The Commons hosts commentary from contributing writers across the political spectrum, advancing American Compass’s mission through discussion that combines intellectual combat and personal civility.
In his recent post Matt Stoller observes that a common theme at The Commons thus far is “the reemergence of the state as the key locus of legitimacy for the exercise of power” and urges conservatives to think about corruption and statecraft. What’s needed, he says, “is a vision of how to structure such a state without succumbing to corruption.”
Corruption is, of course, a serious threat to our liberties, and Stoller’s piece is deeply thought-provoking. (Particularly striking is his treatment of the American Revolution as a response not only to a corrupt government but to the corrupt economic power of the East India Company; also, his framing of large corporations as “private governments in control of public infrastructure.”)
The post made me reflect on the spillover effects of corruption, the way that corruption in the government or market initiates trickle-down distrust. Though its origins may be specific (a particular instance of corruption), the effects are more akin to general anesthesia: an IV in one vein that spreads its effects to the whole body, corruption in one person or institution that leads to a more general social distrust of people and institutions of all kinds, the disorienting sense that nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. Read More
Some time after I first met Oren, we had a good back and forth about neoliberalism, a term that has already appeared several times on this website and is at the forefront of American Compass’s mind. While Oren thought the word useful to describe the reigning economic orthodoxy we both found dissatisfying, I was more reticent to use it.
For one, none of today’s neoliberals, and very few of yesteryear’s neoliberals, identify as such. In fact, I can’t think of any prominent intellectual, politician or economist today who calls himself a neoliberal. In 1951, Milton Friedman did publish an essay entitled “Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects,” but he later abandoned the label.
Neoliberalism also seems too elastic a concept to be meaningful. An article by two political scientists surveying its various uses concludes that it is a “conceptual trash heap capable of accommodating multiple distasteful phenomena.” Indeed, one may question the value of a label that gets applied to every single President since Nixon, as well as to Hayek, Tony Blair and Deng Xiaoping.
Professor Dan Drezner has been crudely criticizing Senator Josh Hawley’s New York Times op-ed on U.S. withdrawal from the WTO—treating it “the way one would treat an undergrad paper in global political economy,” awarding a C-minus, and offering the feedback that, “You can do better work than this, Josh. Put in the effort, do more research and make sharper arguments next time.” He exposes the fundamental weakness of his critique though, with the claim that “Hawley prefers exiting the WTO and rejecting the estimated $2.1 trillion in benefits from trade,” in the process demonstrating exactly what simplistic economic analyses of trade policy get wrong. Read More
Japan has announced newly defined restrictions on foreign investment, which at face value, seem to violate the provisions of the World Trade Organization agreement. Of course, Tokyo has crafted these restrictions on the vague grounds of “national security”, which is likely to take on a substantially different meaning in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Hence, the country is unlikely to face any serious challenge from other WTO members.
Nor should it. Traditional supporters of the old globalized world order, notably the Financial Times, have predictably criticized the Japanese government’s framework as “protectionist”, as if this charge in itself constitutes grounds to discontinue the policies. But historically, Japan has never allowed national interest to be defined by market fundamentalist/neoliberal considerations alone. Read More
Take a guess when these words were written:
[What we are seeing is] the perishing of the whole English power of self-support, the growth of cities that drain and dry up the countryside, the growth of dense dependent populations incapable of finding their own food, the toppling triumph of machines over men; the sprawling omnipotence of financiers over patriots, the herding of humanity in nomadic masses whose very homes are homeless, the terrible necessity of peace and the terrible probability of war, all the loading up of our little island like a sinking ship; the wealth that may mean famine and the culture that may mean despair; the bread of Midas and the sword of Damocles….
Henry Adams described the hopelessness in Washington in 1860 and early 1861 as the country careened towards break-up and war this way: “No one could help. Looking back on this moment of crisis, nearly 50 years afterwards, one could only shake one’s white beard in silent horror.” I’ve thought about this passage a lot lately in light of the serial failures of government’s response to the current pandemic.
Every level of government – federal, state, local, elected representative, appointed administrators, and hired bureaucrats – has failed repeatedly and with devastating consequences the full extent of which we won’t know for years. And it’s a bipartisan affair. Some of the Republican governors have done a better job while some of the Democrats have done worse. Gretchen Whitmer, for whom marijuana and booze are essential while tomato plants and fertilizer for home gardens are not, comes to mind as an example of the latter. Doug Ducey in Arizona, in his typical low-key style, has charted a steady course, adjusting as necessary, that has done right by his state. Read More
Before we were engulfed by coronavirus panic, Bill McGurn penned a column warning against the perils of American Compass and social engineering (“And Now a Word for Laissez-Faire,” Wall Street Journal, March 7). I found it too Manichean: Either laissez-faire dogmatism or the conceits of social engineering. Bill rightly warns against the hubris of policy makers and reminds readers of the merits of a free market economy. But in doing so, he obscures the important decisions we need to make as a country. Read More
Daniel Moynihan once stated that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” This is no more true than with today’s debate over the health of U.S. manufacturing; a debate that is critical to get right if policy makers are to respond appropriately.
Apologists for the status quo paint a Pollyannaish picture of U.S. manufacturing. Emblematic is the National Association of Manufacturers’ claim that “manufacturers have been setting new records when it comes to manufacturing output, and through the first quarter of 2019, the industry has continued to reach new heights.” But this is like saying the movie industry is setting records because box office revenues are at an all-time high. Of course they are because population, GDP and prices grow every year. It is hard not to grow in this situation. Read More
Debates over family policy are centering on the idea that households should be “paid” for raising children. The latest salvo comes from the New York Times, which celebrates Mother’s Day with an essay by Kim Brooks entitled, “Forget Pancakes. Pay Mothers.” Gladden Pappin applauded it on Twitter as “such an important essay” and chided “pro-family conservatives” for failing to promote it: “Talk is cheap; supporting American families is dear.” To the contrary, Brooks’s essay exposes the radically individualist and statist logic of “pay” for non-market labor, which should be anathema to anyone who is “pro-family” at all. Read More
REUTERS / Joshua Roberts – stock.adobe.com
Matt poses some important questions below about how conservatives must defend anti-corruption statecraft against (tellingly) American libertarians and Chinese communists. I think it is right to suggest that the founders and their generation generally shared a robust sensibility that opposing, combating, and defeating corruption was properly political activity at the regime level.
I also think it’s right to suggest that critics of anti-corruption politics tend to turn their arguments on the idea that anti-corruption politics is always a politics of virtue: no matter how much we dislike the corruption of politics, the politics of virtue is much more dangerous. The critics of anti-corruption politics are apt to treat the dangers of enforcing public and private virtue quite similarly. Consider the debate over integralism, where many critics end up at a level of argument where if we pass laws restricting access to pornography, we’ll soon be jailing women who wear jeans instead of skirts! Read More