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Conservativism Under Corporatism By: Robert Locke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 02, 2002

I apologize for any inconvenience, but must strongly urge the reader to read my article What is American Corporatism? before reading this one, which draws upon the concept of corporatism as basic. Fundamentally, corporatism is the economic system that has largely replaced capitalism in this country. Like capitalism, it is based on private ownership and management of the means of production. Unlike capitalism, the free market is not trusted to provide goods, but is systematically manipulated by government to do so. At the end of the last article, I mentioned the fact that what conservatism is under conditions of economic corporatism is substantially different than what it is under conditions of capitalism. Because most of the conventional wisdom and ingrained instincts of conservatives developed under capitalism, we have some serious adjustments to make if we are to succeed politically in imposing our values under present conditions.

Since corporatism simply is how much of our economy works, to some extent we have no choice but to play ball with it. However, there is clearly a risk that by playing the game, we may end up endorsing it. The co-optative powers of corporatism are awesome. Therefore, we need to form a disciplined strategy of fighting corporatism when it can be fought, but seeking the most conservative possible outcome within it when it cannot. Interestingly enough, this is a precise mirror image of what the Left already does, though they view corporatism as eroding the socialist parts of our society. Given their devastating political effectiveness, we would be wise to learn from them.

The new rules are:

  1. Be clear about our options. The classic conservative analysis of economic issues is to identify the opposition's position as socialist and our own as capitalist, at which point it is obvious which one is preferable. But in fact there are now three different models contending for the privilege of organizing our economic life: capitalism, socialism, and corporatism. On any given issue, me must ask, is this really a question of capitalism vs. socialism, or is it really corporatism vs. socialism? Or capitalism vs. corporatism? Usually, from the point of view of our values, capitalism is preferable to corporatism, which is preferable to socialism. But let's not get suckered into defending corporatism under the misapprehension that it is capitalism. We currently do this all the time.

  2. Be honest about our actions. Republicans always rant about big government, but government has grown under every single Republican administration since WWII and continues to grow under this one. We are a party of big government whether we want to admit it or not. Handouts will always be popular with their recipients. If you have a way to actually make Republicans reduce the size of government, I'm all for it, but until then, tell the truth.

  3. Realize that the rich are no longer automatically on our side. The Republican share of the rich vote has dropped precipitously since 1980. The rich used to be conservative because they intuitively grasped that the means of the conservation of property were bound up with the means of the conservation of everything else, from religious traditions to social mores. But as the threat to property from the propertyless has declined with the general embourgeoisment of society, the rich no longer feel the need for this conservatism. See my article on the phenomenon of bourgeois bohemians or bobos. In fact, the rich are often very liberal because they have the means to avoid personally suffering the consequences of liberalism and a need to assuage their guilt over being rich. They also tend to be less loyal to America than ordinary Americans because their wealth is largely invested overseas and because they are socially part of international smart society.

  4. Realize that even capitalism is no longer automatically on our side; I addressed this issue in my article Is Capitalism Conservative? It has been pointed out by conservative writers for generations that capitalism has no intrinsic loyalty to America or to traditional values, but this never mattered before because there always existed additional factors that caused it to have an extrinsic loyalty. For example, the Cold War with Marxism forced capitalists to be patriotic Americans because the United States was the only nation with the power to stand up to the USSR. This is gone, though if the war with militant Islam goes on much longer we will see all sorts of people become friendlier towards the idea of America as a Christian nation. International capital likes the United States as a profitable platform for investment and as a source of coercive power to maintain the New World Order, but these are fundamentally issues of convenience and the US has no intrinsic value to it. Capital increasingly views nation states and traditional values as impediments to a borderless, frictionless, anything-goes world in which everything is organized for the sole purpose of making money. If one accepts the premise that the most important thing in life is money, one accepts their consequences.

