COLUMN: Being socially liberal and fiscally conservative is inherently hypocritical

Many in the middle of the political spectrum are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but that ideology plays into the hands of capitalism and counters the fight for liberation.
Graphic by Geoffrey Dean

Sydney Lewis is a first-year journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about politics and identity for The Maneater.

Identifying as socially liberal and fiscally conservative is common among moderate and third party voters. This ideology is hypocritical because it’s impossible to separate social issues from their economic causes. One cannot value freedom and equality while still believing capitalism as a system can grant that liberation.

People who are socially liberal believe in more progressive policies like the legalization of same-sex marriage, increased access to abortion, gun control and universal healthcare.

Being fiscally conservative means believing in free trade, privatization of industry, less government regulation and lower taxes.

Moderates who find themselves wanting equality on social issues but also limited government intervention frequently identify as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Whether these people vote Democrat, Republican or third-party is often a toss-up.

In the 2016 election, 52% of socially liberal, fiscally conservative voters cast their ballot for President Donald Trump, compared to 40% who voted for Hillary Clinton. Since the start of his campaign, Trump has been praised for his economic victories and business ventures.

As of April 2020, 56% of voters approved of Trump’s handling of the economy, despite its downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic. If voters believe strongly in Trump’s economic policies, they are more inclined to vote for him over a candidate who supports their socially liberal values.

On the contrary, some social liberal, fiscal conservatives care more about social issues than economic ones. Progressive single-issue voters who value fiscal conservatism would likely choose a Democratic candidate who aligns with their beliefs instead of a Republican who wants limited government.

In 2016, 64% of people who favor gay marriage voted for Clinton. If gay marriage is the most important issue to a fiscal conservative, it makes sense for them to vote for that belief over their economic one. If economic policy is more important to them than gay marriage, they may fall into the 29% of people who voted for Trump.

It comes down to whether voters prioritize social or economic issues because it’s impossible to prioritize both. Social liberalism and fiscal conservatism are fundamentally and diametrically opposite. To be socially liberal and fiscally conservative is to ignore the impact of capitalism on social issues.

It’s not possible to be anti-racist without being anti-capitalism. It’s not possible to be anti-homophobia without being anti-capitalism. It’s not possible to be pro-liberation without being anti-capitalism.

These systems are fundamentally rooted in capitalism, making each issue an inherently economic issue. To ignore that fact is to ignore the plight of people fighting against those institutions.

“Capitalism is a system that depends on exploitation,” University of California, Riverside professor Edna Bonacich said. For capitalism to function, there must be economic disparities that most often impact people of color. Capitalism doesn’t allow for equal opportunity. It aims to profit off the labor of the working class.

Racial capitalism is a “technique for exploiting Black people and for fomenting the hostility of working-class whites toward Blacks, so as to enable white capitalists to extract value from everyone else,” according to the New Yorker.

“It’s a mistake to assume that we can combat racism by leaving capitalism in place,” activist Angela Davis said. “The original capital was provided by the labor of slaves.”

The United States was built on the institution of slavery; U.S. capitalism grew out of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Since then, capitalism has further ingrained racism in the United States.

It’s impossible to have one system without the other because they are interdependent. Malcolm X famously said, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

Racism isn’t the only systemic oppression etched in capitalism. Queer liberation is also impossible without the downfall of our current economic system.

“The majority of LGBT people are living with a measure of insecurity, where their ability to survive economically is always in danger,” professor and author John D’Emilio said. “Capitalism … hasn’t provided security for most [LGBTQ+] people.”

LGBTQ+ people don’t have job, housing or education security. In all three of those realms, LGBTQ+ people face discrimination because of their sexuality or gender identity. The legalization of same-sex marriage didn’t grant liberation. Even if the Equality Act, which aims to end discrimination based on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, is passed, liberation won’t be achieved. It’s impossible for liberation to be granted under the capitalist system.

“Some liberal Democrats and Republicans work diligently to get people to believe that the answers to the problems facing homosexuals (and all oppressed people) can be found in a reliance on a slow, steady push for reforms through the capitalist system and its politicians,” Kipp Dawson wrote in a 1975 pamphlet titled Gay Liberation: A Socialist Perspective.

These two issues, among others, are rooted in the system that fiscal conservatives believe in. It’s impossible to support LGBTQ+ and racial equality and believe those rights can be achieved under capitalism.

The social liberal fiscal convservative ideology doesn’t go far enough and often comes from a place of privilege. Any reforms that can be made to take a step closer to liberation under capitalism do not go far enough.

Capitalism is built on the exploitation of the working class. It is built to deprive workers of economic security while underpaying and overworking them. Capitalism “depends on depriving the vast majority of people of … essential preconditions for a decent life,” Vivek Chibber, a professor at New York University, said.

As many MU students head to the polls and send in absentee ballots for the first time, they have to remember that voting in favor of capitalist economic policies has immense social repercussions on marginalized communities.

If people who subscribe to the socially liberal, fiscally conservative ideology truly value equality and liberation like they say, they would work to dismantle the capitalist structure that bars that liberation from being achieved. Instead, they sit on a moral high horse and pat themselves on the back for being moderate and seeing both sides. They think it’s possible to have compassion for the working class and for those who exploit them. This is not the case. For liberation to be achieved, capitalism must fall.

_As part of its commitment to highlighting organizations fighting for racial justice, the Maneater is encouraging readers to donate to the Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, “a black trans and queer led organization that builds safety within our community, investing in our collective embodied leadership and building political power.” Donate at:

Edited by Sofi Zeman |

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