The Trump administration forced a lot of conservatives to rethink issues.
For me, I had to revisit the topic of tariffs. Initially, I was knee-jerk hostile to tariff schedules. We should support free trade at all costs, right? That was what Milton Friedman told us, and that is what we should be fighting for. After four years of Trump, I realized that Pat Buchanan and other economic nationalists had a good point about tariffs. Indeed, every nation needs to take steps to ensure that essential industries remain strong and thrive in the home country. In times of war or a health crisis, it’s both good and proper for a country to be able to rely on businesses and private industry in one’s country to do what is best for the people.
Other economic populists wisely, correctly point out that a country is not just an economy. American citizens are not just consumers. A country requires a civic order which businesses large and small and workers, whether at the minimum wage or the highest wage, must respect. Natural Law is essential for economic prosperity to flourish, not just "the bottom line."
However, with the growing investment and interest in nationalism, populism, and a return to traditional, social conservative policies, I have a growing sense of alarm about the new set of conservative populists. Some of them are advocating for Republicans to embrace “Medicaid Expansions”. One commentator, Pedro Gonzalez, actually wrote this article for Newsweek: “The Conservative Case for a $15 Minimum Wage”
Even U.S. Senator Josh Hawley argued for a minimum wage hike, too, but only for large corporations like Amazon, Walmart, and the like. I understand the rationale: Big Business is hurting Little Guy. It disgusts me that Marc Cuban let NBA stars push Black Lives Matter propaganda, and he kisses up to the Chinese Communists. Amazon burns books, and Walmart pushes LGBT indoctrination.
We have to accept an essential premise: No man goes into business out of charity, out of the goodness of his heart. Everyone who jumps into the marketplace goes into business to make money. Something else: minimum wage laws hurt workers! Forcing up the minimum wage prices entry-level employees out of the marketplace, force the cutting of hours, discourage expansion (and job growth), and raise prices. How is any of this “populist” or “America First”? Last of all: private businesses make their money, and it’s their money. Since when did any of us tell someone else how to spend their money?!
Now, there is a legitimate gripe when large corporations get richer while small businesses and entrepreneurs get shut out. The problem is not “the rich,” per se, but the “well-connected” or “the lobbying class.” If Bernie Sanders talked about how the well-connected (to government) keep getting richer, then he might be onto something. These corporate interests buy influence from the government, lining their pockets further and often at our expense. The problem is not free enterprise. The problem is the un-free government sticking its sticky fingers on the scale and favoring some companies at the expense (literally and figuratively) of everyone else. For example, onerous COVID-19 restrictions are from the government, but many governments exempted Big Box stores. Get government hands out of the marketplace, and let the Invisible Hand of free enterprise move … freely.
On domestic economic policy, President Trump did extremely well, particularly in the realm of domestic deregulation. We need more of it! Repeal mandatory minimum wage laws. Roll back more useless regulations. Restore and enshrine to workers the freedom to join or not join a union. Allow professionals to conduct business in person or via the Internet without intrusion. Let individuals and businesses purchase health insurance across state lines. Remove the arbitrary licensure barriers which prevent American doctors and other professionals from practicing their trade in different states. All of these commonsense reforms will help all Americans, put the economic and social needs of Americans first, and, most importantly, do all of this by tying the hands of Big Government to prevent them from handing out favors to Big Business.
A final question lingers: Why is the younger generation of conservatives, like Generation Z activists embracing statism and basically shouting “F---- the Free Market!”? Free market economists are not framing their arguments in populist terms. Their arguments are too academic and do not have enough anecdotal or emotional insight. Another reason is that it has become fashionable to be “populist,” to be a "traditionalist iconoclast," that everyone wants to rail against Big Business. Sure, but these people confuse free enterprise with cronyism, which depends on unfree government tipping the Invisible Hand in the favor of the select few.
No one denies that Big Business is pushing an anti-American agenda and taking unfair advantage. The answer to Big Business is not Big Government. There is nothing that will more scuttle true economic populism than giving more power to the government to pick winners and losers. We the People need to flex our own buying power and go build elsewhere. Gab is thriving as a social media option. GoGetFunding replaced GoFundMe. Other online markets are emerging to sell the books which Amazon banned. Australian entrepreneurs came up with their own news apps when Facebook cut off Australian newspapers from sharing their news. Yes, we can “build our own.”
These complex questions cannot be solved with a One-Size-Fits-All program labeled “Populist! Traditionalist! Nationalist!” We need to look at policies for what they are and the outcomes they will create. Yes, I changed my mind on tariffs. But I am not throwing out the “free enterprise” baby with the bathwater. Economic freedom, deregulation, competition, choice—an expansion of these powers and possibilities will enable Americans to become richer while curbing the progressive excesses of Big Business. The last thing that this country needs is a “conservative shade” of AOC. We must reject the falsehood that “Big Business equals Free Enterprise” or that more government will help.