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Please Stop Calling Them ‘Conservatives’

There is a difference between a right-winger and a conservative. A right-winger supports causes of the political right, traditionally the privileges of hierarchy, originating with the monarchy. A conservative has to actually conserve things.

Over the past four “neoliberal” decades — ushered in by Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney, and the repurposing of the World Bank — the economic spectrum has certainly moved to the right. This has produced the total destruction of Detroit, the biggest economic crash since the Great Depression, trillions of dollars of student and credit card debt, the most unequal, corporately dominated economy since the Gilded Age, and the most precariously employed workforce in generations. A recent U.S. Federal Reserve report suggests the bottom half of the United States’ population has fallen near or into negative wealth — owing more than they own — while the top 1% owns about $31 trillion in assets. The American life expectancy has declined three years in a row, and is declining in Britain as well. Debt prisons are making a comeback. The global environmental crisis is a sort of bonus.

Anyone with an IQ above room temperature can see there is not a single conservative thing about this Amazon Economy. It doesn’t conserve communities, it doesn’t conserve good jobs, it doesn’t conserve economic stability, smooth transitions, individual freedom, functioning democracies, or the environment. Corporate domination is a right-wing cause, and it is, demonstrably, mutually exclusive with conservatism.

Here in Ontario, the charade is as farcical as anywhere. What on earth could be conservative about a first-year college flunkout born into millions taking total power with a minority vote, then cutting popular public benefits to make sweet deals for his friends in big business? What is conservative about cancelling the grace period for student loan repayments when faced with record student debt? When TVO’s Steve Paikin asked Dough Ford what differentiated him from an “elite,” Ford explained that he drinks chocolate milk out of the carton. That indeed sounds like the kind of answer one could expect from a flunkout born into millions.

It’s important to note this fraudulence has not always dominated. Classical economists like Adam Smith tried to get markets “free” from the rentier class: merchants, bankers, landlords, and monopoly capitalists who collected the economic rent of unearned income off the backs of the working class. In this tradition Republican president Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt worked to get big money out of politics, imposed estate taxes on the super-rich, and was America’s leading monopoly-buster – something Bernie Sanders keeps trying to remind us of today. Contemporary right-wingers, however, have re-christened the rentiers “job creators,” showering them with tax cuts, subsidies, bailouts, and government jobs.

Likewise after a series of crashes culminated in the Great Depression, Republicans upheld the stable prosperity of the New Deal. President Dwight Eisenhower not only supported unions and had an upper tax bracket of 91% (!), but said anyone who didn’t support workers’ freedom to join unions and New Deal social programs were part of a “tiny splinter group” he called “fools” that would “take us back to the days when labour was an almost helpless mass.” Today, Republicans decry such positions as “radical socialism” and fear monger about Stalin.

In Canada, conservatives used to pride themselves on being non-ideological supporters of the Common Good. Ontario’s Big Blue Machine was the prime architect of the province’s welfare state, while conservatives across the country worked with the socialist Tommy Douglas to produce our single-payer healthcare system. Today’s assemblage of big oil advocates, extremist splinter parties, and Koch-brother-funded Fraser Institute “studies” would be unrecognizable to that reasonable lot.

After forty years of corporate domination, real existing conservatism has become the strict jurisdiction of the economic left.

Social democratic Norway has conserved its middle-class jobs, vibrant democracy, happiness, freedom from debt peonage, and is undertaking massive divestments from its plentiful oil resources to conserve the environment. Britain’s John Lewis Partnership now has over 85,000 worker-owners who democratically elect their division representatives to a workers’ council and redistribute profits as employee bonuses. Community wealth models supporting local worker-owned cooperatives have been used to pull people out of poverty in a handful of former manufacturing communities. The city of Preston, U.K., which has gone the furthest in this regard, was just named the Most Improved City in Britain.

This of course spits in the face of everything the personalities calling themselves “conservatives” stand for. It’s time to laugh these right-wingers off. They are not conservatives. They are the Eisenhower’s splinter group of fools, and they are indeed turning the rest of us into an almost helpless mass.

Written by Colin B. Anthes

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