The Conscience of a Conservative, Part 4 Notes

Chapter Six: Freedom For Labor

Goldwater notes his proudest vote as his vote against the Kennedy-Ervin Labor Reform Bill. He thought the measure was a weak reform in the face of the revelations of the McClellan Committee about union corruption. Goldwater had originally been the only vote against, but debate picked up on the measure in the House, and it was rejected. This resulted in the Landrum-Griffin Bill, which had much more teeth. He finds that the graft and corruption exposed by the McClellan Committee to be due to “the enormous economic and political power now concentrated in the hands of union leaders” (45). Goldwater then issues a searing indictment of labor’s power as it stood in 1960: “Such power hurts the nation’s economy by forcing on employers contract terms that encourage inefficiency, lower production and high prices – all of which result in a lower standard of living for the American people” (45). He proceeds to deny that he is “anti-labor” and believes that unions can be beneficial for the country and serves as an alternative to Socialism. The union is supposed to, in his eyes, represent employees who want to collectively bargain for employment terms. Goldwater considers it corruption when unions aim to do the following:

  1. Represent employees who don’t want representation.
  2. Conduct activities that have nothing to do with collective bargaining.
  3. Bargain with an industry rather than individual business.

He acknowledges that unions need some sort of legal protection in order to function free of employer suppression. The laws that do so he notes are the Clayton Act, the Norris-LaGuardia Act (prohibiting yellow dog contracts), and the Wagner Act (the most groundbreaking and thus most offending act in conservative eyes). These laws, Goldwater holds, have done their jobs too well with the balance of power shifting from industry to labor, or, more accurately, union leaders. He gives an example of a deleterious impact on freedom of association: a family man in Pennsylvania had been a union member for over twenty years and worked in the electrical profession, but the union that became the recognized bargaining agent of his plant was the United Electrical Workers, which the CIO had ruled to be Communist dominated when they kicked them out of their organization in 1950. This man refused to join on those grounds and lost his job.

One of the most common arguments labor will push forward for compulsory unionism is the “free loader” argument, which Goldwater addresses. He compares unions to the Red Cross, as the Red Cross’s efforts provide benefits to society, yet the American public isn’t forced to give donations to them. Goldwater believes that most people will stand behind a good union that is deserving of their support.

Chapter 7: Taxes and Spending

To kick off this chapter, Goldwater decries those who run for public office and speak of lower taxes while voting for spending and projects that necessitate higher taxes. He finds those who remain consistent to be tragically uncommon. Goldwater challenges the notion that government has unlimited claim to the earnings of the citizens of the United States and finds that the individual has “lost confidence in his claim to his money” (59). He considers it to be a natural right for people to have and use their property. Goldwater considers attacks on property to be attacks on freedom and regards the concepts of property and freedom to be inseparable. He notes the attacks on property rights that regard them as manifestations of greed and materialism, which still ring true for too many American ears today. After all, he reasons, “How can a man be truly free if the fruits of his labor are not his to dispose of, but are treated, instead, as part of a common pool of public wealth?” (59).

So how does Goldwater think we should proceed? He provides an answer: “government has a right to claim an equal percentage of each man’s wealth, and no more” (61). He cites property tax assessment as an example of a tax that is collected in such a manner. Goldwater does not believe in penalizing success and regards the revenue argument for the income tax unconvincing as he finds the total revenue collected above 20% to be less than $5 billion. A figure, according to him, that amounts to “less than the federal government now spends on the one item of agriculture” (62). He properly identifies the income tax as “confiscatory” and done in the name of equalizing all men. Indeed, many proponents of higher income taxes justify it on the grounds of wealth redistribution. A key quote here is, “We are all equal in the eyes of God but we are equal in no other respect” (62). This may be the most triggering sentence for a leftist in this book. Goldwater not only recognizes the need for tax reduction, but also the need for budget reduction.

Goldwater proceeds to recount some recent (in his day) history: in 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft met to discuss taxes and spending, reaching an agreement to have a budget of $70 billion in fiscal 1954 and $60 billion in 1955, and this became a part of the Republican campaign that year. Unfortunately, Senator Taft died of cancer the following year and thus was unable to lead his party to reduced spending. Instead, the budget for fiscal 1961 came out to $80 billion. Goldwater laments not only the failure of the GOP to cut spending but the fact that spending rose under Eisenhower, who had pushed for lower budgets. He notes that domestic expenditures increased from $15.2 billion in fiscal 1951 to $37 billion in fiscal 1961, and that although spending rose by 143%, the population of the United States only increased by 18%. He also dismisses inflation as an explanation, as the value of the dollar increased by less than 20%. Goldwater finds spending to be a bipartisan problem and notes that the Democrats push for more spending in their campaigning and that the proposal from the Hoover Commission to reduce spending by $7 billion a year was mostly ignored in Washington. He finds the only solution to limiting spending is to end the programs that encourage it. Goldwater’s solution? A gradual withdrawal from functions not constitutionally assigned to the federal government. This includes such liberal hot topics of the day as:

Social welfare


Public power


Public housing

Urban renewal

These programs wouldn’t necessarily have no replacements: Goldwater leaves these functions to states and localities, although I don’t think he’d offer state level substitutes for public power, public housing, urban renewal, and most agricultural programs.

Of all the politicians in modern day, Goldwater strikes me as being most like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in his beliefs about the role of the federal government. He clenches on to an understanding of the Constitution that in his day had been passé since 1937 and seemingly a lost cause. But, as the famed attorney Clarence Darrow once stated, “Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for”.

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