Liberals mystified by the election of Donald Trump might look to the Middlebury assault—in which Charles Murray was shouted down and physically pursued as he left campus while the professor escorting him was attacked and put in a neck brace—for a slice of the explanation. The answer may lie less in the grotesque conduct of college students awash in—wait for it, wait for it—privilege than in what the impassioned youth never said.
Gerald Russello, editor of the University Bookman, has put together a great symposium on immigration entitled Citizen, Community, and Welcoming the Stranger with pieces by Yuval Levin, Bruce Frohnen, Peter Lawler, David Azerrad, Brad Birzer, and Daniel McCarthy. Below is my contribution which is reposted with permission from the Bookman.
America’s more open approach to widespread immigration is faltering, the support for it eroded by our low-growth economy. For too many, the pie seems to be shrinking, with those at the Little Debbie level much more aware of this than those who can afford double-swirly cheesecakes. To be sure, some of the blame for the Obama era’s anemic growth can be put on aggressive regulatory policy. Obamacare increased, in effect, the tax on labor that employers must pay, with predictable responses on their part. The Federal Reserve became the largest financial intermediary in the country under the reign of quantitative easing, meaning that the central bank, and not an array of investors, has been the biggest allocator of capital. As Bastiat told us, we’re unable to see the value that wasn’t created as a result of centralized policies that squelched opportunities for growth.
In his neglected mid-century essay “The Direct Glance” Whittaker Chambers sought to understand the smugness of the West and America regarding Soviet Communism. The struggle against it was marked, Chambers thought, by a “boundless complacency” rooted in the West’s belief in its material superiority. And this failure of understanding left the West, Chambers argued, listless and without appeal.
The traditional—or at least doctrinaire—response of conservatives and libertarians to the phenomenon of income inequality has been, “So what?” The common attitude of many on the Right is that, in a free-market economy, individual differences in ability, skill, and effort will lead to inequality of income. James Madison summed up the sentiment nicely in Federalist 10 when he stated that the “first object of Government” consists of “the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property,” which “immediately results” in “the possession of different degrees and kinds of property.” In a free society, it is often believed that unequal results are inevitable—for some, even desirable.
When America’s most sophisticated social scientist warns that America is on its last legs, it is time to start paying attention. Charles Murray has come to the conclusion that Donald Trump is “an expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel” about the state of the country.
The Trump phenomenon was to be predicted, writes Murray in a recent essay. “It is the endgame of a process that has been going on for a half-century: America’s divestment of its historic national identity.”
John Stuart Mill is a pretty complicated figure in the history of liberty. The phenomenon of Donald Trump is a pretty complicated development in American politics currently. Both had demanding fathers, successful professional careers, and an impact on the world around them, in ways intended and unintended. It’s doubtful Mr. Trump seriously thought he’d get this far as a candidate, and I wonder if Mill could have envisioned how much his contributions to the history of ideas would have promoted the growing rift between utilitarianism and liberalism.
This past week, at the invitation of a dear friend (Christopher Wolfe —no, wait: this guy), I visited the University of Dallas. On some accounts it’s the ugliest campus in America. On all accounts it’s among the most amazing: where else would you find students who sit in rapt attention for a six-hour (!) debate on inequality (featuring William Galston, Ross Douthat, and yours truly)?
Pending the webilcation of the entire event, herewith my opening remarks. I’m way out of my league here but what the heck:
Inequality, we have it on presidential authority, is “the defining challenge of our time.” Arguably it’s the (or at least a) defining challenge of all times—a profound question that invites deep reflection. Jerusalem had one answer; Athens had another. Hobbes and Machiavelli had different answers yet. A bit closer to home, this country was famously founded on the “self-evident” truth that all men are created equal.
The raging contemporary debate, for good or ill, has nothing to do with any of that. It is limited to income inequality, and it says that r is greater than g: the returns to capital will exceed the economic growth rate and so the rich get richer and the poor get poorer over time. That’s not quite inevitable, or always true. The post-War era experienced a “great compression.” But income inequality has increased dramatically since the 1980s and especially after the 2008-2009 financial crisis: all the gains from growth have gone to the 10 percent or the one percent or whatever. Surely we should do something about that.
In the last couple of generations, regulation has exploded, with harmful effects on both our freedom and the economy. One of the areas of regulation involve rules that are designed to protect consumers from being harmed by the products that they purchase. Yet, there is a strong argument that these regulations are largely unnecessary.
Free market advocates generally argue that much of this regulation is not needed – that the market will develop mechanisms for protecting consumers. The reputations of sellers and brand names provide strong incentives for sellers to provide safe and effective products. Moreover, private companies, such as consumer reports, can also test the products and sell the information to consumers.