“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”
― Milton Friedman

“Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Monday, June 04, 2018

Mercantilist revivalism

Used to be when you said "conservative" people had a clear idea of what you meant philosophically. Adam Smith, W. F. Buckley, Goldwater, Reagan, or Cruz might come to mind. Maybe it would invoke the tea party, free trade, Constitutional originalism, free markets, and opposition to deficit spending. Now, it's all a mess thanks to a long run of "conservatives" like John McCain, George Bush, and Donald Trump

There's "conservative," "neo-conservative," "cuckservative," "Trump conservative," "Alt-right," etc.. TOC has worried in the past about this philosophical dilution - defining freedom down. The current round of internecine attacks, including selective rejection of long standing principles, have been more damaging than anything the Progressives have accomplished.

Cronyism and protectionism are seen as fine if the correct people do it. Now protectionism is "conservative," along with corporate bailouts.

We all need to reread Friedrich Hayek's Why I am Not a Conservative: "The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments." Hayek was a classical liberal, a qualifier required since the collectivists stole the original word. Now we're witnessing the further muddling of what has been meant in the United States by "conservative," i.e., "classical liberal."

The latest example; "Conservatives" who defend Trump's populist trade shenanigans as 'bargaining positions' are expediently abandoning moral leadership.

Why Trump's Higher Tariffs Now are Unlikely to Result in Lower Tariffs Later
I think it is absurd to assume that Trump's real intention is to get us to a new equilibrium with lower tariffs all around the world. He does not understand the value of free trade and his closest adviser on this issue is an ardent protectionist. Trump's negotiation experience is all in zero-sum games where he is trying to extract the most of a fixed pie for himself, not in trying to craft win-win solutions across multiple parties.

But here is the real reason this won't work: The current relatively-free trade regime that exists today was built almost totally on America's moral leadership on the issue...

[M]many of the most powerful political actors in our trading partners actually represent large corporations (some state owned and some just highly-aligned with the state) and powerful labor unions who would be perfectly happy to pursue additional crony protectionism of their industry even at the expense of the majority of their country's consumers and businesses. All these forces for protectionism have always been kept at bay in large part by America's leadership on the issue.
Not any more.

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