THE BLOG
08/03/2010 02:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Are Conservatives Heartless Villains or Naive Idealists?

Living near Orange County California, I have a lot of friends who support conservative politics. They are wonderful people, but seem to be heartless when it comes to political and social policies. They see anything that helps the less fortunate to be socialism, or worse yet communism. Yet if you were in need, they would do anything to help. The following are key quotes from a very conservative friend of mine that seems to represent conservative thinking:

Sowell's (Thomas Sowell) major premise is summed up excellently in the last sentence -- that millions of individual decisions made in the best interest of the individuals making them have a systemic effect that has led to the greatest flourishing that mankind has ever known with the most prosperity and freedom. If Sowell has an agenda, it's to promote individual liberty that leads to human flourishing.

Sowell's premise that the body of mundane knowledge spread among the millions of individuals making decisions for themselves is infinitely greater than the knowledge of any one or small group of individuals and results in better decisions and a more efficient economic system.

Short Term Greed

Alan Greenspan, when asked to comment on his responsibility for the financial collapse, said that he thought that people would act in the best long-term interest of their firms, and admitted that he was wrong. So, at least in the financial world, decisions "made in the best interest of the individuals making them" did not work out very well. From my work with subprime mortgage firms, it is clear to me that Wall Street traders in Mortgage-Backed Securities knew these instruments would not work, but their own self-interest trumped everything. The commissions they were making were in the millions and like drug addicts, they could not stop, because of self-interest. Similar issues were present in the derivatives markets.

So do decisions made based on self-interest result "in better decisions and a more efficient economic system" as Sowell and other conservatives passionately suggest? Not based on recent results. Wall Street had some of the brightest minds of our time, and yet they defaulted to their own personal gains. Then how can conservatives hold this "self-interest" as a way "to promote individual liberty that leads to human flourishing " in the face of the Gulf Oil spill, the financial crisis, Enron, the Savings and Loan Crisis earlier and the general nature of humans to put themselves and their survival ahead of all else? It seems short-term greed trumps the long-term good.

Taking Advantage of Good Hearted People

It seems to me that my friends are such good people that they are projecting their own beliefs on society as a whole. Most of them live in very safe neighborhoods, have good jobs, and do not face the day-to-day suffering of the majority of people. One said to me, that the majority of the people in our country are conservative, which would be true for his neighborhood (Orange County, California) but clearly not true for the entire population. If we promoted the individual liberty of people like my friend it would certainly lead to "human flourishing." But, unfortunately, most people do not share his fine traits.

It seems to me that they are ignoring many of the realities of our world, and are encouraged by conservative pundits like the Fox opinion shows, Rush Limbaugh and others who are clearly working only in their own self-interest. It seems to me that most of them are idealists with good hearts that somehow want to believe that the world is like them. One of my conservative neighbors bought a liquor store outside of our protected neighborhood, and found a world she had never imagined existed. Her heart and politics are beginning to change.

Too Complex For Simple Solutions

In an interview with CNBC, Joshua Cooper Ramo, author of The Age of the Unthinkable, explained that the world has reached an existential crisis. He said that the complexities have reached a level that is beyond our ability to solve them. The financial crisis, health care problems and the Gulf Oil spill are examples of events that have been too complex to for us to prevent. We developed deep water drilling with no way to repair an accident, and created a financial crisis that we still do not know how to solve. Ramo is right, but we must work together to solve these problems, rather that hide out in our own constituencies and pretend we are right and others are wrong. We must work together to unleash the genius of our people on every level of our society.

In collaboration with my conservative friends, I will post a series of blogs on major issues that include their solutions. I hope you will all participate with comments and insights.

Again, I would love to read your thoughts on this complex issue.