Taxi Cab Conservatism
I was just recently in Washington D.C. and had an amazing conversation with a taxi driver on the way to the airport. After pointing out some of the many historical sites on the way out of town, the conversation took a surprising turn. She started to complain about people that do not work and live off of welfare and other government assistance programs; virtually all their lives.
To paraphrase, she made the following assertion: "It is a shame. I know many people, even my own family members, that have never held a job. I have one relative that is 31 years old and only held a job temporarily once. They do not feel a need to work because the government takes care of them."
"Even worse" she explained, "it is becoming a generational thing. The parents are supported by the government and that is the example that the children are learning from so they have no desire to go out in the world and work as well. I work seven days a week, put my daughter through college, and now she is a qualified nurse. When I complain to my family or friends about this issue, they get angry with me. They call me selfish."
I certainly wanted to help this hard working American answer her critics as she was clearly expressing a conservative position. I told her she was absolutely not being selfish. There is a strong difference between acting selfishly versus acting in self-interest. To act selfishly, this implies that you are acting in your own interest at the expense of others. This is quite different from the concept of acting in self-interest, meaning when one is acting in one's own self interest within a moral framework, as one is free to do in America. This ultimately results in benefit to others. I pointed out the example of me riding in her cab that day. She picked me up because of her self-interest, meaning that she was performing her job and earning money to provide for her and her family. Through her self-interest, I was able to get to the airport and fulfill my job responsibilities thus earning to provide for myself and my family. Furthermore, by doing this, others benefit from my work. It is this concept of self-interest that Adam Smith referred to in the Wealth of Nations, "the invisible hand of the market" that ultimately results in a maximum benefit to society.
So it is not a selfish thing to say that you do not back bloated government support systems. Programs that incentivize individuals to stay at home, not work, and not create any value in society. It is actually the opposite of being selfish. In reality, you want people to act in their own self-interest within the framework of our legal and moral society. Only through this is the maximal benefit to society achieved. When the government steps in and creates the nanny state, self-interest goes out the door. Why should one seek to better their life or make improvements or strive for anything when you know the government check is always going to be in the mail? When the state takes care of everything, individual needs to achieve are erased. Ultimately, when the government wipes out individual incentive, they create a dependent nation that in the end, will not achieve nor create anything.
I hope that by the time I arrived to the airport I had succeeded in assuring this hard working American that her position was sound and that her thinking was clear and logical. She was being attacked on an emotional level. She was being criticized because she was taking a conservative stand. We all must remember that no matter how emotional the arguments get from the left, the well thought out reasoned position will beat them every time. I was comforted to know that the conservative spirit is alive and well in America.