In cities across America, free-market ideas have been losing the battle against the welfare state for a long, long time. The November 2012 elections merely offered the latest depressing results. To reverse the tide, free-market believers should think about a brand new approach: stop demanding courage as the price of admission.
The unfortunate reality in America’s urban areas and their suburban surroundings is that free-market ideals are often considered both uncool and unjust. Too many well-educated urbanites or suburbanites have been conditioned by their universities, workplaces, and social networks to bask in the hypocrisy of identity politics or to accept without question the logic of state intervention. At the same time, too many racial minorities, recent immigrants, women, and less well-to-do urban dwellers have been taught all their lives that they are entitled to, and cannot do without, government handouts.
From New York to San Francisco, America’s urban centers are some of the most hostile places for free markets and free thought. The hostility subjects every subscriber of free-market ideals to constant character assassinations and professional attacks. If he openly criticizes President Barack Obama, he will likely be labeled a racist as well.
Given the difficulties, most urbanites opt for an easier path. It is a path paved with the self-congratulation inculcated by years of living and breathing liberal dogma. For most, the dogma began in college, an environment that actively drowns out or condemns free-market thought. Then graduate schools continued the biased education and further encourage intellectual intolerance. Finally, employers in the real world — fancy law firms, reputable investment banks, high-flying technology companies — allow identity politics and political correctness to continue uninterrupted, and make sure that left-wing women’s groups, minority gatherings, and similar initiatives are never more than a heartbeat away .
In the end, a sense of self-congratulation can be highly intoxicating. After all, pushing for handouts that create short-term gain for the less fortunate fosters a feel-good delusion, especially when the advocates forget to assess responsibility for government dependency or fiscal insolvency.
Yet even self-congratulation will be no match for obsequiousness. In time, one will eagerly ask the biggest culprits of the expansion of the welfare state: “Would you please raise my taxes?”
Against such weak-kneed suggestions, free-market teachings have won the arguments, as evidenced by the sorry state of America’s economy, crushing deficits, spiraling debt, and teetering entitlement programs. Yet the heartfelt and articulate defenses of freedom put forth by conservative think tanks, magazines, and advocacy groups have proved to be no match for the hypocrisy of identity politics or the dependency fostered by the welfare state.
Being right is simply not enough for city dwellers who wish to be cool or who like freebies from other people’s taxes. In response, conservatives must make subscribing to free-market ideas and policies much less difficult. This does not mean, as many have suggested since the November 2012 elections, caving to liberal ideology and doling out government freebies (ranging from amnesty to welfare to free contraceptives) in exchange for support from various racial, gender or age groups that increasingly make up larger portions of America’s urban population. It certainly does not mean, as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has declared, that conservatives should keep their mouths shut about a basic free-market tenet — that handouts from the nanny state create warped incentives and distort individual behavior.
Instead, free-market types should think more about new ways to broadcast their ideals not as an argument but as the way that life should be. For example, across America’s cities and college campuses, conservatives can think about organizing events and activities that would have wider social and cultural appeal than panel discussions, lectures, or policy papers on serious topics. The new gatherings could aim to attract large crowds by offering what is fun, interesting, and cool and convey free-market messages as the icing on the cake. After all, going to a concert, a parade, or a party featuring a celebrity or social icon who happens to be conservative would not require nearly the same courage as telling your feminist boss that you voted for Mitt Romney for president.
At the same time, conservatives can do more to convince the impoverished and the less fortunate that a more dignified life — one that does not involve forever drinking from the government trough — is possible. Consistently showcasing prominent individuals who have prevailed against the welfare state through hard work would be a good start.
Free-market ideals are worthy of a robust defense and often demand courage. Unfortunately, courage is not a character trait that everyone has. If courage is required from every disciple of the free market in America’s urban centers, those ideals will often be left undefended against the nanny state and its onslaught of handouts, or “gifts” purchased with taxpayer money. Courage from those willing to defend the free market in hostile territory will always be needed and should always be respected, but for everyone else, it is time to find ways to take courage out of the equation.