There's a line that's popular among Reaganists: "A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged." Sometimes the line goes "...mugged by reality." You may not like it, the Reaganist says ruefully, but we are willing to face up to the ugly truth about how the world works. What is this truth? It boils down to the belief that humans are all essentially self-interested semi-rational utility maximizers and, importantly, this fact means that the efforts of "do-gooders" will always have unintended bad consequences that outweigh any direct good. Consider all of these truths held to be self-evident by the Reaganists:
- Raising the minimum wage actually hurts poor people.
- Transfer payments to poor people will be wasted on booze and drugs and actually hurts poor people by causing a culture of dependency. They won't get a job unless you force them to.
- Negotiating with (circle one: Iran, North Korea, Cuba, China, India, Pakistan) about (circle one: nuclear weapons, conventional weapons, climate change, oil, trade, territory) will be a replay of Munich. Why do you like Hitler?
- Innovation can only be done by the private sector because it's only there where scientists and engineers are motivated by profit.
- Efficiency can only be achieved by the private sector because it's only there where managers are motivated by profit.
- Regulations can't possibly be helping businesses because regulations are created by the government.
- School choice, i.e., creating a market for school children, is the way to improve education.
- Endless more idiocy about the great private sector.
Now, anyone who pays attention to the actual world knows that all of the above are just plain wrong. A genuine level headed realist in the mold the Reaganists imagine themselves to represent, knows the unfortunate truth that Reaganist ideas are wrong and ruining everything from our economy to our public schools and killing poor people just for principle.
But instead of going through this sad litany, you could just read this article about climate change in Tibet to understand what the Reaganists do not.
It may seem preposterous to hang the fate of civilization on such a thin-seeming thread—playground politics, essentially—but few instincts in human affairs are more powerful. Avoiding the stigma of being an outcast—and the related desire to be held in high esteem by others—is perhaps our most primal adaptive strategy. We’re tribal, social creatures who crave approval and inclusion; world leaders are no different.