A Conservatively Revolutionary End to Poverty

Stephen Yearwood
6 min readMay 27, 2024

revolutionary without being radical

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

This proposal would create money as needed to fund a guaranteed minimum income that a person could actually live on and for which any adult citizen could become eligible. It would increase sustainability systemically, by ending the political imperative to maximize output in order to maximize employment, total income, and the collection of taxes at whatever rates exist. Could hardly be more conservative, eh?*

To be sure, “conservative” is a malleable term. Much of what is counted as conservatism today bears no relation to what ‘conservative’ meant when I was young (>half a century ago: talking about the U.S. here).

To my mind, this contemporary conservatism is nothing but an irrational anti-liberal/progressive/socially-conscious-politics become dogma: a politics of purposeful, self-conscious craziness made sacred by the simple expedient of labeling anything opposing it ‘evil’. It can only be good to hate evil, right?

Back when ‘conservative’ was a rational concept it still had an irrational bent. The simple historical fact is that back then ‘conservative’ included resistance to racial de-segregation. That position cannot be rationally defended. One thing I will say is that, while there are white supremists among them, very few people who self-identify as a contemporary conservative are racists. They hate all people who espouse liberalism, etc., not people of (more recent) African heritage or other non-whites per se.

In talking about traditional conservatism I’m referring to the conservatism of people like William F. Buckley and George Will. Essentially, theirs was the conservatism of Edmund Burke. This was conservatism before people like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Kristol (much less Rev. Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed) started it on the road to Kookville — a road paved with validation of the aggrieved attitude of people who rue the passing of ‘the good ol’ days’ (ignoring terroristicly enforced segregation, which was undeniably a fact of life) to get them to ‘vote Republican’.

It did not occur to traditional (‘institutional’) Republicans until it was far too late — still hasn’t, in all too many cases — that the forces of irrationality could ever co-opt ‘conservative’ for their own purposes, for which they would then use the Republican Party. By settling on ‘cutting taxes’ (especially for the rich and large corporations) as the only economic idea they could imagine, traditional conservatives played into the hands of the irrationalists: in abandoning even a pretense of economic thoughtfulness they left the political field to the lunatic ‘culture warriors’, handing over to them one of only two viable national political parties in this nation. (That they did that to win elections for the sake of their agenda is no help.)

At any rate, traditional conservatives could consider rationally whether a proposed change might be ‘good’ or not. If it were considered to be good, then it could be allowed to proceed. Whether it was good or not depended on its goals as well as whether or not it accorded with conservative ideas about the proper governance of society. Alleviating poverty would definitely be a good thing — so long as it was done in a conservative way.

More abstractly, traditional conservatism allows for a distinction between “revolutionary” and “radical.” The former is a transformational change, but not necessarily a change in the institutional structure of society. The latter is that. Both can be permissible, but both must be subjected to the utmost scrutiny. To be sure, radical change is permissible for traditional conservatism in only the very most extreme circumstances. This proposal is revolutionary, but not radical: it would transform the outcomes for society of the existing economic system but it does not call for changing the existing institutional structure of the economic system (or, to be clear, the political system).

To move back towards economic considerations, the most fundamental divide between ‘left’ and ‘right’ in this country concerning economics is whether differences in income can be big enough to be in themselves an injustice. To think that is true (whatever the size of the difference that might entail) puts one on the ‘left’; to think that is not true puts one on the ‘right’. This proposal is in the latter category: differences in income/wealth, no matter how large, are not in themselves an injustice.

Traditional conservatism holds that taking from some to give others more is an injustice. This proposal abjures any redistribution of anything.

Traditional conservatism holds that is is wrong — and wrongheaded — to impose costs on employers to alleviate poverty. This proposal imposes no cost on any employer.

Traditional conservatism cannot abide imposing any limit on income/wealth. This proposal does not impose any limit on income/wealth.

On the other hand, the very idea of limits has an important place in the thought of traditional conservatism. In Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) Robert Nozick essentially made recognizing limits the sine qua non of rational governance. Anarchy is at bottom a refusal to recognize any legitimacy for setting limits on human conduct within and for the sake of society. Utopians, on the other hand, refuse to recognize the existence of material limits on what society can accomplish in providing materially for its members. [Nozick is generally viewed as a libertarian philosopher, but in that context the contrast is between those philosophical positions and the meta-ideology of Liberalism, within which political ideologies from libertarianism, to traditional conservatism, to political liberalism, to more ‘progressive’ non-Marxist-but-socialistically-oriented ideologies reside.]

Traditional conservatives lost their way when they lost sight of that essential element of their political ideology. That coincided with their stance that ‘cutting taxes’ is the only valid response to any economic issue. Along with a given antipathy to limiting income/wealth, all that led to the ludicrous position that the unlimited accumulation of wealth was the good and proper end of the economy — not something incidental to a correctly structured, well-functioning economy. Disdain for inherent limits is antithetic to the traditional conservative understanding, as noted, that recognizing the existence of such limits in life (there however saddening their existence might be) is central to the rational validity of conservatism.

Again, this proposal does not impose any limit on income or wealth. It does, however, impose a limit on accumulation — relative to income, which, to reiterate, is not limited. So the bigger the income, the more wealth can be accumulated. That is not a moral/ideological restriction, but necessary for the sound functioning of the economy with this paradigm in place.

At the same time, this proposal does eliminate bonuses — in money, stocks/stock options, or any other financial artefact — as a form of remunerating any employee of any corporation (or government). The existence of bonuses is what has created billionaires — and has led conservatism astray in promoting obscene amounts of accumulation.

Such bonuses actually conflict with the traditional conservative attitude towards corporations. Conservatives have traditionally defended corporations against attacks that they represent unbridled greed on the grounds that they are a social good. To sustain that defense, the corporation, as opposed to a proprietorship, is seen to exist for its own sake — and what it provides to society — not for the aggrandizement of anyone employed in it. The large revenues of large corporations lead to large remuneration for senior executives, but, according to traditional conservatism, their enrichment is not the point of the corporation’s existence. Uncritical acceptance — defense — of the rise of bonuses for ludicrously enriching the people in the most senior positions of large corporations has undermined the traditional conservative defense of the very existence of corporations (with their extremely large remuneration of senior executives even without bonuses of any kind).

Finally, remuneration in that form smacks of the pecuniary motivations underlying unproductive speculation (buying merely to sell for a profit). For traditional conservatives that kind of speculation is anathema. It is sheer gambling — made worse when done with other people’s money.

So this proposal would absolutely, positively eliminate unemployment and poverty for any adult citizen. It could be adopted by any nation — within its existing economic system. It is fundamentally (traditionally) conservative.

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*Practically, the same process could also be used to eliminate taxes/public debt for funding all government (from central to local), with built-in protections against inflation as well as further economic dislocations that will follow, sooner or later, from pumping too much money into the economy over time. Those protections, as accomplished in this proposal, would make the economy self-regulating.

if curious: “A Most Beneficial Economic Change” (a “2 min read” here in Medium with links to more about the proposal, none of it behind the paywall)

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Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice