SOCIALLY LIBERAL, FISCALLY...

SOCIALLY LIBERAL, FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE. I find Jonah's derision of the socially liberal, fiscally conservative viewpoint baffling. Not because the perspective isn't generally confused -- it is, for reasons I'll go into in a moment -- but his reasoning is so self-evidently addled. So as far as I can tell, he's relying on an old Derbyshire column explaining that socially liberal policies necessitate fiscal liberalism because, for instance, liberalizing views towards homosexuality leads to AIDS, which leads to money spent on treatment. Which makes sense. If only there were different words, arranged in a different order, which actually made sense.

Both the beginning and the worst of the AIDS epidemic, as we well know, came during a period when views towards homosexuality were many, many more times regressive than they are now. The epidemic's reversal was accompanied by changes in attitude, and during those years, homosexual behavior was able to transform itself from a repressed, reviled subculture into a more responsible, more open community with safer practices. Meanwhile, Africa is wracked by an AIDS epidemic, and surely Derbyshire doesn't think it's because they're a big bunch of gays?

The same goes for his muddled belief that relaxed drug enforcement leads to more addicts, and thus more cash spent on treatment. The rationale, as always, is precisely the opposite -- driving the practice underground creates a criminal trade and unsafe environment that amasses huge costs in law enforcement and medical intervention. To be socially liberal on that issue is to believe that liberalizing the laws will reduce public spending and government involvement.

That said, I do find the socially liberal, fiscally conservative trope sort of irritating. In economic terms, �conservative� has long denoted a preference for smaller government and lower taxation. Yet most liberals who cling to that neat bit of triangulation will happily cop to desiring universal health care, more lavish retirement benefits, more paid vacation, etc. Liberals may want to be fiscally responsible -- which is to say, pay for their increased spending through higher taxes or decreases in the defense budget -- but calling it conservative is both untrue and an unnecessary capitulation to the idea that Republicans, contrary to all experience, are better fiscal managers than Democrats.

--Ezra Klein

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