30 January 2018

The Market is the Nation

Recent tariff announcements reminded many Republicans of why they don't like President Trump. In recent days I've seen George Will and Jonah Goldberg rehash their arguments against protectionism, and while Goldberg in particular stresses that free trade is the right way for anti-statist conservatives, so opposed to the materialist conservatism who've embraced Trump, the real argument from both men is that the right of the consumer to the most choices àt the lowest prices is more important than any number of American jobs. While this position is at least superficially democratic, since the consumers of any product outnumber its producers, it's essentially meritocratic in a collectivist way in its indifference to individual fate, compared to the President's theoretical commitment to preserving jobs at all costs. Most significantly, it entitles consumers to indifference to whether their decisions lead to fellow Americans losing their jobs. On this point an important distinction emerges. Many of the same ideologues who implicitly champion this indifference to individual consequences in the realm of commerce will reflexively condemn any attempt by democratically elected representatives to increase the minimum wage, because doing so, they claim, inevitably will cost jobs. But if the electorate decides that workers should be paid more, why should they care any more about the fate of the individual worker than they do when they buy cheap imports with the wholehearted endorsement of free-trade Republicans? The answer, from the vantage of those Republicans, seems to be that consumerism is a more authoritative, more legitimate expression of democracy than voting, that the consumer has legitimate power of life and death over jobs while the voter doesn't. They often object that electoral democracy entitles people to decide on issues despite their hopeless bias or outright ignorance, yet the judgments of the Market, the true voice of the people, are true and righteous altogether. That helps explain how both major parties can talk about democracy sincerely and mean two different things, and how even one major party can contradict itself. Republicans are now debating amongst themselves whether the democracy of voters or the democracy of the market has their first loyalty.

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