In the last several months I have had the occasion to debate some of the intellectual leaders of a group called the “national conservatives.” I consider myself a conservative (on most issues, though I lean more libertarian). They are well-meaning and make some very valid points about the things that are going in the wrong direction in America culturally and economically – especially in the post-Covid world under Biden.
Sometimes it really does feel like our country is decaying. Our government-run schools are rotten, there are more suicides and more drug overdoses, our border is out of control, our debt is growing exponentially, our basic First Amendment rights are under assault, the left wants to take away our air conditioners, our cars, our gas stoves, control of our home thermostats, our cities are starting to resemble third world countries, and everything is more expensive. President Biden, who pledged to be a unifier, is driving the country over a progressive cliff.
Need I go on?But they take their argument a step further and maintain that this squeeze on middle-class/blue collar Americans predates Bidenomics, and America has experienced a 40-year secular decline of disappearing factories, income inequality, the decline of union power, and shrinking wages. (RELATED: JOSH HAMMER: The ‘New Right’ Is Here To Stay, Even If Its ‘Dead Consensus’ Critics Want It To Disappear)
There are several prominent Senate Republicans – including Marco Rubio of Florida, J.D. Vance of Ohio, and Josh Hawley of Missouri to name a few – who have dabbled in this movement. They want activist government to raise the fortunes of the middle class.
What is weird is that they are making many of the same arguments that left-wing and avowed “Democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders of Vermont is saying to his progressive supporters.
They want more restraints on “big business” (such as through anti-trust enforcement and price controls on what industries can charge), more protectionist trade policies, tax policies that provide credits and deductions for having more children, restrictions on legal immigration, and even higher taxes on the rich. They are, in short, arguing for a more activist role of government for the supposed failures of the free market.
The nat cons inside and out of Congress seem to have forgotten the famous quip told by Ronald Reagan some fifty years ago: “the most frightening nine words in the English language are: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
A weird thing is happening politically in Washington. A new wing of the GOP – national conservatives or ”Nat Cons” – are adopting the declinist rhetoric of Bernie Sanders. That middle-class America has fallen behind over the last 40 years, and that all of the economic gains have gone to the richest Americans and big corporations.
Except this argument that all of the gains of the last 40 years – the greatest period of wealth creation and technological advance in world history – is flat-out false. Actually, it may be hard to appreciate given the last three depressing years of COVID-19, lockdowns, and then Bidenomics, but the last 40 years have been a golden age of prosperity for virtually every income group – including the middle class. Median family income reached $78,000 in 2020, which is $20,000 a year HIGHER than it was in 1983. That’s about a 35% after-inflation increase over the period.
Those income measures don’t include the much wider availability of more non-cash benefits – such as health care coverage, more vacation, and 401k and other retirement benefits – that make middle-class families almost 50% better off than in the late 1970s. They don’t take into account the cleaner air and water, the vast improvements in combating diseases like cancer and heart disease, the vast superiority of the quality of products we buy today, and the fact that virtually all Americans now have a device in their pockets that puts the whole world and the entire Library of Congress at their fingertips – with access that is virtually free.
Even though it is true that money can’t buy love or happiness or grace, the material well-being of the middle class and the poor is much more secure than in the supposed golden days of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. I would refer readers to a book that I wrote several years ago with the late Julian Simon called “It’s Getting Better All the Time,” for a review of all the economic and financial advances for the middle class over the last 50 to 100 years. When Trump was president, the middle class made some of the fastest gains, with middle-class incomes rising by more than $6,000 in four short years. (RELATED: STEPHEN MOORE: The Left’s Green Dreams Are Going Up In Smoke)
What launched the more than $50 trillion in American wealth over the last four decades was an era of lower tax rates, freer trade, a stable dollar, declining union dominance, a vast expansion of right-to-work laws, a generous legal immigration process that allowed the U.S. to import more than 25 million talented immigrants who became Americans and expanded the pie for everyone.
I can understand why an avowed Democratic Socialist like Bernie Sanders might want to reject these realities.
What’s scary is that we now have some conservative intellectuals – who should know better – telling us that we need more government restrictions on business, less immigration, more trade protectionism, more union power, and even more redistributive tax policies. This is an ahistorical playbook that would guarantee to make America – and virtually all Americans – poorer.
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