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.