Trump’s Car­rier ploy was a re­pu­di­a­tion of con­ser­vatism

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Ge­orge Will this

WASH­ING­TON — So, is the new con­ser­vatism’s recipe for re­stored great­ness: Po­lit­i­cal co­er­cion shall sup­plant eco­nomic cal­cu­la­tion in shap­ing de­ci­sions by com­pa­nies in what is called, with di­min­ish­ing ac­cu­racy, the pri­vate sec­tor. This will be done partly as con­ser­vatism’s chal­lenge to lib­er­al­ism’s supremacy in the vic­tim­hood sweep­stakes, telling ag­grieved groups that they are help­less vic­tims of vast, im­per­sonal forces, against which they can be pro­tected only by govern­ment in­ter­ven­tions.

Re­spond­ing to po­lit­i­cal threats larded with the money of other peo­ple, Car­rier has some­what mod­i­fied its planned trans­fers of some man­u­fac­tur­ing to Mex­ico. This rep­re­sents the dawn of bi­par­ti­san­ship: The Repub­li­can Party now shares one of pro­gres­sivism’s defin­ing as­pi­ra­tions — govern­ment in­dus­trial pol­icy, with the po­lit­i­cal class pick­ing winners and losers within, and be­tween, eco­nomic sec­tors. This al­ways in­volves the essence of so­cial­ism — cap­i­tal al­lo­ca­tion, whereby govern­ment over­rides mar­ket sig­nals about the ef­fi­cient al­lo­ca­tion of scarce re­sources. There­fore it in­evitably sub­tracts from eco­nomic vi­tal­ity and job cre­ation.

Although the pres­i­dent-elect has yet to dip a toe into the swamp, he prac­tices the cal­cu­lus by which Wash­ing­ton rea­sons, the po­lit­i­cal asym­me­try be­tween dis­persed costs and con­cen­trated ben­e­fits. The dam­ages from govern­ment in­ter­ven­tions are cu­mu­la­tively large but, in­di­vid­u­ally, are largely in­vis­i­ble. The ben­e­fi­cia­ries are few but iden­ti­fi­able and their grat­i­tude is tele­genic.

When, speak­ing at the Car­rier plant, Mike Pence said, “The free mar­ket has been sort­ing it out and Amer­ica’s been los­ing,” Trump chimed in, “Ev­ery time, ev­ery time.” When Repub­li­can lead­ers de­nounce the free mar­ket as con­sis­tently harm­ful to Amer­i­cans, they are re­pu­di­at­ing al­most ev­ery­thing con­ser­vatism has af­firmed: Ed­mund Burke taught that re­spect for a free so­ci­ety’s spon­ta­neous or­der would im­mu­nize pol­i­tics from ru­inous over­reach­ing — from the hubris of be­liev­ing that we have the in­for­ma­tion and power to or­der so­ci­ety by po­lit­i­cal will­ful­ness. In an anal­o­gous ar­gu­ment, Friedrich Hayek warned against the “fa­tal con­ceit” of be­liev­ing that wield­ers of po­lit­i­cal power can sup­plant the mar­ket’s “ef­fi­cient mech­a­nism for di­gest­ing dis­persed in­for­ma­tion.” The Repub­li­can Party is say­ing good­bye to all that.

In­di­ana’s in­volve­ment in the Car­rier drama ex­em­pli­fies the “en­tre­pre­neur­ial fed­er­al­ism” — states com­pet­ing to lure busi­nesses. This is nei­ther new nor nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­hen­si­ble. There are, how­ever, dis­tinc­tions to be drawn be­tween cre­at­ing a fa­vor­able cli­mate for busi­ness gen­er­ally and giv­ing di­rect sub­si­dies to al­ter the be­hav­ior of busi­nesses al­ready op­er­at­ing in the state. And when ad hoc cor­po­rate wel­fare, in­clud­ing tar­iffs, be­comes na­tional pol­icy, it be­comes a new arena of reg­u­la­tion, and hence of rent seek­ing, which in­evitably cor­rupts pol­i­tics. And by sap­ping eco­nomic dy­namism, it in­jures the work­ing class.

The most widely dis­cussed and prop­erly praised book ger­mane to to­day’s pol­i­tics is J.D. Vance’s “Hill­billy El­egy” about the suf­fer­ings and patholo­gies of the white work­ing class, largely of Scots-Ir­ish de­scent, in Ap­palachia and the Rust Belt. This co­hort, from which Vance comes, is, he says, one of Amer­ica’s most dis­tinc­tive sub­cul­tures, par­tic­u­larly in its tena­cious cling­ing to tra­di­tional mores, many of them de­struc­tive.

His book has of­ten been mis­read as pri­mar­ily about the toll taken by eco­nomic forces — glob­al­iza­tion, au­to­ma­tion, etc. Ac­tu­ally, Vance casts a cool eye on the the­ory that “if they only had bet­ter ac­cess to jobs, other parts of their lives would im­prove as well.” His pri­mary con­cern is with “lack of agency” and “learned help­less­ness” — the pas­sive ac­cep­tance of vic­tim sta­tus.

One the­ory of the 2016 elec­tion is that the white work­ing class re­belled not just against eco­nomic dis­ap­point­ments but also against con­de­scen­sion, de­mand­ing not just ma­te­rial ame­lio­ra­tion but, even more, recog­ni­tion of its dig­nity. It is, how­ever, dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to be­lieve in their own dig­nity when they be­lieve that their choices are pow­er­less to al­ter their lives’ tra­jec­to­ries. Even­tu­ally, they will de­tect the con­de­scen­sion in the govern­ment’s mes­sage that their for­tunes are de­ter­mined not by things done by them but

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