An Overview of Conservative Positions
As a new member of Conservative Outpost, I think it's appropriate for me to explain where I'm coming from. The most direct way to do that is to grapple a bit with the Conservative Outpost's stated Philosophy.
The Conservative Outpost is a home for what we call 'Comprehensive Conservatives' - those who consider themselves to be conservative on social, cultural, economic and foreign policy issues, as well as on the role, size and scope of government."
I am conservative, and I'd like to use this entry to explain what I think that means. Most political philosophies can be characterized by their relative positions on the optimal size of the government. Anarchists want no government at all, totalitarians want complete government control over our lives, and everyone else falls somewhere in between. In general, conservatives believe in more government than libertarians, but less than liberals and socialists. There are other defining characteristics of conservatism: conservatives uphold every individual's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in that order. Conservatives stand up for what they believe in. We believe that the fundamental institutions of society are the free market, the family and personal (often religious) convictions. We believe in a republican form of government, and we promote individualism and nationalism above more collectivist philosophies.
A conservative government fulfills two fundamental roles: 1) ensuring property rights and the rule of law, including guarantees of individual rights and freedoms and 2) acting as a secondary, backup institution to the free market, taking limited action to curtail market failures (such as providing public goods like national defense or dealing with market externalities like pollution).
Now for some more specific issues.
Environmental questions typically fall under the banner of negative externalities. It is appropriate for the government to step in and regulate pollution. If this must be done, it is best accomplished through so-called cap-and-trade measures, which create markets for pollution and allow market forces to eliminate pollution in the most efficient manner. The undeniable success of the Clean Air Act of 1990 in combatting acid rain and ozone depletion is evidence that market-based solutions are the most effective. As a special case, I should point out that I do not consider climate change a political issue. Whether or not climate change is real, significant and anthropogenic should be an entirely scientific issue. If you believe the science points to anthropogenic climate change, a cap-and-trade measure would be the most effective and the most conservative solution. If you believe the science denies anthropogenic climate change, then clearly no action should be taken.
Regardless of your position on climate change, it is simply a matter of fact that the world will eventually run out of nonrenewable resources such as oil and natural gas; and long before that we will hit a peak in world oil production. However, the principles of conservatism and economics show that this is not an end-of-the-world situation, nor should it be a major government priority. As nonrenewable resources run out and supply drops, prices will rise. Peak-oil enthusiasts stop here, claiming these dramatic price increases will bring us to our knees. But it's clear that we have very extensive knowledge about just how much oil is in the ground. We know peak oil is coming at some point, but it's not going to catch us by surprise. There are plenty of private companies now researching alternative energy sources. Left to their own devices, these private companies will find the most efficient alternative energy sources and make use of them for their own profit. The best thing the government can do is get out of the way; stop pouring resources into research that politicians think is important (remember the biofuel craze?) and allow market forces to naturally direct those resources into the most efficient fields. Also, the government should stop preventing us from making use of the alternative energy sources we already have, such as nuclear power. The US has gone decades without building any new nuclear power plants, and nuclear power provides only 20% of American energy use. By comparison, the French never slowed down, and in 2008 an astounding 87.5% of French energy was produced by nuclear power. Nuclear power is better for the environment and it's better for national security, but government opposition thanks to the anti-nuclear lobby has held us back.
True conservatives support free trade wherever possible; free trade encourages the growth of democracy in the countries we trade with, it lifts people out of poverty far faster and more efficiently than direct aid, and it directly benefits us through increased competition, increasing product choice and lowering prices. Short-term losses, such as job losses faced by the automakers, are more than offset by both short-term gains in quality and price for consumers and long-term gains as workers are retrained and find more efficient jobs that are more beneficial to the economy. Protectionism is an obvious mistake, and only delays the inevitable. The best role for government here would be some provision for retraining to increase labor mobility and smooth the transition as older industries are replaced by newer industries. Along these lines, the next great arena for free trade is space; over the next ten to twenty years, commercial space travel will become routine, but it is not quite there yet. In the meantime, the government should encourage commercial space development. Prizes like the Ansari X Prize and the Google Lunar Prize spurred aeronautics innovation in the beginning of the 20th century, and I believe prizes like these will be the best way to spur innovation in space as well.
Education provides a clear positive externality, and therefore government subsidy of education is appropriate. Nevertheless, public schools in America are chronically mismanaged with little accountability for teachers or administrators. As in other fields, education could benefit greatly by introducing market forces wherever possible. Teachers should be paid on merit, however you choose to measure merit, not on seniority. Schools must be made to compete with each other to provide incentives to increase quality. Ideally, some measure of price consciousness should also be introduced, such as school vouchers, so that parents can make more informed choices regarding the level of education their child receives for what is paid for that education. Clearly, limits on student mobility between districts and even between states should be eliminated entirely.
