New National Conservatism Is Old Mercantilism

Posted: Jul 29, 2019 12:10 PM
New National Conservatism Is Old Mercantilism

Source: AP Photo/Richard Drew

Recently some conservatives got together at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City to plot the future of what they hope is a new movement. Headlined by Fox’s Tucker Carlson and Ambassador John Bolton, the meeting attempted to...

“Bring together public figures, journalists, scholars, and students who understand that the past and future of conservatism are inextricably tied to the idea of the nation, to the principle of national independence, and to the revival of the unique national traditions that alone have the power to bind a people together and bring about their flourishing."

One writer who attended the conference reported on the speech by Mary Eberstadt, an essayist and novelist at the Faith and Reason Institute. Eberstadt argued that,

“[...] We ought to ask what is actually conducive to the human flourishing of our country’s citizens.

“Libertarianism [...] is simply incapable of answering this question. It lacks the moral foundation necessary to understand the good of the human person, and it fails to develop the habit of mind that looks to the wisdom that preceded Adam Smith and Austrian economics. Because libertarianism exalts autonomy and self-determination above all else, it is willing to accept immense human suffering—such as that caused by the opioid crisis, our culture’s deep sexual disorder, the breakdown of the American family, and the scourge of racism—as so much collateral damage. To libertarianism, these things are surely regrettable, but they are ultimately an acceptable price to pay for individual freedom."

Aside from the straw man version of libertarianism and Austrian economics that she attacks, I couldn’t help wonder why she wanted to drive the bus over conservatism’s closest allies? Do conservatives think they are so powerful and have such a large following that they need no friends? And does anyone believe Ms. Eberstadt knows anything about Austrian economics?

The striking thing about the conference was the lack of economists. As far as I could tell, there was only one: David Goldman, a principal of Asia Times Holdings and a writer for The Asia times and for Townhall Finance. They didn’t allow Goldman to take part in the debate over international trade, tariffs, and industrial policy, but he did promote, according to press accounts “a grand national effort comparable to the Eisenhower administration’s response to Sputnik." By the way, free trade lost by a vote of 99 to 51.

It makes sense that people like Tucker Carlson would want as few economists as possible dancing at his pow-wow. The whole point of the conference was to push Carlson’s neo-mercantilist policies blocking imports and subsidizing exports. Carlson must have learned his economics in the 15th century. In his mind, trade wars like those initiated by President Trump will restore families by enriching middle class men so their women don’t run away from home but will stay in the kitchen and cause families to sprout and flourish all across the land. 

Carlson wouldn’t want good economists, such as those who follow the Austrian school, analyzing his policies because their laughter would have drowned out the speakers. Carlson has joined socialists in spurning good economic science, abandoning reason, and attributing to the state the omniscience, omnipotence, and saintliness to change human nature. However, trade wars will impoverish the men Carlson wants to help, unless three centuries of economic science are wrong. Anyone who has paid attention to the fallout from Trump’s policies has seen the damage. For every worker Trump helps, he hurts a thousand. Carlson pays attention only to those that the policies benefit.

One of the organizers of the conference, Yoram Hazony, offers in his book The Virtue of Nationalism “...a description of the birth of nations that relies on ties of mutual loyalty, first within the family, then the tribe, clan, and nation-state.”  Friedrich Hayek, a leader of the much-abused Austrian school, pointed out decades ago that the economics of the family, tribe and clan are very different from that of a nation. In the first three groupings, people know each other well so the leaders can distribute wealth appropriately.

A nation must operate on very different principles. Readers probably didn’t notice Hazony’s sleight of hand when he moved from a clan to a nation, but the gap is greater than the Grand Canyon. In a nation-state, people deal mostly with strangers. The morality of a family or tribe produces socialism in a nation while the impersonal principles that guide participants in a free market would destroy families, Hayek wrote. 

The GOP will probably abandon its free market stance at the next convention and adopt Carlson’s medieval economic policies because they’re popular with the common person. It’s part of the old fallacy that one nation can grow rich only at the expense of another, the oldest economic fallacy in human history. Like cockroaches, it’s immune to logic. Carlson’s medieval economics is so popular that the Democrat opponent Trump will likely face in the Fall of 2020, Elizabeth Warren, shares them.

These are sad times for the science of economics, especially the best variety known as the Austrian school promoted by Ludwig von Mises and Hayek. We’ve come a long way from the day that Margaret Thatcher stood in the British parliament waving a book by Hayek and telling her fellow MPs that this is the book her party will follow. Her Hayekian policies revived a British economy needing last rights and issued in a generation of unprecedented prosperity for the nation. Ronald Reagan did similar things for the US.

Now successors to Hayek can’t get an invitation to a minor conservative shindig. We can only stand by and watch them implement policies that made the Great Recession the worst economic disaster in the history of the West and hope that the disaster that follows will make anti-science conservatives like Carlson open to reason and economics.

Having read about the conservative conflab at the Ritz-Carlton, I can identify with the father who, having given away his beautiful daughter in marriage said, “I feel like I have given the keys of a Cadillac to an ape.”