Outside the New York Stock Exchange in 2015. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
Continue the debate on conservatism, markets and virtue
Listen, princes of Jacob and heads of the house of Israel! Is not it your role to know the judgment, you who hate the good and love the evil! You snatch the skin and flesh from their bones violently? Those who have eaten the flesh of my people and skinned their skin, broke their bones and cut their bones as for the kettle and as flesh in the middle of the pot. – Micah 3: 1-3
Sad! The prophet Micah preached a policy of victimization to the Israelites, accusing the dark elites of supposedly unfaithful priests, opportunistic prophets, and "greedy princes of the house of Jacob." He even says that the whole nation will be destroyed because of their evil desire for self. Does he not know that preaching this matter to respectable people has never helped a single lazy poor? Micah is dissatisfied with the people who succeed in the new political arrangements in the Levant. He vainly aspires to an old Davidic monarchy which, like American manufacturing jobs, will never come back. And when you think about it, there are real anti-Semitic connotations denouncing the "heads of the house of Israel" and all that. You really hate to see a 6th century b.c. text that rhymes with the worst rhetoric of the 20th century Let us hope that the American right rejects this nonsense.
I'm sure some readers are tired of hearing about Tucker Carlson's monologue. But this is now a matter of debate, as Carlson pointed out the real melting crack that melts sulfur on the American right. In doing so, without ever mentioning Donald Trump's name, character, or political fortune, he allowed everyone to be more outspoken than usual. Carlson's case is that the economic and social policy pursued by the elites has destroyed the material basis of family life, that our technocratic elite has bad measures of national health. In addition, he argues that if the American right does not abandon its idolatry distanced from the "market", the country will quickly move towards socialism.
My colleagues David French and David Bahnsen, as well as Ben Shapiro, strongly opposed. The themes are remarkably similar. Carlson says real things about the state of family life, they admit. But he encourages a victim mentality. French complains of the insidious way in which populism "focuses on politics to the detriment of the staff." It teaches people to fight for what is out of their control (public policies, elites) to the detriment of what they control (their business). Shapiro more generally argues that virtue (happy marriages, self-control) precedes prosperity, implying that no political solution to increase income will, in itself, reduce the rate of drug use or drug abuse. Increase marriage rates or legitimacy of childbearing age.
While the French, Bahnsen and Shapiro all oppose Carlson's Jeremiah about elites and his iconoclasm in the "free market", no one disputes that, as Carlson said, Private equity companies sometimes take advantage of our laws to extract value from existing businesses for shareholders, charging fees while transferring pension expenses to the public. Moreover, no one has challenged Carlson's argument that, in the absence of a spectacular effort to change the conditions of the American middle class and working class, the country would turn to socialism. I found these curious omissions.
In reply, Shapiro and France have both released statistics showing that US manufacturing output has remained relatively stable and attributed any decline in employment to automation. But in the same period of the post-Cold War, other industrial powers are seeing their manufacturing output increase. In other words, the US manufacturing sector is not only employing fewer people than before, it is falling behind and losing competitiveness.
But first let's talk about the "free market" and "government interventionism". Carlson argued that policies that favor certain forms of wealth creation for the elite and disadvantage those of the workers are not the "free market". but the product of laws and decisions made by Congress. Carlson said:
Market capitalism is a tool, like a stapler or a toaster. You have to be crazy to love it. Our system was created by human beings for the benefit of human beings. We do not exist to serve the markets. Completely the opposite. Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. Such a system is the enemy of a healthy society.
Carlson's critics have sometimes proved his point. In an answer on his own website, Ben Shapiro replies:
Carlson seems to attribute America's problems not to the interventionism of governments, but to the non-interventionism of governments. Conservatism has generally argued that if you live in a free society in which you have not been unfairly targeted, your failures are yours. For Carlson, however, the very freedom of our society leads to the misfortune that many of us feel. Carlson seems to suggest that our system itself is responsible for individual flaws, and that the collective restructuring of free institutions will mitigate and correct these flaws. It just does not reflect conservatism or founding ideology.
