Liberal Hearts
Liberal Hearts and Conservative Brains: The Correlation between Age and Political Philosophy

Ron Lipsman

Reviewed by Amitrajeet A. Batabyal

Professor Lipsman---Professor of Mathematics at the University of Maryland in College Park---gets the title for his book from the following statement usually attributed to either Benjamin Disraeli or to Winston Churchill: "If you are young and not liberal, then you have no heart; but if you are old and not conservative then you have no brain." He has four objectives in this book. First, he claims that whereas young people are generally more comfortable with liberalism, as they age, there is a tendency for them to gravitate towards conservatism. Second, he explores the nature of what he considers to be the most interesting counterexamples to the above noted tendency. Third, he provides a perspective on the past, the present, and the expected future of the conservative/liberal divide in the United States (US). Finally, he uses personal vignettes to delineate the experiences that have resulted in his eschewal of liberalism and his embrace of conservatism. 

The proceedings begin in right earnest with Professor Lipsman's presentation of two dozen issues that, he claims, can be used to define the key differences between conservatives and liberals. Some of these issues---conservatives (liberals) generally favor fewer (more) governmental regulations---are straightforward but others are anything but straightforward. For instance, consider the issue of taxes. According to Professor Lipsman, conservatives generally favor lower taxes and liberals favor high taxes. Is this really true? In addition, is it illuminating to look at the tax issue along the lines proposed by Professor Lipsman? What is true is that conservatives tend to focus on economic success and hence favor a system of taxation that does not penalize success. In contrast, liberals focus more on equity in society and hence tend to favor a taxation system that does not favor the rich. In other words, the objective functions of conservatives and liberals are different. No one really favors high taxes per se. Unfortunately, this kind of nuanced reasoning is frequently absent in Professor Lipsman's discussion and hence this discussion is open to the charge that it is simplistic, if not flawed.

The past, the present, and the expected future of the conservative/liberal divide in the US take up a significant portion of this book. The perspective Professor Lipsman provides on the past, in particular, is helpful and he says several sensible things about the divide in question. When discussing segregation and the civil rights movement, in a rare concession to liberals, he acknowledges that "this is an arena in which...government intervention seems to have been required in order to solve the problem" (p. 102). Regrettably, this eminently reasonable discussion soon begins to get incendiary in nature. Two points stand out. First, Professor Lipsman accuses liberals of paying "poor women to boot out their husbands and have babies with multiple partners..." (p. 104). The author notes on more than one occasion that he would like us to read this book as an extended op-ed piece and not as an academic tome. In principle, this is fine but for any op-ed piece to be credible, the presented opinions must ultimately have something to do with real world facts. This is clearly not true for the sentence just quoted. Second, President Ronald Reagan is manifestly one of Professor Lipsman's greatest heroes. He repeatedly heaps praise on President Reagan but, on occasion, he lets his zeal get the better of him. He commends President Reagan for his "support of local armed resistance to Soviet clients..." (p. 111). This support concerns activities in Afghanistan and as the events of the last two decades have abundantly shown, far from being laudatory, President Reagan's support of the jehadis was based on a bafflingly myopic interpretation of US interests and US foreign policy.

The existence of "aging liberals" runs counter to Professor Lipsman's first objective---mentioned above---in this book. Therefore, he goes to some length to explain why some liberals, as he puts it, "won't grow up." He acknowledges that his explanations "may sound harsh, even insulting..." (p. 213), but he fearlessly marches on. His opening salvo in this context is that some liberals don't grow up because they fail to learn from their mistakes. As far as these mistakes are concerned, exhibit A would appear to be the support of liberals for a minimum wage. This support may or may not be a mistake---remember this book is supposed to be an extended op-ed piece---but there certainly is at least one mistake in Professor Lipsman's analysis of the impacts of a minimum wage. First, the impact of a minimum wage depends in part on whether the market in which the minimum wage is to be introduced is competitive or non-competitive. Second, although it is true that a minimum wage often does cause some unemployment it is also true that this minimum wage has a salutary impact on those workers who are able to find work at the higher minimum wage. Therefore, even in this simple scenario, whether the net impact of a minimum wage is positive or negative depends on whether the "unemployment effect" dominates or is dominated by the "work at a higher wage" effect. Professor Lipsman mentions none of this but, instead, gives the misleading impression that a minimum wage is always a "mistake."

Professor Lipsman's second salvo is that some liberals don't grow up because they are unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions. He bitterly laments the fact that liberals, although eager to set up all manner of unnecessary and wasteful social programs, will not accept that these programs are collapsing and that they "will not apologize to those who are injured by [the] collapse" (p. 220). How interesting! One can think of several conservatives who have not apologized for their misguided actions and statements. For instance, in an interview with Larry King in 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney said that the insurgency in Iraq was in the last throes. He was flat wrong. Has Cheney ever apologized to the American people either for this blunder or for subsequent policies enacted on the basis of this erroneous belief?

In sum, this book is very much a mixed bag. The book is written in a "chatty" style and hence it is both easy to read and entertaining in parts. In addition, other parts of this book which discuss the ways in which a modern research university functions are "spot on." Finally, there is no gainsaying the fact that this book's fundamental contention that there is a correlation between age and political philosophy is probabilistically true. Even so, it is important to note that this book suffers from errors of both commission and omission. Second, Professor Lipsman adopts an inexplicably arrogant and frequently insulting tone towards liberals. Therefore, if his main arguments are insufficiently appreciated, then it will be because of statements like the following: "I stand by all the arguments I have made throughout the book for the superiority of conservatism, and by my descriptions of the various tragedies that liberalism has inflicted on our society" (p. 232).

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