Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Conservative Intellectuals

Drake Bennett's article from this past Sunday made some waves yesterday. In it he outlines a few of the voices he sees as being able to pull conservatism out of the muck. Specifically he notes Luigi Zingales, W. Bradford Wilcox, Megan McArdle and Reihan Salam. Rick Moran has already provided a brilliant summarization of the article with his own commentary about each (save for Wilcox), and I am not going to bother you with a rehashed version of what's already been done. What I would like to do, however, is respond to Moran's commentary, specifically regarding Zingales and Salam.

Before I get into my looks at those two, however, I should mention that Megan McArdle is one of the best voices on the web, and that anybody not already reading everything she writes, whether you might agree with it or not, is sorely missing out on one of the most important minds available.


First, from the original article:

Luigi Zingales says it’s time for conservatives to fall out of love with businesses, and fall back in love with the free market. In an argument that’s begun to catch the ear of a few conservative thinkers, Zingales suggests that it’s often business itself, rather than the government, that the market needs protection from.

“I’m very strongly pro-market and very strongly against business,” says the Italian-born economist, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Separating the support of free markets from the long Republican alliance with business isn’t easy, says Zingales, but it’s important. As he and colleague Raghuram Rajan laid out in their 2003 book, “Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists,” powerful companies, given the chance, work hand-in-glove with government officials to craft laws and regulations that protect them while limiting competition and transparency.

Given the arguments Zingales makes, it would perhaps be far more appropriate for him to have called his book "Saving Capitalism from the Corporatists," but hey, he's got books to sell, and his title attracts far more attention. The argument is simple, and often made, as Moran points out. And that argument, as I would hope more and more on the liberal left might begin to comprehend, is that we have indeed NOT been operating as a Capitalist society for some time. Respectively, the failure of our economy at the moment has not signified a failure of Capitalism, but rather a failure of the Corporatist culture that has susbsumed the title of Capitalism as of late. Moran outlines it simply:
Four years ago I would have wondered what Zingales was smoking in order to call himself a conservative and not support business. But the Democratic takeover of congress should have convinced anyone on the right that big business cared little about markets and more about being able to control government for their individual aggrandizement. The latest example: Wal-Mart hopping aboard the Obamacare train before it left the station. By supporting the public option and the insurance mandate for companies to supply health insurance to their workers, Wal-Mart gets to influence the final package so that it is tailored more to their needs.

We also see the dangerous big-business influence of Corporatism in the recent developments being recognized surrounding Goldman-Sachs, who after being bailed out is experiencing record profits after helping to craft legislation, and to place its former employees high within the ranks of the Federal government. Such is the nature of Corporatism that a business like Goldman, big enough to affect the nature of the market itself, finds itself able to profit from bubbles they have the ability to lend a hand in creating (upcoming Carbon Credits) and those that they have the necessary talent on hand to foresee ending (housing bubble).

Zingales' message is one that many Libertarians have been touting for years, not to mention one they have continually been ridiculed as crackpots for, as our false economy's "super bubble" had been booming for the past three decades. After all, what could be wrong when everything was moving along so well? His message is one that ought to attract the anti-big-business crowd from the Left, and one that Republican conservatives need to begin heeding. There is a difference between the true morality of Capitalism, and the awful cronyism of corporatism, and now is the time, more than ever, for us to be represented by people who understand this.


I will preface what is going to ultimately turn into a major disagreement with Salam and Moran by first saying that I enjoy Salam's writing. He is cognizant of, and more willing than most to publicly acknowedge, the Libertarian spirit of the Right. This was evident in what I referred to previously as his eulogy of Mark Sanford. That said, let the games begin. Again, first from the orignal article:

If big government is necessary, Salam asks, and can even help create a society more agreeable to conservatives, then what should it be doing? Drawing in part on the work of scholars such as Wilcox, Salam and Douthat craft a vision of a government that is activist in a different way, putting priority on stability and responsibility, along with opportunity. They push for child-care subsidies, market-friendly healthcare reform, more affordable housing, and for wage subsidies to boost the incomes of poor young men and make them more eligible for marriage and stable fatherhood.

“The idea is, let’s actually reduce the scope of government in some areas, where it’s kind of pernicious, but let’s increase its role in some areas, insofar as increasing the role can actually increase freedom,” Salam says.

Under the Obama administration, Salam has continued to press the case for big-government conservativism in articles and as a blogger for both the National Review and the online Daily Beast.

Moran, ever the proponent of moderate big-government conservatism, obviously agrees:

Salam was an early Sarah Palin supporter which should give anyone pause about accusing him of being anything other than a pragmatic conservative. His argument is the same I have been making for many months on this site; the road back for conservatism is not through the ideological terrorists who have set themselves up as arbiters of conservative dogma, condemning those they determine to have strayed from their extraordinarily narrow minded and confining definition of conservatism.

Rather, it is through advocating the reasoned and pragmatic application of conservative principles to government as it exists today that will bring the right out of the darkness.

The basic thing wrong with Salam's look at the government comes in the first few words of the first quote: "If big government is necessary." Salam, like Moran, presupposes that there is literally no way for the United States to exist without Big Government. Both of them simply shrug their shoulders and move on to say, well, if we must be saddled with this elephant, let's see how many little sticks we can poke it with to nudge it in a little bit better direction, never realizing that such small sidesteps cannot possibly deter the beast's course as it heads for the autocracy cliff.

Moran goes so far as to refer to voices calling for wide-scale reduction in government as ideological terrorists. Moran has identified these voices for us in the past. He singles out Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter in the punditry. One assumes there is no question in his mind about the likes of Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell.

It is my opinion that the voices that are going to affect the greatest change in the conservative intellectual spectrum are those voices that can best define their core values and proceed to spread their message. In that respect, Salam is a good writer that makes good points, but has he established a strong core message? It seems like he is trying to straddle a line that the likes of Christopher Buckley, David Brooks and Peggy Noonan have found themselves roundly criticized for straddling, that of the intellectual elite.

Utlimately the intellectual leaders of the conservative movement must be able to stand tall and proud of their intellectual arguments. I see it in McArdle. I see it in Zingales. Because he is a fantastic writer, I hope for it from Salam. I just don't know if he recognizes what I think I see coming: a tideswell of support by the grass-roots for a smaller federal government. Those of us in that tideswell do not agree that Big Government is a constant. We believe that it is a blockade to our freedoms and a hindrance to our liberty. We find the current state of affairs unacceptable. We recognize we cannot prod the elephant with sticks. It must be attacked with spears to force a change in course, and if necessary, shot down in its path.

1 comment:

  1. Another wonderful article. I don't always agree with you, but this one hits the mark. The single most damaging aspect of Conservatives is that they are guilty of the same love afair with government that makes Liberals so dangerous.
    It matters not to me what they choose to call themselves or where they put my money. The loss of liberty and property is the same.