I had a marvelous conversation with a friend of mine who, at one point, would frequently identify herself as a theoretical communist (saying it worked in theory, just not in practice) and a practical socialist. Now you might be asking yourself, “self…why would such an economically conservative fellow be chatting about economics with someone who described herself as such?” And the answer is that I think people are ignorant not entirely because they don’t care or are intellectually lazy, but also because they don’t talk to people who think differently than they do very often. I’ve had a measurable influence on some of my more liberal friends and I will continue to try to have that influence in as civil and yet thorough a manner as my life allows.
But I digress. The real reason for writing this piece is not to talk about MY influence, but the influence of a good professor. This friend of mine has gone back to school of late to try to get a four-year degree and improve her earning power. One of the requirements she needed to fill out was a social science credit and she chose to take economics. Her professor was engaging, very up to speed on current LOCAL economic news, and an economic conservative. Within a month, he’d managed to convince my friend that the Chinese model doesn’t work, that rent control is a stupid idea that only ends up hurting the people it’s trying to help, and that the healthcare, housing and energy markets were distorted by government manipulations and each such distortion had produced a negative affect for middle-income New Yorkers, using Long Island small business deterioration (re: Obamacare), the housing crisis on Long Island as relative to property taxation (re: housing markets) and gas taxes (re: energy markets) to make his points accessible to local students. In that month, this friend of mine moved from describing herself as neo-socialist to declaring herself a LIBERTARIAN!
This kind of transformation doesn’t happen so rapidly all that often. She didn’t believe me when I said that her core beliefs sounded libertarian to me some six months ago, but the framework was there (she believed in American economic independence, was hard on illegal immigration, detested government interference in small business growth etc. all along…she just didn’t realize she was on the wrong side). But a good professor teaching with passion and making his beliefs accessible to his students can and does open the eyes of his students to what they actually believe.
I would argue that most Americans are, at core, conservative. We believe in the superiority of our type of Constitution government. We believe in the power of liberty and free expression. We believe in technological creativity and human genius and in the vast capacity of our businessmen and inventors to make the world a better place. We are all looking for the kind of meaningful relationships that conservatives know come from something deeper than sex and civil union. We just need people to make the right connections and realize that they’re on the wrong side…realize that the rhetoric of the left is leading them to believe better things about their party’s leaders than they should…realize that what they need is to be left alone to thrive and not to be coddled. The left prospers only so long as conservatives continue to accept the notion that progressivism isn’t evil (even as progressives themselves may not be) and continue to hold their tongues in polite company for fear of confrontation rather than speak out and force people to hear something other than what the media tells them. One good economics professor changed someone’s political identity just by being passionate about his beliefs and helping her to see her own. And he’s probably done this for countless of his students. I just got to witness the results in this one case. And I find such things refreshing.