George F. Will: Trump’s Carrier ploy was a repudiation of conservatism
Trump’s Carrier ploy was a repudiation of conservatism
WASHINGTON — So, this is the new conservatism’s recipe for restored greatness: Political coercion shall supplant economic calculation in shaping decisions by companies in what is called, with diminishing accuracy, the private sector. This will be done partly as conservatism’s challenge to liberalism’s supremacy in the victimhood sweepstakes, telling aggrieved groups that they are helpless victims of vast, impersonal forces, against which they can be protected only by government interventions.
Responding to political threats larded with the money of other people, Carrier has somewhat modified its planned transfers of some manufacturing to Mexico. This represents the dawn of bipartisanship: The Republican Party now shares one of progressivism’s defining aspirations — government industrial policy, with the political class picking winners and losers within, and between, economic sectors. This always involves the essence of socialism — capital allocation, whereby government overrides market signals about the efficient allocation of scarce resources. Therefore it inevitably subtracts from economic vitality and job creation.
Although the president-elect has yet to dip a toe into the swamp, he practices the calculus by which Washington reasons, the political asymmetry between dispersed costs and concentrated benefits. The damages from government interventions are cumulatively large but, individually, are largely invisible. The beneficiaries are few but identifiable and their gratitude is telegenic.
When, speaking at the Carrier plant, Mike Pence said, “The free market has been sorting it out and America’s been losing,” Trump chimed in, “Every time, every time.” When Republican leaders denounce the free market as consistently harmful to Americans, they are repudiating almost everything conservatism has affirmed.
Indiana’s involvement in the Carrier drama exemplifies the “entrepreneurial federalism” -- states competing to lure businesses. This is neither new nor necessarily reprehensible. There are, however, distinctions to be drawn between creating a favorable climate for business generally and giving direct subsidies to alter the behavior of businesses already operating in the state. And when ad hoc corporate welfare, including tariffs, becomes national policy, it becomes a new arena of regulation, and hence of rent seeking, which inevitably corrupts politics. And by sapping economic dynamism, it injures the working class.
What formerly was called conservatism resisted the permeation of society by politics, and particularly by the sort of unconstrained executive power that has been wielded by the 44th president. The man who will be the 45th forthrightly and comprehensively repudiates the traditional conservative agenda and, in reversing it, embraces his predecessor’s executive swagger.