Fiscally Liberal, Socially Aware

In his October 4 article entitled “Socially Liberal, Fiscally Informed,” Carson Wardell ’16 embarked upon a quixotic quest to define socially liberal fiscal conservatism, a chimera of 21st-century political ideology. I find fault with the article, which overlooks the fact that liberal fiscal policies and liberal social policies are inseparable. In fact, Wardell argues often for many of the “conservative” ideas of meritocracy, fairness and a balanced economy that are actually at the heart of liberal policy. Similarly, several of the “fiscally conservative” policies he promotes are nothing more than the responsible implementation of liberal economic policies.

When Wardell discusses the idea of a meritocracy, he says, “true equality, true meritocracy, and true socioeconomic mobility can only be achieved through conservative fiscal and monetary policy.” I disagree. Referencing a meritocracy within an argument for fiscal monetary policy is intrinsically problematic because fiscally conservative policies foment inundating eddies of poverty concentrated in urban areas. By advocating for minimal market regulation and tax cuts for the wealthy while opposing government-funded social programs and refusing to increase the federal minimum wage, fiscal conservatives actually eliminate the possibility of a true meritocracy. They do so by denying inhabitants of underprivileged areas equal opportunity for economic success.

In December of 2012, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that tax revenue only covers 80 percent of federal expenditures, and from here on out we will face $800 billion in yearly deficits. The CBO also reports that raising taxes on America’s richest households could entirely resolve the U.S. debt problems. Tax revenue could be used to better failing urban schools, which would allow impoverished children an equal footing, or at least a better shot, in a meritocracy. Nonetheless, conservatives run for cover at the very mention of using the words “tax” and “raise” in the same sentence and instead provide tax cuts galore for the über-rich, as demonstrated by the Bush tax cuts of the early 2000s.

When we fail to regulate corporations and banks, the everyman consumer is left at the mercy of commercial monopolies, as well as predatory banking practices such as high-interest loans and mortgage traps. Leaving consumers vulnerable to such practices precludes any notion of an American meritocracy, because the victims of unfair economic practices (typically minorities and the middle and lower classes) end up having no shot in the system. By repealing the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, Republicans destroyed the very law designed to protect us from these practices.

Finally, in his argument against raising the federal minimum wage, Wardell underestimates the feasibility of living off just $7.25/hr. For example, in the 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama reported that “a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year…. A family of four who earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line.” Fiscal liberals advocate raising the minimum wage in order to allow America’s impoverished families access to essential opportunities, including the ability to send children to college. This idea is a liberal social and fiscal policy: it uses economic regulations to right a social wrong.

Conservatives argue the fecklessness of the welfare system, but government-funded social programs are key in the attempt to eradicate the inequity that has been propagated by conservative policies. Liberal social and economic policy seeks to raise oppressed and disadvantaged individuals, households, and communities to a position of equal opportunity in which they can adequately compete in a (regulated) free market and stand a fair shot in a meritocratic society. The conservative fiscal policy that my classmate Carson so confidently boasts aims to jump right into it by removing all regulations, ignoring the important phase in which we ensure that equal opportunities exist for all.

We must abandon this search for the “Bigfoot” of political ideology, while simultaneously expelling the modern myth that liberal economics invariably feature careless and exorbitant government spending. Wealth equity is, and always will be, the crux of liberal economic policy. When we allow fiscally conservative policies to implement a system in which certain groups of individuals are in a state of perpetual disadvantage, we deny them the opportunity to contribute as productive members of a democratic society. In contrast, by supporting higher taxes for the rich, stricter regulation of banks and large corporations and the continuation of vital social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, liberals support the furthering of an America in which social or economic oppression does not pose a threat to minorities, and in which equal opportunities abound for all.

Until equity of opportunity is achieved, we will never truly be able to establish the “strict American meritocracy” that serves as a cornerstone of our national ideology. Because of this, fiscal conservatism is entirely incompatible with social liberalism and actually undermines the ideals that liberals hold. Those who suggest otherwise are wholly unaware of what it means to be a liberal.