Bruce Webb at Angry Bear says that movement conservatives oppose programs like Social Security and Medicare because they fundamentally do not believe that social problems can be addressed by social action. Or, to put it another way, they believe problems are better addressed by individuals acting through the marketplace. Many people have documented the many ways in which markets fail, so there’s a problem with the “individuals-in-the-marketplace” solution right off the bat. But leaving that aside, there’s another reason movement conservatives oppose social action. As Bruce points out, they “do not draw a line between Social Democracy and State Socialism, believing fundamentally with Hayek that one leads to the other right along the Road to Serfdom.”
This has to be one of the daffier tenet’s of modern conservatism.
To get an idea of what Hayek was talking about here’s Wikipedia’s description of his thesis:
…all forms of collectivism lead logically and inevitably to tyranny, and he used the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as examples of countries which had gone down “the road to serfdom” and reached tyranny… . For Hayek “the road to serfdom” inadvertently set upon by central planning, with its dismantling of the free market system, ends in the destruction of all individual economic and personal freedom.
When I think of countries with large social programs I think of the Nordic countries of northern Europe–Sweden, Norway, etc. Those programs have been in place for decades, so, according to the Road-to-Serfdom Theory, Denmark should now be a repressive police state. As it turns out, Denmark and the Nordics remain strongly grounded in constitutional democracy and the rule of law.
By way of contrast let’s compare that to the current state of affairs in America where movement conservatives have succeeded in electing a President sympathetic to their cause for most of the past 35 years, and have fought against social programs since the rise of Barry Goldwater.
In America, conservatives in the Executive Branch recently argued before the Supreme Court that they could unilaterally repeal the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure; and got some votes. The same group seeks to operate in maximum secrecy and claims extraordinary powers under it’s theory of the Unitary Executive. The members of the same group give their hearty approval to friends who lie to Congress or to federal authorities.
In other words, the same people who worry about becoming “serfs” under the Social Security Administration seem utterly unconcerned about actual abuses of power. Indeed, they circle the wagons in defense of their comrades who chip away at the Bill of Rights and the Constitutional separation of powers.