The Commons

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.

Failing a Test on Trade Share This

| May 14, 2020 | Trade

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 Offers a Compelling ‘Back to the Future’ Model Share This

| May 14, 2020 | Industrial Policy

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

“One Nation” America Share This

| May 13, 2020 | Coalition

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….

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Why America Needs A Great Civil Service Share This

| May 11, 2020 | Governing

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

Addressing 21st Century Problems, Not 20th Century Problems Share This

| May 11, 2020 | Politics

Re: And Now a Word for Laissez-Faire (Wall Street Journal)

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

No, U.S. Manufacturing Is Not at an All-Time High Share This

| May 11, 2020 | Economics

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

“Pay Parents” Isn’t a Pro-Family Position Share This

| May 10, 2020 | Family

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

Toward a New Anti-Corruption Statecraft Share This

| May 09, 2020 | Corruption

Re: Whither Corruption and Conservatism (Matt Stoller)

REUTERS / Joshua Roberts –

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

Whither Corruption and Conservatism? Share This

| May 08, 2020 | Corruption

Oren Cass invited me to contribute to this site not as a conservative but as a lefty and Democrat who is fascinated by the project of intellectual revival in which this network of thinkers is engaged. The contributors share an important goal, which is to rebuild an economic and political consensus in favor of the national interest, and to discard the hollow promises of neoliberalism/libertarianism. I’m going to try to provoke and prod, to force this community to strengthen their thinking.

My own reason for participating is to both learn, and to encourage both parties to compete for votes based on a view of a moral society that situates power in the hands of local communities, families, and producers, and removes power from the middlemen on Wall Street and at McKinsey, who today organize our corporate state. My view is that it is monopolists, in industries as varied as candy to coffins to missiles, who control the commerce and politics of our nation, so building community sovereignty and a vibrant self-governing republic means taking on the central challenge of monopoly. Read More

“TRIM” the WTO, Don’t Abolish It Share This

| May 07, 2020 | Trade

It is refreshing to see an increasing number of politicians and pundits from across the political spectrum calling for re-establishing their manufacturing base to address the vulnerabilities exposed in the wake of COVID-19.  The latest is GOP Senator Josh Hawley, calling for the abolition of the World Trade Organization, in a NY Times Op-ed.

It may not be necessary to go that far:  As I have argued before, within the overall treaty are the Trade-Related Investment Measures, or TRIMs for short. These must be abrogated if countries are serious about re-establishing domestic manufacturing capability. They are regulations that explicitly prohibit local content requirements, prioritization of domestic firms for public works procurement, foreign exchange restrictions (which are particularly important for emerging economies now totally reliant on dollar funding access by the U.S. Federal Reserve), and export restrictions. Read More