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September 15, 2003



As a supporter of George W Bush, I wonder what you make of his "compassionate conservatism". I think by what George W means is that he is prepared to use the power of the state to instill conservative values which help the individual as well as society. Whereas thirty years ago the negative income tax was fashionable amongst both left and right, today the idea of “neutral” liberal redistribution is effectively dead.

Bill Clinton brought in welfare to work which effectively tries to help and coerce individuals out of the cycle of poverty – both material and cultural. This is not neutral redistribution. It imposes obligations in excahnge for help, and I think is the essence of what might be called a compassionate conservativism.
Similarly, giving aid to third world countries in a “neutral” way is unlikely to be compassionate or improve their welfare. George Bush’s $15 billion in aid to African countries is tied with strings that reward good governance, and hopefully will prevent wastage by the corrupt and greedy. I cannot see any other way of getting political agreement to spend taxpayers money to help the vulnerable. People want to help those in need, but only if the money is spent wisely. I think this in essence is the difference between a compassionate conservative and a neutral liberal redistributionist.

john b

Matthew: [GWB is] prepared to use the power of the state to instill conservative values...

Shudder. Even the eliminate-all-welfare right-libertarians don't want to force me to think like them...

Thanks for reminding me why I loathe and despise compassionate conservatism more than anything else (within reason).


I am not sure how welfare to work or giving billions of aid to Africa at the price of good governance makes you "think like them". If you can explain I will be grateful.

john b

It isn't. I was referring to the paragraph I quoted, rather than to your examples. If that paragraph was unfortunately phrased, I apologise - however, on a literal reading, it's rather scary!

I don't want "the power of the state to instill" any values - I want it to protect me from people who want to kill me, I want it to deal with market failure (as long as doing so is likely to boost economic welfare), and I want it to provide limited redistribution so people don't starve.


OK, yes, that paragraph was inappropriately phrased. I do not want the state telling me I should have 2.2 kids etc any more than you do. I guess it is a matter of definitions. If comnpassionate conservatism is as I have outlined - putting obligations with rights to state benefits - I think it is a worthy alternative to no government libertarians withing the Party.

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