Shapiro writes that "the economic systems that allow families to flourish are the same systems that allow all human beings to flourish: free markets." And that Carlson "blames both the welfare state and trade policy – as if tariffs were not merely an indirect form of redistribution of wealth. "
Imagine I've written a long list on the waste of government spending. In this screed, I cited outdated defense programs aimed at sharing wealth between vulnerable districts of Congress, and I protested against the stupid waste of seeing all federal projects that use computers still need to be done. be certified "Year 2000 compliant".
And then, a group of writers wrote a detailed response defending this waste and injustice by saying that "self-government has produced the best and most responsible governments in the history of humanity." And that the results are only self-government in action, and if I do not like it, I can mingle with the Marxists. These references to self-government would be just a rhetorical trick to avoid debate. Frankly, many of Carlson's critics deploy "free markets" this way. And I find it as useful that I would defend Chinese economic arrangements by referring to "Xi Jinping's thinking".
Carlson's critics do not make a clear distinction between markets governed by laws established by democratic publics and those subjected to constant government intervention and interference by social engineers. If China has a mercantilist policy to increase its skills and laws that promote the capture, growth and protection of its own high-tech industries at our expense, is our trade with them really free? May I remind those participating in this discussion that in the early 1990s, William F. Buckley Jr. opposed free trade with China precisely for the dire economic and political consequences of dealing with a communist country like China as a free country like Canada? He came later to liberalize trade, but his initial skepticism was better justified by events. Was he a populist who looked like Bernie Sanders?
Shapiro writes that right-wing populists are largely in agreement with the Marxist left to assert that "human failures are the result of economic systems based on private property; therefore, private property-based systems must be destroyed. The traditional conservative stance on "markets" has always been a cautious appreciation of private property, mixed with a bit of suspicion towards trade and wage slavery. In fact, the traditional conservative position views property ownership as a form of guardianship and tends to despise the "owners" who eagerly extract all the value of a resource in the present if it destroys its future value for posterity.
Bahnsen writes: "Carlson has wrongly chosen to blame macroeconomic forces for the decisions people make, instead of focusing on the decisions people make and the microeconomic consequences they absorb."
I would therefore ask those who oppose Carlson in this sense: when can we move from the topic of personal responsibility to governance? In other words, are there political conditions in which the advice to be virtuous and responsible is not the best advice you can give to a person?
It seems to be just as true to say this in Russia during the post-communist period, characterized by a skyrocketing of addiction problems and a life expectancy disproportionate. So, as now, the best advice you can give a Russian man is not to drink until his liver falls and he dies. You can advise Russian women not to abort so many children. You can advise people to return to the church. All this would be beneficial and more practical than to see them sink into the failure of the elite. But none of this advice is incompatible with political thinking and action aimed at building a more flourishing society.
And our jobs at the National Review and at the Daily thread include writing and reflecting on political conditions. In this debate, we all focus on causes that make political efforts and coordination difficult. Could one of us really conclude that since the Russian state did not force men under the threat of drinking, the death rate in Russia had nothing to do with corruption? , the venality and bad governance of the time? I doubt it.
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I agree that a victim mentality is not helpful. A victim mentality does not even help most real victims. This would not help most political prisoners unjustly detained. They too benefit spiritually from self-control (and religion)! I fear that we are no longer so conscious of legitimizing a victim mentality that we have decided that justice is not worth pursuing. We trust so much in an invisible hand that we do not wonder if the laws and policies governing trade, employment and markets are prudent. We become as simple as those who say, "You do not like abortion? So do not have one.
Bahnsen declines the idea of simply pulling the strings. "I do not believe that our rejection of a victimization mentality can occur in isolation," he writes. "A healthy (and happy) society needs mediation institutions – family, church, civic organizations, communities – that serve as vehicles for a virtuous life."
What about democracy or republican government? Do not these institutions play a role in self-governance? My question to Bahnsen would be this: if mediation institutions such as family, church and civic organizations are important, this should not bother us that many advocates of modern capitalism praise capitalism precisely because it tends to erase and render null the authority of these. institutions? Do not we worry that many libertarian allies extol capitalism in the same terms as those described by Marx? The Communist Manifesto: engine of destruction of social links?
Let's move on to another victim mentality, the elite mentality. The big financial institutions are excused for their failures. How can they help, what about animal spirits and all? French finds it insidious that Carlson seems to teach his viewers that some of them are hurting "us". He thinks it will weaken their motivation to take charge of their lives, to live within their means and to move forward. Does not this also apply to elites?
