George Will: ‘National conservatism’ is ‘Elizabeth Warren conservatism’
Regimes, however intellectually disreputable, rarely are unable to attract intellectuals eager to rationalize the regimes’ behavior. America’s current administration has “national conservatives.” They advocate unprecedented expansion of government in order to purge America of excessive respect for market forces, and to affirm robust confidence in government as a social engineer allocating wealth and opportunity. They call themselves conservatives, perhaps because they loathe progressives, although they seem not to remember why.
The Manhattan Institute’s Oren Cass advocates “industrial policy” because “market economies do not automatically allocate resources well across sectors.” So, government, he says, must create the proper “composition” of the economy by rescuing “vital sectors” from “underinvestment.” By allocating resources “well,” Cass does not mean efficiently — to their most economically productive uses. He especially means subsidizing manufacturing, which he says is the “primary” form of production because innovation and manufacturing production are not easily “disaggregated.”
Manufacturing jobs are, however, only 8% of U.S. employment. He admits that as government, i.e., politics, permeates the economy on manufacturing’s behalf, “regulatory capture,” other forms of corruption and “market distortions will emerge.” Emerge ? Using government to create market distortions is national conservatism’s agenda.
The national conservatives’ pinup du jour is Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Carlson says that what Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., calls “economic patriotism” sounds like “Donald Trump at his best.” Carlson approves how Warren excoriates U.S. companies’ excessive “loyalty” to shareholders. She wants the government to “act aggressively” and “intervene in markets” in order to stop “abandoning loyal American workers and hollowing out American cities.”
He adds: “The main threat to your ability to live your life as you choose does not come from government anymore, but it comes from the private sector.” Well. If living “as you choose” means living free from the friction of circumstances, the “threat” is large indeed. It is reality — the fact that individuals are situated in times and places not altogether of their choosing or making. National conservatives promise government can rectify this wrong.
What national conservatives propose is government fine-tuning the economy’s composition and making sure resources are “well” distributed, as the government (i.e., the political class) decides, forever.
What socialists are so fond of saying, national conservatives are now saying: This time will be different. It never is, because government’s economic planning always involves the fatal conceit that government can aggregate, and act on, information more intelligently and nimbly than markets can.
Although the national conservatives’ anti-capitalism purports to be populist, it would further empower the administrative state’s faux aristocracy of administrators who would decide which communities and economic sectors should receive “well”-allocated resources. Furthermore, national conservatism is paternalistic populism. This might seem oxymoronic, but so did “Elizabeth Warren conservatives” until national conservatives emerged as such.
As national conservatives apply intellectual patinas to the president’s mutable preferences, they continue their molten denunciations of progressives. Heat, however, neither disguises nor dignifies their narcissism of small differences.
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and can be reached via email.