John Nichols of the Nation makes what should be, but is not (for reasons I’ll attempt to explain below), an obvious point about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
Christie also knows his party won’t be looking for a Northeastern moderate in 2016. The GOP has never been more conservative than it is now; and while the motivation to win may be powerful, the common wisdom among the folks who actually nominate presidential candidates says that experiments with supposedly “mainstream” figures like John McCain and Mitt Romney will not be repeated. So Christie is executing a delicate maneuver. He needs to run left this year to pump up his gubernatorial re-election vote numbers, and then pivot right in states like Iowa and South Carolina. Amid all the gamesmanship, it’s easy to lose sight of where Christie is really coming from—unless you look at his record.
Christie is no moderate. He’s a social conservative who opposes reproductive rights, has defunded Planned Parenthood and has repeatedly rejected attempts to restore state funding for family planning centers. He has vetoed money for clinics that provide health screenings for women, including mammograms and pap smears. He vetoed marriage equality.
Nichols goes on to declare that “Christie is at his most militant when it comes to implementing the austerity agenda associated with the most conservative Republican governors.”
By way of throat-clearing, I have a big problem with the term “austerity” being thrown at governors. Most states are constitutionally required to balance their budgets. Having done so, many states are now in a healthy fiscal position and should see revenue return to pre-recession levels this year. Critics of austerity at the federal level understood this all along. The anti-austerians, as I interpret them, aren’t against cutting spending always, anywhere, and everywhere; their argument was, and is, that contractionary fiscal policy in Washington makes our unemployment problem worse. In the face of state and local cutbacks, Congress should have been cushioning the blow.
But Nichols is largely correct: Christie is by any reasonable measure a fiscal and social conservative. Read More…
Corey Robin has a long, provocative essay in The Nation about how Austrian economists like Menger, Mises, and Hayek are really just aristocratic, reactionary Nietzscheans. It “seeks to put the Austrians back in Vienna, where Nietzsche was a presiding influence,” according to a blog post at CT, and basically relies on a tenuous connection between the Austrians’ skepticism about the labor theory of value, and Nietzsche’s skepticism of values in general. He writes of Nietzsche:
For that reason, Nietzsche saw in labor’s appearance more than an economic theory of goods: he saw a terrible diminution of the good. Morals must be “understood as the doctrine of the relations of supremacy,” he wrote in Beyond Good and Evil; every morality “must be forced to bow…before the order of rank.” But like so many before them, including the Christian slave and the English utilitarian, the economist and the socialist promoted an inferior human type—and an inferior set of values—as the driving agent of the world. Nietzsche saw in this elevation not only a transformation of values but also a loss of value and, potentially, the elimination of value altogether. Conservatives from Edmund Burke to Robert Bork have conflated the transformation of values with the end of value. Nietzsche, on occasion, did too: “What does nihilism mean?” he asked himself in 1887. “That the highest values devaluate themselves.” The nihilism consuming Europe was best understood as a democratic “hatred against the order of rank.”
Part of Nietzsche’s worry was philosophical: How was it possible in a godless world, naturalistically conceived, to deem anything of value? But his concern was also cultural and political. Because of democracy, which was “Christianity made natural,” the aristocracy had lost “its naturalness”—that is, the traditional vindication of its power. How then might a hierarchy of excellence, aesthetic and political, re-establish itself, defend itself against the mass—particularly a mass of workers—and dominate that mass?
And of the Austrians:
Moralists traditionally viewed the pursuit of money and goods as negative or neutral; the Austrians claimed it embodies our deepest values and commitments. “The provision of material goods,” declared Mises, “serves not only those ends which are usually termed economic, but also many other ends.” All of us have ends or ultimate purposes in life: the cultivation of friendship, the contemplation of beauty, a lover’s companionship. We enter the market for the sake of those ends. Economic action thus “consists firstly in valuation of ends, and then in the valuation of the means leading to these ends. All economic activity depends, therefore, upon the existence of ends. Ends dominate economy and alone give it meaning.” We simply cannot speak, writes Hayek in The Road to Serfdom, of “purely economic ends separate from the other ends of life.”
Though some similarities are clearly evident, it’s a pretty circumstantial, tenuous connection, to which Kevin Vallier has already offered a decisive rebuke over at BHL:
Robin roughly claims that the move to the subjective theory of economic value in economics was a move towards a form of objective value nihilism. Objective value nihilism in turn allows Austrian economists in particular to argue that markets are an expression of morality because markets are expressions of subjective value. And since (Robin assumes) Austrians admit that aristocratic tastes drive economic productivity, we can infer that Austrians believe that aristocratic valuations (and thus aristocracy) expresses moral value. This contorted argument serves Robin’s career-long attempt to shoehorn every non-leftist into a single group of people who hate equality.
