Should the Right Be Pro-Capitalist?: Free Market Philosophy as Ideological Kudzu, Robert Weissberg

Let me begin with an obvious point: Logically or empirically, no particular political philosophy can be linked to any specific economic view. The parallel is an all-you-can-eat buffet: every customer will fill his plate uniquely, and who can authoritatively insist on the correct combination? No State Bureau of Philosophy exists to set a “No substitutions” edict when linking politics and economics.

            But, inevitable potential disorder acknowledged some combinations of politics and economics are best eschewed as sure-fire indigestion, the gastronomic equivalent of a scoop of chocolate ice cream on macaroni and cheese.

            Now, what economic vision should be avoided by “Right Wingers”? 

            Let me counsel staying away from free-market concoctions of the Milton Friedman variety. Here’s why.

            First, as a cosmology the free market orthodoxy resembles the invasive Japanese Kudzu—once planted it is nearly unstoppable and chokes off all other vegetation. No matter what the problem and its complex details, from racial discrimination to the Bubonic Plague, the quick answer never varies—robust markets, minimal regulation, a stable currency, strong property rights, strict rule of law and limited government.  The passion and flight from reality can be breathe-taking. At a recent Manhattan Institute lunch I heard a speaker insist that the rampant alcoholism, mental illness, family disorganization and similar pathologies that have afflicted American Indians for some 150 years could be solved by strengthening the property rights of reservation dwellers.

In principle there is nothing inherently wrong with free market solutions; where things go wrong is their almost mechanical, religion-like application. So, for example, if asked for a solution to, say, today’s poverty-mired Detroit, the instant and unthinking response will be the usual off-the-shelf litany of reducing taxes, making it easier to start businesses, more charter schools to attract entrepreneurs, and similar nostrums. That those cities with even less economic freedom than Detroit, e.g., San Francisco, economically thrive while Detroit dies goes unsaid.

Today’s most powerful advantage of free market solutions is that they can never be Politically Incorrect for the simple reason adherents never deal with actual people, only institutional arrangements (I have never seen a free-market analysis of economic development or just about anything else that made distinctions regarding human traits—all people are totally inter-changeable). It is a brand of conservatism therefore totally immune to charges of racism, homophobia, xenophobia and similar career-ending sins. A free market believer can forever publically pontificate on Detroit’s woes and never upset even the most sensitive social justice warrior. Who could be affronted by the suggestion that Detroit’s poor be handed title to their hovels so they can use it as collateral for a small business loan to begin the long march toward a middle-class life?  And woe to those who challenge the free market vision--what party pooper might suggest that this loan might be used instead to buy the latest iPhones? Easily rebutted—everybody knows that people are motivated by the desire for economic advancement, so frivolous consumption is dismissed by fiat.     

To repeat, it is this tendency to crowd out “controversial” alternatives that makes free market solutions so inimical to serious, honest discussions. To embrace free market solutions is, ultimately, a cost-free one-way ticket to La La Land all the while certifying the speaker as “committed to doing something” while avoiding any controversy. Imagine a public conference on Detroit. What brave soul will insist that economic progress is impossible in a culture that prizes criminality and sloth? Rest assured no matter how foolish their ideas, free-market advocates will rush to the microphone to dominate the discussion while timid disbelievers, especially conservatives with unpopular “controversial” ideas, sit in frustrated silence. In effect, organizations that embrace ubiquitous free-market solution are posting up a sign that declares “Liars Welcome.”  

Finally, since embracing free-market solutions is totally ideologically safe, it is a great fund-raising strategy. It is thus no accident that countless thriving “conservative” organizations endorse this philosophy. Alas, the upshot of this gravy train will be self-censorship to keep the funds flowing. Hard to imagine Mr. and Mrs. Respectable Conservative funding an organization that, for example, suddenly announced that pouring yet more money into our public schools was pointless given student IQ’s. In termsorganizational  solvency, far more lucrative to organize a grand banquet where speaker after speaker insisted that competing charter schools will surely find the solution to uplifting the very bottom.       

In short, nothing can stop conservatives from embracing free-market solutions, but the result would resemble those gardeners who once planted Kudzu as the perfect ornamental tree.