What is really insidious is that the docile response of "us" Americans to unjust financial rescues a decade ago is considered positive by "them". It's a sign that when we discover once again in the future that these institutions are too big to fail, the Americans will agree to be broke to save them. Shapiro and French implicitly advocate that the market encourages self-discipline and industry. But at the highest level, it subsidizes failure and irresponsibility.
Good Politic tried to understand the real cost of the bailouts. The government lent, spent, or otherwise guaranteed $ 12.8 trillion. In other words, the banks and Wall Street got a New Deal, a Fair Deal, a large corporation and a guaranteed income. This industry has seen its socialized losses with an ocean of money that makes federal welfare spending look like a dribble near the Goldman Sachs urinal. The man of the people could use the bailouts to make the long and arduous request for refinancing a new home, often under unusual and abusive conditions. The government would pay a bank of intermediaries for the creation and service of this loan as well.
Where were the conferences on personal responsibility, the sacrosanct judgments of the market and the consequent virtue of adaptation in 2008? If the Conservatives believe that a number of American blue-collar industries are obsolete in a global economy, why did not we conclude the same thing about the US financial sector a decade ago? Did anyone claim that America could simply no longer compete with the city of London and other financial capitals? Did anybody say that the British simply had a competitive advantage and that the subsidies needed to maintain this Aboriginal industry were only intolerable distortions of the market, funding the lifestyle of the losers who should adapt to the economy of the show or do the heroin so they can not? understand what else to do with their life?
No of course not. Almost everyone in power has friends in this industry or hopes to work there one day. I went to conferences of old politicians and their advisers. Almost all work for an NGO, a financial institution or a company that consults financial institutions. We have simply concluded that a financial sector is vital to our country strategically, economically and politically. We calculated that the social costs of closing or disappearing this industry were too harmful to be considered. And we saved him.
But populism is not only fueled by the misbehavior of licensed financial institutions and by taxpayers. It is also fueled by more common forms of greed and exploitation. French tells an anecdote about his father-in-law who left the chronically poor Tennessee mountain regions, joined the Marines and improved through his higher education and a good marriage with a Christian woman. God bless him. But I have another anecdote.
Not far from home is a college that hopes to "serve" those who do not normally have access to university education. This college is accredited and its registration enjoys a huge amount of obsolete advertising and propaganda for colleges. He takes advantage of these fake "facts" about how a college education generates an additional $ 1 million in income over a lifetime. He also enjoys the odd privilege and non-discrimination accorded to government-guaranteed student loans, a type of debt almost impossible to pay. His typical student has a low-paying job in a service industry. One third of the students are graduates. And the vast majority of them see no change in their career path. They go back to their service jobs. But they are more educated than before! Teachers and administrators are all civic people who believe that education is valuable in itself. They do not look like vampires. But do students know that their education has no market value? Do they realize that this system is turning their low five-figure wages into their own personal debt, a debt that is more difficult to escape, legally speaking, than a spouse or even a child? Do they realize that this debt finances much higher five- and six-figure salaries for their teachers and administrators?
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At this point, I hear the voice of my colleague Kevin D. Williamson. Williamson thinks that Carlson and his supporters – people like JD Vance and myself – are playing a "status game". We criticize the costumes and sing heathens to the worker, and my colleague can not see the point. My answer to this accusation is to write to him: Yes, guilty.
I think by chance that a good Conservative government involves reconciling the diverse interests of your society with the common good. Status goes with power. Our working theory is that the interests of the vulnerable middle and working class have been ignored for a long time by the political class of this country. The results were a decline in the participation of men of very active age in the labor force, huge problems with addiction, the absence of marriage and the election of Donald Trump. Carlson's thesis is that if we continue on this path, the result will be socialism. Any attempt by Carlson, Vance or myself to ensure that the interests of this group of people are taken into account will, by definition, elevate their lower status.
It's a tautology. There is no shortage of agency involved either. Many of these men reacted rationally to the fact that the Democrats began to stop defending their interests a quarter of a century ago: they enter the opposing party and vote for candidates who would defend them.
