Jonah Goldberg: Opponents of ‘unfettered capitalism’ are fighting a phantom |
Featured Commentary

Jonah Goldberg: Opponents of ‘unfettered capitalism’ are fighting a phantom

Jonah Goldberg
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a fundraising fish fry for U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, Nov. 2 at Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Enemies of unfettered capitalism, unite!

For as long as I can remember, people on the left have complained about “unfettered capitalism.” Moderate liberals do it, and of course flat-out Marxists do it.

In his new book, “A Bit of Everything: Power, People, Profits and Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz contends that the only way we’ll be able to confront climate change is through a new social contract.

“Capitalism will be part of the story, but it can’t be the kind of capitalism that we’ve had for the last 40 years,” Stiglitz writes. “It can’t be the kind of selfish, unfettered capitalism where firms just maximize shareholder value regardless of the social consequences.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders said earlier this year that, “We have to talk about democratic socialism as an alternative to unfettered capitalism.”

Recently, the concern with capitalism’s unfetteredness has become bipartisan. Sens. Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio have taken up the cause in a series of speeches and policy proposals. Conservative intellectuals such as Patrick Deneen and Yoram Hazony have taken dead aim at unrestrained capitalism. J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” and Tucker Carlson of Fox News have suggested that economic policy is run by … libertarians.

My response to this dismaying development is: What on earth are these people talking about?

If the Progressive Era was a response to unfettered capitalism, did it accomplish nothing? Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts, regulated the food supply, created the National Park System and fettered the railroads. The Labor Department was established (by President Taft, a conservative) in 1913. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, enacted in 1916, provided benefits to workers injured on the job. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act was passed in 1927. And then there’s the New Deal, another famous attempt to slap fetters on the rough beast of capitalism. It created Social Security, formally banned child labor and established the minimum wage, among countless other restraints on capitalism run amok.

I could go on and on. I mean, I haven’t even mentioned the Great Society.

A fetter is a chain, manacle or restraint. If you think there are no restraints on the market or on economic activity, why on earth do we have the Department of Labor, HHS, HUD, FDA, EPA, OSHA or IRS?

The United States has one of the most progressive tax systems in the world (i.e., the share of taxes paid by the rich versus everyone else). If you take into account all social welfare spending, we spend more on entitlements than plenty of rich countries.

Now, if you think we don’t spend, regulate or tax enough, fine. Make your case. If you think we should spend and tax differently, I’m right there with you. But the notion that the United States is a libertarian fantasyland is itself a fantasy. I mean, by the Hammer of Thor, every summer we get stories of kids being fined for running lemonade stands without a license.

My frustration stems from the fact that we “fetter” the market constantly. And whenever the fetters yield an undesirable result — like, say, the financial crisis of 2008 — the blame always lands on eternally unfettered capitalism.

Just to be clear: I’m not an advocate for unfettered capitalism. But I am sick and tired of hearing people advocate unfettered government to fight an enemy that doesn’t exist. And I’m particularly dyspeptic about the fact that conservatives are now buying into the same fantasy.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.