Philip Pilkington has another rejoinder to Robin’s piece over at Naked Capitalism (by no means a blog for doctrinaire free-marketers).
(Needless to say, Robin agrees with me that Hayek is a conservative.)
Two months ago Tim Carney remarked that “The McAuliffe-Cuccinelli race might be the clearest contrast we’ve seen of a corporatist Democrat running against a free-market populist.” Polling this week shows Cuccinelli leading by a striking ten percent among likely voters. So is this the vindication of free-market populism?
I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure. Terry McAuliffe is pretty much the definition of a corporatist Democrat, but even until last year, Virginia voters might have been puzzled by the idea that Ken Cuccinelli represents free-market populism. I wrote back in February:
Even if he was in the right, to many observers of Virginia politics Ken Cuccinelli’s lawsuit against Obamacare had the whiff of a publicity stunt. It wasn’t so much that his case was spurious (a district court upheld its legitimacy, though he wasn’t able to take his case to the Supreme Court), but that it was one more link in a chain of quixotic, politically-charged crusades.
Most of those initiatives had nothing to do with economics; the absurd request for 15 years worth of correspondence from UVA, the advisory that state agencies had to pare down their anti-discrimination statutes to remove protections for sexual minorities, and so on. He was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Marshall-Newman Marriage Amendment, one of the strongest statements foreclosing gay marriage in any state constitution. He’d always looked, to me at least, far more like a culture warrior than a free-marketeer.
Since then, Cuccinelli has been beefing up his laissez-faire credentials, with significant passages in his latest book, The Last Line of Defense, devoted to attacking the EPA’s regulatory regime, and of course the Obamacare lawsuit counts too. Beltway libertarians also seem to have an affinity for Cuccinelli, which I’ve always thought strange, though it’s perhaps explained by the AG’s solid support for Tea Party, libertarian-ish candidates. Today Cuccinelli unveiled a pledge to lower state income taxes. I hope the trend continues.
But there are two factors that might caution against reading the Virginia governor’s race as a referendum on free-market populism; the unique terribleness of Terry McAuliffe, and a gubernatorial electorate heavily biased in favor of Republicans. Jamelle Bouie’s point about McAuliffe’s tepid support among black voters—less than Creigh Deeds!—is especially significant since a substantial portion, some have even suggested a majority, of Democratic voters in Virginia are African American.
Noah Millman takes issue with some of the excerpts I’ve given from Schumpeter. But Schumpeter’s full view of the relationship between family, individualism, and capitalism can’t be captured in a brief quotation. If I had to give a close approximation of it, though, this is probably the most apt passage from Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy:
In the preceding chapter it was observed that the capitalist order entrusts the long-run interests of society to the upper strata of the bourgeoisie. They are really entrusted to the family motive operative in those strata. The bourgeoisie worked primarily in order to invest, and it was not so much a standard of consumption as a standard of accumulation that the bourgeoisie struggled for and tried to defend against governments that took the short-run view. With the decline of the driving power supplied by the family motive, the businessman’s time-horizon shrinks, roughly, to his life expectation. And he might now be less willing than he was to fulfill that function of earning, saving and investing even if he saw no reason to fear that the results would but swell his tax bills. He drifts into an anti-saving frame of mind and accepts with an increasing readiness anti-saving theories that are indicative of a short-run philosophy.
People once accumulated capital largely for the sake of their progeny. Now that they are less inclined to think about progeny, that is one more reason (among others Schumpeter gives in his book) for greater concern with immediate satisfactions rather than long-term capital development. The motive for defending accumulation against redistribution by the state has also been weakened. These are not only changes that affect actual economic practices, but they also condition the public’s receptivity to ideas that promise to solve short-run problems such as, say, unemployment by means of some sacrifice of capital. (To what extent unemployment actually is a short-run problem is something to think about, but this is where Schumpeter is coming from.) Read More…
Perhaps for comic relief amid a news cycle otherwise full of escalation in Syria, the festering abuses of Guantanamo, and the wake of the Boston bombings, over the weekend pundits swarmed over Niall Ferguson for gay-baiting the long dead John Maynard Keynes. Tom Kostigen, who broke the story, summarized thus: “Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of ‘poetry’ rather than procreated.” Ferguson has since apologized, and as several sources pointed out, Keynes and his wife, Lydia Lopokova, did indeed try to have children, and she may have suffered a miscarriage. But Ferguson got a dose of the attention he craves, and pundits pleased themselves with their own moral fury, so everybody’s happy.