Immigration is a net positive and conservatives recognize that we are a nation of immigrants. However, conservatives make a distinction between legal immigrants and illegal immigrants; this distinction is often not found in liberal literature or in popular media discussions. While some conservatives oppose legal immigration on a cultural basis, politically and economically the conservative position welcomes all legal immigrants (provided basic checks are made to prevent immigration of criminals and terrorists). Immigrants increase the skill pool of the nation's labor force allowing for greater specialization. Immigrants increase the supply of workers, but they also increase consumer demand; their ultimate effect on average wages depends greatly on the skills, knowledge and consumer culture they bring with them, as well as how they interact with natural citizens and other immigrants. Nevertheless, first-generation immigrants typically make less than natural citizens, and seem to directly absorb any negative effects on average wages. Immigrant families are usually fully assimilated by the third or at most fourth generation.
On the other hand, illegal immigration poses a problem for conservatives. Conservatives strongly support the rule of law, and therefore since illegal immigrants are by definition criminals, the rule of law holds that they should be punished in some form, and possibly deported. However, I believe conservatism is also a deeply practical philosophy. With upwards of 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States (all of whom have demonstrated a willingness and ability to evade detection), it is physically and financially impossible to apprehend even a significant fraction of these illegal immigrants. It is also impractical to believe that we can reliably catch the immigrants at the border. In a smaller country, border fences and increased border guards might be effective, but the United States has two of the longest land borders in the world and it is impractical to adequately police them. The long-term solution must make illegal immigration less attractive than legal immigration; I believe we must make legal immigration far less painful and less expensive than it is today. Get the government out of the immigration decision as much as possible. If people want to immigrate to the United States, the US government should not stand in their way. This combined with increased prosecution of illegal immigrants we do catch, along with some incentive-based program to convert illegal immigrants to legal immigrants, is the most likely to reduce illegal immigration while strengthening our culture and our economy.
Conservatives should oppose attempts to legalize narcotics and prostitution. I support basic gun controls such as preventing gun sales to felons or the mentally unstable, but the right of the law-abiding individual to arm themselves for their own protection cannot be denied. Given the dangerous nature of a gun in the hands of an untrained person, I also support licensing requirements similar to driver's license requirements. Abortion should be opposed in principle in all forms, except when the health of the mother is at stake; the life of the child far outweighs the pursuit of happiness of the mother. Affirmative action should also be opposed in principle since it is nothing more than legalized racial discrimination. Embryonic stem cells are ethically problematic, but scientific results have shown that adult and artificial stem cells are far more useful than embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells are currently being used in treatments without any ethical concerns. Embryonic stem cells have shown little promise scientifically; coupled with their ethical uncertainties, I believe embryonic stem cells should be avoided in favor of adult stem cells.
On average, conservatives support lower taxes and lower subsidies. Taxes remove resources from the private economy, where those resources would be efficiently allocated to the most productive uses; government then spends those resources where it sees fit, often wasting them in the process. In the absence of market failure, the government should not interfere in free markets at all. The national debt should also be controlled; government deficits crowd out private investment as invested resources are redirected towards government spending (mostly consumption) and not private capital.
Finally, the current emphasis on health care reform is clearly out of bounds. The United States has the best health care system in the world. Half of all new medicines developed in the last 20 years were developed by Americans; 80% of major medical advances in the last 30 years were accomplished either completely or primarily by Americans; 18 of the last 25 Nobel Prizes in Medicine were given either to Americans or to people working in America. But that's not even the best of the American health care system. When new procedures and new medicines are invented, the American health care system is by far the fastest to adopt them. More Americans (by percentage) have access to cutting edge medical technology than in almost any other developed country. Survival rates for the most common cancers are ten, twenty, sometimes forty percent higher in the United States than in other developed countries. And although as an absolute number, average life expectancy in the US is lower than other comparable countries, once that number is controlled for homicides and traffic accidents, America has the HIGHEST life expectancy among major developed countries. We have both a crime problem and a traffic problem, but again, our health care system is the best in the world. That's why one third of Canadian doctors regularly send their patients to the US for treatment, why rich foreigners often come to the US for health care, including the UK's Prince Charles and Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. That's also why the trend in most developed countries in recent years has been away from government control and towards market-based systems. If there is going to be health care reform, it should be towards free markets, not away from them. Health care reform needs to stress the power of the free market, and resist the temptation to fall back on government control.