The Mythology of Liberalism: Liberal Governance Equals Better Public Services

We tend to exaggerate our differences, but the vast majority of Americans remain united by core ideals. Whether we’re conservative or liberal or independent or just plain disinterested, we want better lives for our children. We want a dynamic economy that provides material benefits to our lives. We want an accountable and responsive government.

Where we disagree is how best to pursue these ideals. Where conservatives believe in devolving power towards individuals, liberals believe government must direct private interests toward the social good. Bigger government manifests liberal ideology. But today, this tenet of American liberalism is in crisis: its positive intentions are divorced from policy realities.

For a start, look at the liberal bastion of Chicago. America’s third most populous city, Chicago should be thriving. Unfortunately, the Windy City has instead become an icon for economic stagnation. There are quite a few reasons why. As I’ve outlined previously, Chicagoans are paying exorbitant taxes. But in return, Chicagoans get an education system bled dry by a parasitical union (soon to be striking again), high crime rates and an undermanned police force dishonored (as Mark Hemmingway notes at the Weekly Standard) by its union’s lack of interest in holding a small minority of bad police officers to account for corruption and malfeasance.

Chicago’s rot is a direct consequence of liberal governance. Because it isn’t just Chicago that’s rotting, but liberal cities across America. In Philadelphia, citizens face similarly exorbitant tax rates in return for Chicago-style public services. Or how about Baltimore or Los Angeles? Or Detroit, where rampant liberalism led to bankruptcy?

But there’s another critical point at stake here: higher taxes don’t mean better outcomes. As I wrote in 2014, comparing liberal California with conservative Texas: “In 2011-12, California’s high school graduation rate for Hispanics was 73 percent. For African-Americans it was 66 percent. In Texas, the 2011-12 high school graduation rate was 84 percent for both Hispanics and African-Americans. The total graduation rate was 78 percent for California and 88 percent for Texas… California’s top income tax is 13.3 percent. In Texas, it’s zero percent. Corporate tax rates in California are also significantly higher than in Texas, where the top rate is 1 percent. Additionally, living costs in Texas are some of the lowest in America.” And be under no illusions, absent conservative leadership, liberal politicians would lead Americans to far greater suffering.

It isn’t just Chicago that’s rotting, but liberal cities across America

In all these efforts we must also realize that fostering personal responsibility goes hand in hand with public security

After all, the looming challenge is government pension liabilities. For decades now, in return for cozy patronage deals, liberal politicians have made unaffordable public-pension promises with big unions. But today, the bill is coming home. In Illinois, the unfunded pension liability now stands at $111 billion. In California, it’s around $235 billion. Absent conservative-led reforms, these liabilities will require astronomic tax increases.

Still, it’s unfair to tar all liberals. In Camden, New Jersey for example, liberal politicians recently took bold action to reform the city police force. And in re-allocating taxpayer money into frontline services, Camden’s government has cut violent crime significantly. In areas such as this, conservatives should work with liberals to enact productive reforms.

As an extension, we conservatives must embrace public service reform. Improving our education systems and confronting inner-city decay are two good places to start. But in all these efforts we must also realize that fostering personal responsibility goes hand in hand with public security. As just one example, consider William Wilson’s argument that opportunity-seeking Americans are harmed by the “low priority placed on solving the high murder rates in poor inner-city neighborhoods.”

Regardless, it’s clear that conservatives have both a responsibility and an opportunity in this area. Failed by decades of liberal governance, many Americans — if engaged courageously — would welcome conservative public service reforms. Our task is thus clear: we must stand up for lower taxes, smaller government, a stronger economy… and better services.

Tom Rogan is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.