Unfortunately, the good name of Joseph Schumpeter has been dragged through the mud by this episode as well. Both Ferguson’s critics and defenders have said, in effect, “Schumpeter did it first.” Schumpeter’s 1946 American Economic Review obituary for Keynes is cited as proof: therein, Schumpeter writes of his subject, “He was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy.”
But Schumpeter is not indulging in any sly gay-baiting here—the issue for him isn’t homosexuality, it’s childlessness for whatever reason. The wider context of Schumpeter’s remark is that the “sober wisdom and conservativism” of Keynes’s economic advice was intended for a specific time and place—England after World War I—and was characteristic of the kind of person Keynes was: not homosexual but rather part of “the high intelligentsia of England, unattached to class or party … who rightly claimed, for good and ill, spiritual kinship with the Locke-Mill connection.” Schumpeter continues on this theme:
Least of all was he the man to preach regenerative creeds. He was the English intellectual, a little déraciné and beholding a most uncomfortable [postwar] situation. He was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy. So he turned resolutely to the only ‘parameter of action’ that seemed left to him, both as an Englishman and as the kind of Englishman he was—monetary management. Perhaps he thought it might heal. He knew for certain that it would sooth[e]—and that return to a gold system at pre-war parity was more than his England could stand.
If only people could be made to understand this, they would also understand that practical Keynesianism is a seedling which cannot be transplanted into foreign soil: it dies there and become poisonous before it dies. But in addition they would understand that, left in English soil, this seedling is a healthy thing and promises both fruit and shade.
So much for the context. But isn’t the reference to childlessness at least indirectly an attack on Keynes’s sexuality? Probably not. Consider what Schumpeter writes about children and economics, in a clearly heterosexual context, in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy:
In conjunction with his appearance on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, Sen. Rand Paul attended a gala sponsored by the magazine, where he toasted Henry David Thoreau—“just a guy,” Paul explained, who “wanted to live by himself,” but “society wouldn’t leave him alone.”
Obviously, the Kentucky senator, and possible 2016 presidential contender, chose to highlight Thoreau not just because he was an idealistic, contemplative loner. In the broader context of the liberty movement’s desire to see the Republican party reclaim the mantle of individual rights, it makes perfect sense that Paul would cheer Thoreau’s legacy of civil disobedience in the face of slavery and imperialism.
More, one can imagine Paul approvingly quoting Thoreau’s paean to trade and “commerce”—“its enterprise and bravery”:
Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous, and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods withal, far more so than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental experiments, and hence its singular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the freight train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical climes. I feel more like a citizen of the world at the sight of the palm-leaf which will cover so many flaxen New England heads the next summer, the Manilla hemp and cocoanut husks, the old junk, gunny bags, scrap iron, and rusty nails …
Yet the pairing, however brief, of Paul and Thoreau had me stewing this past weekend. I was thinking about the desire to “be left alone.” Laissez-faire. Liberty defined as the absence of restraint. In order to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” Thoreau withdrew from the community, from the polis. Read More…
“This is called slave labor,” said Pope Francis.
The Holy Father was referring to the $40 a month paid to apparel workers at that eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed on top of them, killing more than 400.
“Not paying a just wage … focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at personal profit. That goes against God!”
The pope is describing the dark side of globalism.
Why is Bangladesh, after China, the second-largest producer of apparel in the world? Why are there 4,000 garment factories in that impoverished country which, a few decades ago, had almost none?
Because the Asian subcontinent is where Western brands—from Disney to Gap to Benetton—can produce cheapest. They can do so because women and children will work for $1.50 a day crammed into factories that are rickety firetraps, where health and safety regulations are nonexistent.
This is what capitalism, devoid of a conscience, will produce.
Rescuers at the factory outside Dhaka have stopped looking for survivors, but expect to find hundreds more bodies in the rubble. Read More…
On a slow day several months ago, I wrote a post describing my love of traditional American clothing. Although it attracted some criticism for being pretentious, the post was intended to be gently self-mocking. I’d be delighted to see more of the Ivy League Look on the streets. But I don’t really think it matters to the fate of civilization.
