The Walter Mondale Republicans?

Yeah—I’ll bet that’s a headline you never expected to see on Power Line! It is prompted by this news story in today’s Washington Post:

Conservative intellectuals launch a new group to challenge free-market ‘fundamentalism’ on the right

Oren Cass believes conservatives have blundered by outsourcing GOP economic policymaking to libertarian “fundamentalists” who see the free market as an end unto itself, rather than as a means for improving quality of life to strengthen families and communities. The former domestic policy director on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign quit his job as a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute to launch a new group called American Compass that aims to reorient the right. . .

Markets are good, Cass explained, but life is about so much more than markets. He said American conservatism historically had a richer conception of the role of government beyond maximizing returns, such as strengthening domestic industry. He lamented the growing concentration of wealth, geographically on the coasts and in the big cities, as well as in a handful of industries, which has accelerated income inequality. . .

Now, I’m a fan of Cass, and recommend his recent book, The Once and Future Worker, even if I don’t agree with some of his perspective. And I agree with the enthusiasm behind the recognition that the rise of Trump has blown wide open a lot of seemingly settled questions and positions in ways that are salutary and promising for conservatives, like immigration, nationalism, and foreign policy. But in the calls for conservatives to embrace trade protectionism and even a self-conscious “industrial policy,” I’ve been joking for months now that Republicans might just as well nominate the Walter Mondale of 1984 who embraced an industrial policy that included plant closing regulation, domestic manufacturing content mandates, subsidies for “strategic” industries, and trade protection. Conservatives back then were unanimous in their scorn for this kind of political economy. Now it is finding favor with a lot of conservatives. Mondale (by all accounts a very nice man) must be enjoying this spectacle.

To be sure, times and circumstances change, and a predatory China can indeed justify political measures that ordinarily fail an abstract test of pure market theory. The disproportionate impact of globalization on certain regions of the country is also a legitimate reason for political intervention. It would be a mistake to reject the work of American Compass out of hand, and I’ll look forward to seeing whatever detailed analytical policy work they produce. Maybe I can get Cass to come on our podcast to discuss the scene. In the meantime, please excuse me while I spend the rest of today re-reading Hayek.

(Actually I’m reading through Aquinas and Blackstone today for class, but after that I’ll dust off my Hayek.)

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