Even assuming that all adjustments of the moral status and status of his different subjects are made with superhuman precision: what then? What's our sweet new generation of nationalists would like to see completed?
Because if the problem we are trying to solve is the situation of low-income, unemployed and marginally employed white men in rural and semi-rural areas, there is nothing to shed light on the moral weaknesses of this or that leader. Company New York City or Palo Alto changes the fact that we have two choices: we help these men to become self-sufficient or we maintain them indefinitely in welfare dependency.
It's good to see Williamson go on to Lenin's question: what must be done? The first step is to recognize the problem. This is what Williamson opposes when he belittles the social and political description of "careful tuning" and "status games". But if we can admit that Buckley may have been right to oppose George HW Bush's trade policy with China, then we may admit that policymakers may have been mistaken in thinking that he There was no difference between the production of potato chips and microchips. Not just because it's dangerous to give a communist geopolitical rival this kind of access to your supply chain security. But also because, unlike potato farmers, people who develop skills and knowledge in a computer chip industry often create other businesses. Just ten years after signing a contract with Chinese companies for the assembly of iPhones, China has developed its own powerful technology companies. We can admit that elite theories about transitions to a service economy, the theories that led to policy shifts and knocking trade negotiators out of the current danger, were false. Do not compose the error in the future.
Once done, we can move on to more ambitious proposals. Williamson wants these marginal men to be matched with the many unpaid and well-paid industrial jobs that exist in America. Me too, but I have the strange feeling that the fall in fertility rates over the last two generations has destroyed the main means by which men find this type of employment: their networks of extended kinship. Be that as it may, we could consider Oren Cass's proposed labor reform proposal, which would allow German-type worker cooperatives that have the capacity to train men and match them to opportunities. This would imply another status game, as it may involve thinking more about this issue and less serving the interests of our overburdened university system. So be it.
I do not think that the different facets of this debate are irreconcilable. Shapiro gets closer to a truth and agrees with Carlson and myself when he exposes the classic conception of the founders of the threats to the polished. He wrote that they recognized that "the main threat to virtue came from the desire to gain material gain, disconnected from the virtuous social fabric".
I could not agree more. Meanwhile, the liability crisis mentioned by Bahnsen also belongs to the selfish elites. And he recognizes that. One of the great advantages of having nation-states rather than empires is that nation-states help connect the metropolitan elites to their country. According to the populists, the post-Cold War era consisted of trying to separate the elites from their moral, economic and political duties towards their compatriots. This is why there is a curious internationalization to the split of Western politics. One of the supporters, the Western elite, takes advantage of the post-Cold War status quo of the European Union, Macron and Merkel. On the other hand, people yearn for the survival of nation states, Trump, Brexit and yellow jackets.
I also agree with Robert VerBruggen that some of the social changes that have occurred over the last 50 years are having an unprecedented effect and are difficult to manage. But, again, if I understand French, Bahnsen and Shapiro, the difficulty of our situation does not excuse the elite to fall into self-pity and lassitude. This is our problem, let's go to solve it.
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One last anecdote. In 2017, I attended a closed-door political elite conference, joining former party leaders and serious personalities from think tanks from Europe and the United States . They were trying to cope with Brexit and Trump. They tried to talk about general problems: China, automation and populism. One participant, a woman with perfect civilization, said that it was inevitable that automation rendered unnecessary a considerable plurality of men in the economy. She said that those who were economically useful would continue to become fabulously wealthy, and that we would re-employ useless men in labor-intensive industries. "They're going to make expensive" artisanal "banana bread and we'll pretend to like it," she said, making scary quotes with her fingers. In other words, his response to the social crisis shaking the West is "eat their cake".
The Conservatives must stop treating US economic policies as sacrosanct in theory and irreproachable. It is good to tell your neighbor to get a haircut and go to the job interview. However, as people who talk about politics and are interested in the Commonwealth, we need to work towards creating a free market that helps create strong families and communities instead of hindering them. If we do not, the prophecies of Micah will also be valid for America. And if we get Venezuelan politics back, all the sermons on the culture of victimization and self-pity will be repeated on mocking tones in return for those who offered them.
Editor's note: This article has been modified to better reflect the evolving position of William F. Buckley Jr. on trade with China.