the organizationnof the economy and the distribution of property,nGonservatives have long denounced this as a gross distortionnof the patterns of human life.nOf course, it is easier to see the flaws in an opponent’sncase than in a friend’s. Yet, too many conservatives havenmade the same fundamental error as Marx. In the attemptnWilliam R. Hawkins is research director of The SouthnFoundation.nto combat Marx’s economic determinism, they have developednan economic determinism of their own. They haventaken an economic theory and turned it into an allencompassingnideology. Trying to fight ideas with ideas andnto refute John Stuart Mill’s charge that conservatives weren”the stupid party,” the champions of the right have latchednonto the wrong ideas—ideas taken from the very schoolnthat Mill pioneered.nSince socialism was the enemy, the obvious countertheorynmust be capitalism. And the group that developed anpositive, intellectual theory of capitalism were the classicalneconomists. Classical economics was, however, only onenfacet of the larger doctrine of classical liberalism. The tasknof separating the wheat from the chaif turned out to bendifficult. Unwisely, many on the right went from usingnselected economic arguments in support of traditionalistnpositions to total ideological conversion. This conversionnhas produced two major distortions in conservativenthought. First, it has led not only to a preoccupation withneconomic issues but also to fruitiess attempts to apply thensimple demand-supply model of classical economic theorynto social problems that require a different approach. Second,nit has allowed other tenets of classical liberalism tonnnJANUARY 1987 /11n