Matt Lewis

Up with people: An idea conservatives can rally around?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

With all the talk of the conservative movement’s soul-searching, there is at least one positive and optimistic conservative message just waiting to be embraced: The case for more people.

Advocates of this theory encompass a new three-legged-stool: Those who believe in the Right to Life, those who believe in the salutary benefits of immigration, and free market advocates who insist we don’t have to live in a world of limited resources — that we can grow the pie.

At the Wall Street Journal this weekend, Jeb Bush hinted at this idea, when he wrote:

Somewhere in America a child is being born whose bold idea may save a life, or the lives of millions. For every child who reaches his full abilities, there are a hundred who could have done the same but are stuck in failing and indifferent schools.” (Emphasis mine.)

This theory, of course, flies in the face of the Malthusian catastrophe argument — the conventional wisdom that said the world was in danger of over-population.

Instead, the idea is premised on the work of economists like Julian Simon and Esther Boserup, whose arguments essentially boiled down to this:

More people = more ideas, innovation, and prosperity. 

Of course, not everyone on the right would embrace this message. Populist conservatives might be pro-life, but they also tend to favor protectionist economic policies and stricter immigration rules.

They’re also fond of the trope that says rural areas (you know, “Real America”) are superior than urban areas. (Conversely, if you think that more people equals more ideas, then cities are where — as Matt Ridley says — “ideas have sex.”)

Ideas have consequences, and this one is no exception. Embracing this worldview would also mean saying “no” to other ideas. For example, if more people equals more ideas, then it would be logical to conclude that abortion — and low immigration and birth rates — are a problem, not a solution.

It would also be logical to conclude that traditional values that encourage families to have more children should be encouraged (for more on this, listen to my conversation with Jonathan V. Last, author of “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting.”)

This may not be the silver bullet Republicans are searching for, but aside from being a compassionate philosophy, it also has the benefit of at least being a coherent and consistent message.

Conservatives could do worse.