Liberals often appeal to morality in policy debates with conservatives—with much success. But conservatives should not cede the moral high ground. In fact, a strong case for conservatism can be made on the basis of morality.

Consider why shrinking government is moral. The more the federal government provides for people, the more it deprives them not only of their dignity, but of one of the most sacred rights, penned by Thomas Jefferson: the right to pursue happiness. Why? Because fulfilling happiness comes from earned success, not from unearned handouts.

Think about the person we all knew growing up whose parents spoiled him or her. Even if that person wasn’t unhappy at the time (though chances are he or she was unhappy), it teaches that individual to expect handouts, which will likely result in an unhappy adulthood. Sewing the seeds of entitlement is a recipe for misery.

During the recent recession, unemployment benefits were extended from six months to nearly two years . Does not an extension of such length send the message to people who receive them that they can depend on government? How dignifying is that?

Certainly in tough times people may need help, but the tragedy of governmental aid is that it crowds out assistance from families, private charities and local communities, which is much more personal, not to mention much more effective. Jonathan Gruber, an economist from MIT, conducted a study of the New Deal government in the 1930s, and concluded that private charity spending “fell by 30% in response to the New Deal, and that government relief spending can explain virtually all of the decline in charitable church activity observed between 1933 and 1939.”

Private charities are able to make distinctions between people who truly need help and those who do not, as well as between those who need material assistance and those who need moral refocus, personal counseling, relationship repair or spiritual commitment. Government, no matter how well-intentioned, does not and cannot make such distinctions. In fact, the more ubiquitous government programs become, the less needed families and communities are to help those who require it.

Though well-intentioned, leftism’s commitment to government undermines both the individual pursuit of happiness, which results from earned success, and private charity of families and communities who can best provide it to those experiencing hardship. Conservatism, on the other hand, is committed to both, and is precisely why moving the country to the right is moral.