Rep. Chris Stewart and Rick B. Larsen advocate a new approach to discussions of socialism (Salt Lake Tribune, July 31). What really needs to be well defined is the state of current American “conservatism.”

Traditional conservatism lost its moral compass decades ago and has since sailed into those regions mapped: "Here There Be Monsters” — into Ayn Rand’s, Milton Friedman’s and Paul Ryan’s libertarian whirlpool.

“Conservative” now too often denotes "someone committed to free-market fundamentalism — one who uses short-term economic efficiency as the justification for nearly all socio-economic policies irrespective of the long-term consequences for persons.”

Conservatives, in line with Milton Friedman’s economics, proclaim that competition is central to a healthy economy, but that the generation of too-big-to-fail private enterprises is preferable to government regulation. (The tension between these two beliefs goes unremarked.) The primary — if not sole — obligation of corporations is the enhancement of shareholder value.

Quarterly profit increases are used to justify executive compensation and bonuses. Workers’ and consumers’ interests are wholly subordinate to the realization of the foregoing primary objectives. As a consequence, income inequality steadily increases.

For many of today’s “conservatives,” capital accumulation is the be all and end all of “social interactions.” For such “conservatives,” human relations are transactional and fungible, whatever is legal is moral, and “justice” is the inevitable outcome of free-market exchanges.

“Conservative freedom” is “the opportunity to expend one’s time, talent and resources in any way one deems conducive to the pursuit of one’s self-interest —whether one’s self-interest is ‘enlightened’ or ‘unenlightened.’” Indeed, blessed be those who pursue “unenlightened” self-interest, for they are readily manipulated and victimized by their more astute "betters”.

There was a time when America’s conservative political party truly conserved rather than obstructed and demolished. To at least some extent, conservative civic and religious institutions once provided moral curbs on the greed inherent to America’s brand of minimally regulated capitalism. Now politicized, some of these institutions and a number of their leaders are among the cheerleaders of that economic system and celebrants of its gospel of greed.

Today’s conservatism is all too devoid of compassion.

Andrew G. Bjelland

Andrew G. Bjelland, Ph.D., Salt Lake City, is a professor emeritus of philosophy, Seattle University.