LATELY — 25 May 2005

Liberals v. Conservatives

For quite some time I’ve been searching for some political issue with which I can demonstrate support for my theory that liberals care more about pragmatics and conservatives care more about principles. (Being pragmatic and being principled are, I hope, considered equally worthy goals by most people–one “care” is not supposed to be more positive or negative than the other.)

Anyway, it occurred to me today that international debt relief might prove a suitable wedge issue. My theory is that liberals would be all for debt relief–because it reduces the burden on poor countries–but that conservatives would be against it–because it “penalises” the countries that didn’t borrow money in the first place. (The principle being that of fairness.)

(I don’t mean to suggest that thinking liberals and conservatives would be unaware of the other point of view, only that for liberals pragmatism will ultimately trump principle, and contrariwise for conservatives.)

This issue is also nice because various plausible intermediate positions exist: different levels of borrowing, different repayment schemes, and so on.

I guess another way of characterising the difference between liberals and conservatives is that if someone is asked whether a country owing some large amount of money should have this debt forgiven, a liberal will want to know poor the country is whilst a conservative will want to know if other countries in the same position will also have their debt forgiven.