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The Deceptive Lure of Carlsonomics

January 16, 2019 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

In the Broadway musical Chess, KGB agent Alexander
Molokov rejects the West’s choice of consumerism and
individual choice over communal solidarity: “It’s the
weak who believe tawdry untruths about freedom. Trinkets in
airports, sufficient to lead them astray.” One can hear
echoes of Molokov’s critique in Tucker Carlson’s recent
series of monologues on Fox News.

One might be less concerned about Tucker’s cranky
nostalgia for Archie Bunker’s America if he weren’t
part of a growing strain of American conservatism that is
suspicious of — if not hostile to — free-market
capitalism.

Most prominent, of course, is President Trump, whose attitude to
the free market has long been indifferent at best. Simply consider
his opposition to free trade; his calls to regulate businesses he
doesn’t like, such as Amazon and Facebook; his support for
subsidies in favored industries such as farming and
manufacturing.

But increasingly Trump is joined by a chorus of populist
conservatives who sound a lot more like Elizabeth Warren or
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than Ronald Reagan or William F. Buckley
Jr. Ann Coulter, for instance, has entertained AOC’s call for
a 70 percent tax rate, suggested a wealth tax, and criticized
corporate tax cuts.

Coulter and Tucker, of course, are provocateurs. But it’s
harder to excuse serious conservatives such as Oren Cass, Henry
Olson, Michael Brendan Dougherty, J. D. Vance, and Ross Douthat,
among others. All these thinkers have written favorably of
government policies to regulate the economy. Douthat, for instance,
calls on conservatives to embrace government action to secure what
he calls a “family wage” for Americans. In a similar
vein, Oren Cass suggests that the U.S. embrace German-style labor
regulation and welfare payments to low-wage workers. And several
conservative scholars have recently called for the government to
establish universal family leave.

I’m going to leave to others the debate about virtue and
whether markets have contributed to the breakdown of morality, as
Tucker warns. I will note, however, that those good old days
weren’t all that moral if measured by how we treated women,
minorities, and others. Nor should we assume that the coerced
conformity actually represented some higher form of virtue.

But Tucker and his fellow populists also get the economics
wrong. It is doubtful that Carlson or the others really want to
return to the standards of living of, say, the 1950s. After all,
it’s not just the elites who are better off today. Yes, the
rich have gotten richer, but in many ways it’s the poor and
the working class that have gained the most from the economic
growth of the last half-century.

And it’s not just a question of the poor being able to buy
cheap things, as Tucker says. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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