It may be a bit cliché to say, but my personal shift from Liberalism to Conservatism was akin to going from adolescence to adulthood. I was most sure of my ideas and opinions at the time where I knew the least about anything—my freshman year of college.
Going through a public school system and being taught by teachers who more than lean to the left, my thoughts and ideas were incubated in a bubble of combined confirmation of bias and an arrogant self-assurance. When I started college, I was almost a textbook urban, liberal democrat. I believed all of the common party gospel: Republicans were racist, the rich held the poor under their thumb for the fun of it, and that if the right people were in power they could solve all of my problems.
Then, to quote Alan Greenspan, I “got mugged by Reality.” I began to have experiences that challenged my worldview. I worked in my local government as an accounting intern for the Department of Streets and I took courses in Economics, but, perhaps most importantly, I realized how empowering conservative ideology can be as a worldview.
When I first started working for the Streets Department, I came in bright eyed and ready to perform my civic duty, to help my local government improve the lives of the citizens in my city. I thought that all of my coworkers would walk into work every day with the same sense of purpose that I did. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
The work environment was less than ideal, as many employees were dissatisfied with how things were run. They bemoaned the pittance that was an excuse for a salary, but they often stayed because of the generous government employee benefits.
Employees complained that the higher-ups were inept and only wanted to have the appearance of productivity in order to satisfy the next higher up on the ladder. The lackluster pay and limited technological resources were years behind the private sector. There was accounting software still used from the late 1990s, a check pressing machine that often jammed and tore the envelopes of department employees when checks were processed for payday, and an archaic way of processing invoices that involved hours of stamping with a rubber stamp.
From all this I learned something that will stay with me for the rest of my life: THE GOVERNMENT SUCKS AT EVERYTHING! Before then, I had the belief that the government was capable of making things happen, that it was efficient, and, with the right leadership, could fix all of the problems that people face.
My short experience at the Streets Department taught me that the government is unqualified to do most things and the things it is qualified to do it will achieve. Eventually.
My first course in economics was taught by a professor who all the students called Professor B. He was a pleasant guy who bore a passing resemblance to Steve Martin or Newt Gingrich.
I learned about many things that are considered the fundamentals of economics, such as the scarcity of resources, the results of price floors and price ceilings, and how taxes and tariffs can affect demand. There were many things I learned that I never gave thought to before.
Being a socialist in high school, I believed that the government could make people’s lives better, but the government wasn’t because “evil Republicans” were holding up the process.
After taking that economics course, I became more curious and began to read more on my own. I read Friedman, Hayek, Sowell, and so many others.
The more I read, the more that I realized how wrong my worldview was. Similar to biology or physics, economics has laws that are simply and objectively true.
Many of the progressive platforms that I had always been told were “fair” aren’t actually feasible. Popular talking points such as minimum wage often have detrimental effects on employees; rent controls leave more people wanting for housing than comfortably house; the wage gap doesn’t exist.
With my view of government as a bastion of productivity shattered, and my ideas of economic fairness introduced to facts, I began to look the constitution in a new way. No longer was it some document written by a bunch of racists a few hundred years ago; it became something new.
The Power of Conservatism
The thought that the government shouldn’t interfere with the lives of the people unless completely necessary is an idea that is taken for granted these days. A government founded on the ideas of individual liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of individual prosperity was revolutionary when the constitution was first drafted.
The notion of unalienable, God given rights was a stark contrast to the vision of the Divine Right of Kings which had dominated political systems throughout time.
The unalienable rights of people are inseparable from the system of Capitalism which has taken the world to prosperity unseen for the vast majority of human history. Capitalism has taken man from retrieving water from wells and rivers to being able to summon water on demand. Capitalism has taken society from living in fear of diseases, such as the common cold, to the nearly magical power of modern medicine. It has taken us from communication between people far away taking months, or years, or even lifetimes to being as instant as a strike of lightning.
No system of government that has combined freedom with free enterprise has done more to raise the living standards of the common man than that of the United States.
With this discovery I began to see the power of conservatism. It is the idea that I, the individual, have both the power and the duty to make my life what I want it to be. It is the idea that I do not need the government to wave its magic wand to cure my problems, as the collective power of individuals working to their own just goals makes life better.
Life isn’t about surviving at the mercy of government’s welfare. It is about each new generation taking mankind to levels of prosperity never before imagined possible.