But the horror in Bangladesh reminds me that there are moral reasons to prefer clothes manufactured using traditional methods in America or Western Europe to trash shipped in from low-wage countries. No one gets rich sewing jackets or cutting leather. But workers in what remains of the American garment industry are far more likely to earn a living wage in safe conditions than their competitors abroad.
That’s one of the reasons I like to buy from makers like Mercer and Sons, Alden, and Southwick, among others. Considerations of taste aside, I value the fact that their products are made by craftsmen in factories that have been located in the same New England towns for years, and sometimes generations.
I realize that these companies sell luxury products whose prices are out of reach for many. But the same is true of goods offered by big chains that rely on foreign sweatshops like the one that collapsed this week in Dhaka. So if you have the option (which is more likely when it comes to tailored clothing than basics like T-shirts) and can afford to spend a few more dollars, wouldn’t you rather buy something made in America? The Bangladesh disaster reminds me how much I would.
About a third of the way through The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, Rod Dreher paints a moving portrait of a community tending to one of its own:
The news hit the West Feliciana community like a cyclone. As the day wore on a hundred or more friends mobbed the hospital. Some offered to move in with the Lemings to care for the children while Ruthie fought [her cancer]. John Bickham told Paw that he would sell everything he had to pay for Ruthie’s medical bills if it came to that. At the middle school the teachers did their best to get through the day, but kept breaking down. All over town people prepared food and took it by the Leming house, which, this being Starhill, sat unlocked.
“We were surrounded by so much love,” Mam recalls. “It was the most horrible day of our lives, but we could feel the love of all these good people. There was nothing we could have wanted or needed that wasn’t done before we asked. And they were there. Do you know what that means? People were there.”
The inspiring collective response of this small Louisiana town seems to me a paradigmatic real-life example of the kind of civil society that Yuval Levin (as well as TAC’s Samuel Goldman) champions here as a Burkean rebuke to harsh conservative rhetoric about the “culture of dependency”:
We are all dependent on others. The question is whether we are dependent on people we know, and they on us—in ways that foster family and community, build habits of restraint and dignity, and instill in us responsibility and a sense of obligation—or we are dependent on distant, neutral, universal systems of benefits that help provide for our material wants without connecting us to any local and immediate nexus of care and obligation. It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul. Such technocratic provision enables precisely the illusion of independence from the people around us and from the requirements of any moral code they might uphold. It is corrosive not because it instills a true sense of dependence but because it inspires a false sense of independence and so frees us from the sorts of moral habits of mutual obligation that alone can make us free.
I don’t want to speak for Rod here. Nor do I want to superimpose on The Little Way, a deeply personal meditation on social and family bonds, a polemical or partisan quality that it in fact mercifully avoids. But I don’t think I’m misreading Rod at all in saying that technocracy is not what enabled his particular illusion of independence. That illusion stemmed from the desires of his own heart: a desire to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural America and discover the wider world; to pursue a life of the mind; to experience, as the British playwright David Hare put it in his screenplay for The Hours, the “violent jolt” of life in the metropolis.
Our culture stokes this desire, and in no small way our economy depends on it. When politicians tirelessly invoke the “American Dream,” when we celebrate social mobility and “churn,” we are encouraging millions of young Rod Drehers to leave their Starhills and become “boomers,” as the poet Wendell Berry (via Wallace Stegner) describes those whose ambition compels them to leave home.
To make the point in the context of our ongoing clash over immigration, do we not at least unwittingly celebrate the dilution of communities when we hold up as heroes those who leave behind their friends and extended families to pursue employment in America? To borrow the simple phraseology of Rod’s mother, a young man who leaves a village in Latin America or South Asia is no longer there. Read More…
With all eyes and all headlines fixed so intently upon Boston’s two Caucasian Bombers, hardly anyone has been paying attention to revelations of a far more devastating disaster that unfolded close nearby, but which were generally buried on the inside pages of our major newspapers.
I refer, of course, to the Harvard Spreadsheet Glitch, the discovery of a calculation error in the early 2010 research of celebrity-economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. The Rogoff-Reinhart findings had been cited by officials and international agencies throughout the world as proof of the devastating economic impact of accumulated national debt. As a result, most governments focused their Great Recession response on the need to minimize deficit spending and cut budgets rather than try to reduce unemployment via Keynesian pump-priming, which according to the study led to disaster. But Rogoff-Reinhardt had made an error in their calculation, so Oops! Read More…