Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The End of Conservatism as We've Known It

I'm lunching with a liberal friend today, and I'm thinking about what I'm going to say about Trump. What is there to say?

I think the first thing is that Donald Trump has broken the Republican Party that we have had since the end of the Reagan administration. Initially, the party was inclined to concede a few things to the Democrats -- a little tax increase here, a No Child Left Behind there -- but as time went on the party found itself doing a slow retreat, with nothing to show for its good will, before the culture war of political correctness that has done an astonishing job of marginalizing the Anglo-Saxon culture that underpinned the Bourgeois ethos and makes capitalism possible.

Now all that is gone, washed out with the tide. The good old libertarian conservatism that I have professed most of my adult life is broken. That's what the long withdrawing roar of the #NeverTrump folks is all about.

It is all broken because the chief political victim of the last 50 years, the white working class, has suddenly found a voice in Donald Trump. As is usual with politics the Trump promise to Make America Great Again (in the way that benefited the white working class from 1945 to 1973) is empty. We cannot "make it like it was." The world of the future will not be a world of good jobs at good wages with pensions and lifetime tenure. It just won't.

But the world being promised by the Democrats, of benefits and privileges to the favored victims, won't be the world of the future either. I'd say that the benefit state has gone about as far as it can go -- 35 percent of GDP decided by political power -- and any attempts to boost it with new privileges and entitlements and subsidies are likely to break it.

There's a cry in the land right now to end free trade. I don't know quite what people mean by that, but the simple fact is that free trade is just a fancy name for market prices, letting the decisions of consumers rule the economy rather than the political decisions of special interests. We could say that we want to increase good jobs at good wages, but we can't do it by legislating higher wages or forcing manufacturing onshore. Oh sure, we can muck around at the margins and give out a subsidy here and a tariff there. We can ease the pain of the buggy-whip makers. But the basic proposition of global capitalism, innovation and "trade tested betterment" and the sweeping away of the old methods that use more energy and labor, is irreversible.

It is shocking to a guy like me to see Donald Trump promising to renegotiate NAFTA and teach China a lesson. In my experience Republicans just don't do that. But the truth is that politicians tell voters what they want to hear and then go off and do what they need to do, and call it what they want. What will Donald Trump do if he is elected president? We don't know. What will Hillary Clinton do? We don't know.

What we do know is that governments are armed minorities occupying territory that tax the inhabitants thereof to reward their supporters. Republicans haven't done much rewarding of their supporters recently and their supporters are mad. But then Democrats have promised a ton of Hope and Change to their supporters and they haven't delivered much on that either.

There's a lefty piece out by Harold Meyerson today remarking on the hollowing out of the middle class and the prospects for the Democrats to do something about it while the Republicans become white nationalists. The only problem is that, when the progressives started, a century ago, the US governments at all levels were spending about 7 percent of GDP. Now they are spending about 35 percent of GDP. I'd say that the progressive opportunity to reward their supporters tends to tap out at 35 to 40 percent of GDP. So there is not much more redistribution that progressives can do to attract and reward supporters.

The problem for all governments, and progressives in particular, is that supporters insist on being rewarded. That is bad enough. But they get really mad if you ever take stuff away from them. That's how you go Greece or Argentina or Venezuela. It's easy for a government to give the voters money. It is near impossible to take it back when you have ruined the economy with your handouts.

Yet the art and practice of politics is to promise people things that they shouldn't be asking for and shouldn't be getting.

The Trump phenomenon means the end of conservatism as we know it. And probably the end of a lot of other things too that we don't yet know about.

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