  5. If you're serious about fighting corporatism, understand what the master key is. As I mentioned in my previous article, the basis of corporatism is a lack of trust that the free market will do two things on its own: regulate itself and deliver material goods. To do away with, or even reduce, corporatism, we must find some way to convince people that they can trust the market, convince them to live without this trust, or convince them that government can't make the market deliver. There has been some success on the last score: a branch of free-market economics known as rational expectations theory has massively debunked the plausibility of Keynesianism, which is one of the biggest pieces of corporatism to have been tried and then abandoned. And in this country, we have been reasonably successful in preventing anyone from believing that an industrial policy similar to Japan's MITI could do anything useful. Corporatism's biggest Achilles' heel is that some of its schemes simply don't work. There is plenty of room for criticism of this kind.

  6. Remember that corporatism is a double-edged sword for the Left, and take advantage of this. Some of the smarter leftists have started to grasp the emergence of corporatism, only of course from their point of view they view it as a threat to socialism. Even a state-manipulated market isn't good enough for them; they want full-fledged state ownership. Happily for us, they're right: corporatism is a threat to socialism. Whenever we can force the government to substitute a corporatist approach to a situation for a socialist one, we win. For example, it is obviously better, though not without serious problems, for the government to subsidize people's mortgages rather than building them public housing. Of course, the counter-argument to this is that socialism is better for us because it tends to self-destruct because socialism doesn't work while corporatism frequently does deliver.

  7. Strengthen purely social institutions and values. The fundamental problem with both socialism and corporatism is that they are attempts to solve social problems by economic means. Capitalism in its pure form was never interested in "social problems." Therefore they both further one of the most worrisome trends of our time: the tendency of social structure to be liquidated by economics. There is a struggle going on in our society between solutions to problems based on social institutions and those based on economics. For example, marriage is a social institution that provides for the care of children. So is government-provided daycare. So is employer-provided but government-mandated daycare. By far the most effective is the first, but it is neither socialist nor corporatist and is not fundamentally an economic institution at all.

  8. Serve our constituencies. If corporatism is going to be in effect, then we should at least have the brains to use it to serve our own people. The most basic rule of party politics, without which no political party can survive, is to take care of one's own people. The Democrats understand this. (They understand little else.) Republicans, on the other hand, have this weird desire to pander to people who don't vote for them, like Hispanics and illegal immigrants. We have to be ruthlessly honest about the fact that we are fundamentally the party of bourgeois Anglo-Christian America, plus everyone else who thinks they're better off living in a country run by bourgeois Anglo Christians. We have far more to gain investing our finite political capital in seeking the affection of people predisposed to give it to us than in annoying our base by looking for love in all the wrong places. For example, let's demand affirmative action for white Christians in places where they are under-represented, like the Ivy League. Simply the serious threat of such a thing may be enough to blow affirmative action out of the water.

  9. Demand a price for every handout. Ideally, we should get rid of the handouts, but if we can't, it will probably still be politically feasible to demand a price for the handout. Work requirements for welfare recipients are the obvious example, but not the only one. If corporations want tax breaks to "create American jobs," they should be required to guarantee in writing the number and kind of jobs they will create, and required to pay a penalty if they don't live up to their end of the bargain. Not only does this save the public from being ripped off, it also creates a disincentive for corporatist handouts in the first place. It will be popular with the public because people resent seeing someone else get something for nothing.

  10. Match costs to benefits. If we are asked to support free trade, we should demand a tariff large enough to cover the costs of that trade. For example, tariffs, and not general tax revenues, should pay for the cost of screening our post-9/11 ports against the importation of terrorist weapons. Oil imported from the Middle East should carry a tariff sufficient to cover the costs of keeping the region at peace. Goods imported from Europe should cover our costs of defending Europe. The general public should not be asked to cover the cost of caring for the victims of behaviorally-caused diseases like AIDS. Bankers, not taxpayers, should pay for the costs of cleaning up financial messes like the S&L bailout and Third-World debt.

Corporatism is clearly going to be with us for a long time. We need to play the new game skillfully or the opposition will own this country.

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