Conservative-Minded Conservatism

I was thinking about forms of socialism that are popularly supported among conservatives in particular social contexts and under certain conditions. The specific example that got me thinking was the public bank in North Dakota (see my previous post), a socialist institution in one of the most conservative states in the country.

In a comment to that previous post, I wrote:

The red states like the Upper Midwest are ‘conservative’ in the more normal dictionary-definition sense of the word. I’ve always thought that socialism, like communalism, with its emphasis on the group and on community is inherently ‘conservative’ in that it seeks to conserve the public good of group cohesion and community health.

They are also conservative in another sense in that they want socialist public good for those they identify with at the local level: their states, their cities, their communities. But they don’t want to participate in any socialism that might help anyone else they don’t identify with.

This interests me on a personal level in two ways. My parents are conservative and I’ve always sensed a certain kind of conservative tendency in myself.

Part of what appeals to me about American liberalism is its conservative-mindedness. That is the same thing that appeals to me about the Upper Midwestern conservatism as well. It is conservatism that means to conserve what is good and proven, useful and necessary. It is moderate in that it seeks to moderate against radical change, but doesn’t take a reactionary stance against reform. It emphasizes community and even communalism, emphasizes family and church, putting group interests first by promoting social responsibility and local autonomy.

North Dakota is one of the most conservative states in the country. It is precisely because they are so extremely conservative that they have a state owned and operated bank.

To mainstream thought in America, this appears incongruent to say the least. Anti-socialist conservatives and anti-conservative socialists would probably feel some cognitive dissonance when presented with what is either conservative-minded socialism or sociaist-minded conservatism, not that North Dakotans would use such labels to describe their public banking system.

Whatever you call it, mainstream thought tells us that such a thing shouldn’t be possible. Certainly, it shouldn’t be successful. But reality doesn’t always conform to our ideological expectations. It turns out such a thing is both possible and, at least in this instance, apparently quite successful.

The North Dakota public bank has been in operation for almost a century. The bank makes a profit and the profit is kept in the bank. They don’t get involved in risky banking schemes in the way other states do when they use private banks. North Dakota did well when the rest of the country experienced the recession caused by the banking scandals. The North Dakota bank required no bailout.

It turns out a socialist bank is a more fiscally responsible way of running a state, instead of investing public tax money in risky private banks. Being a fiscally responsible form of government, it is fiscally conservative. Allowing for state autonomy and self-responsibility, it is socially conservative as well. North Dakotans take care of their own financing and they take care of their own people. They are thus more independent of both big government and big banks.

What at first appears incongruent is in reality perfectly congruent. Some basic analysis of the facts at hand dispels the initial cognitive dissonance.

I’d like to see more of this kind of conservative-minded conservatism, with or without socialism.

Regional Stereotypes For Fun and Profit

Further data showing regions to more or less conform to their cultural stereotypes. For the fun of it, I’ll oversimplify and exaggerate the conclusions:

  • Upper Midwesterners are conservative-minded progressives and socialists who are healthy in mind and body.
  • Appalachians are rightwing-minded regressives and corporatists who are unhealthy in mind and body.

Where Are the Country’s Least Happy and Healthy Americans? New Studies Reveal America’s “Sadness Belt”
By Melanie Foley

Gallup and Healthways recently released their annual Well-Being Index for 2012, and Appalachia was found once again to be home to some of the least healthy and happy Americans. The most striking result of last year’s Well-Being Index is that while the happiest states are spread throughout the country, the lowest ranking states are all clustered in Central and Southern Appalachia, and the region’s neighboring states.

Why Is Socialism Doing So Darn Well in Deep-Red North Dakota?
By Les Leopold

North Dakota is the very definition of a red state. It voted 58 percent to 39 percent for Romney over Obama, and its statehouse and senate have a total of 104 Republicans and only 47 Democrats. The Republican super-majority is so conservative it recently passed the nation’s most severe anti-abortion resolution – a measure that declares a fertilized human egg has the same right to life as a fully formed person.

But North Dakota is also red in another sense: it fully supports its state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND), a socialist relic that exists nowhere else in America. Why is financial socialism still alive in North Dakota? Why haven’t the North Dakotan free-market crusaders slain it dead?

Because it works.

In 1919, the Non-Partisan League, a vibrant populist organization, won a majority in the legislature and voted the bank into existence. The goal was to free North Dakota farmers from impoverishing debt dependence on the big banks in the Twin Cities, Chicago and New York. More than 90 years later, this state-owned bank is thriving as it helps the state’s community banks, businesses, consumers and students obtain loans at reasonable rates. It also delivers a handsome profit to its owners — the 700,000 residents of North Dakota. In 2011, the BND provided more than $70 million to the state’s coffers. Extrapolate that profit-per-person to a big state like California and you’re looking at an extra $3.8 billion a year in state revenues that could be used to fund education and infrastructure.