Trump’s economic nationalism is an effort to save capitalism
Elizabeth Warren looks like a deadly serious prospect for the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie Sanders may never make it to that promised land, but there is no question that his spirit is still moving the Democrats toward democratic socialism. The party’s activist base and youth wing grow more anti-capitalist by the month. It’s enough to turn many a libertarian or Chamber of Commerce conservative into a Trump supporter, despite the president’s own defiance of free-market orthodoxy on trade.
Yet the president might as well be Milton Friedman compared with some on the right who are, if anything, outflanking the left in their critiques of capitalism. ‘The main threat to your ability to live your life as you choose does not come from the government any more,’ Tucker Carlson told the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, DC last July, ‘but it comes from the private sector.’ Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, and the editors of First Things have likewise taken aim at corporate America, particularly the tech sector. These conservatives are as likely as Sen. Warren to espy virtues in a wealth tax.
Socialists to the left, nationalists to the right — these are daunting times for defenders of capitalism. This year was the 75th anniversary of the publication of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and the Austrian economist’s admirers could be forgiven for thinking his book’s lessons have gone unlearned.
But Hayek himself might rethink that judgment in light of everything that’s happened since 1944, when he warned that even a little socialism and central planning would lead to a lot more. Since then, what has become obvious is that there is simply no stopping commerce. Far from being a delicate flower easily crushed by careless would-be gardeners, capitalism is robust, even to the point of being weed-like.
Lenin had already discovered by 1921 that ‘full communism’ wouldn’t work even with the power of a totalitarian state behind it, a reality that compelled him to adopt what was called the ‘New Economic Policy’. It restored a small degree of private enterprise within the Soviet system. The USSR’s participation in international trade was another link — a lifeline — to the real world of prices set by demand and availability rather than by party bureaucrats. And of course, the Soviet Union had a thriving black market, in some respects the freest kind of market of all.
The Soviets tried to the bitter end to minimize the power of market forces within Russia and its empire, with results that are celebrated now in the memory of the Berlin Wall’s demolition and the collapse of the USSR itself. The other communist superpower of the 20th century, the People’s Republic of China, remains with us to this day, but only as a result of having adopted capitalist reforms and harnessing the ensuing prosperity. Yet therein lies an ugly truth: capitalism as an economic system has proved to be quite compatible with despotism as a political system. This should not surprise us. Even in Europe capitalism once existed alongside absolutism.
Commerce has been a commanding influence on western civilization since the Middle Ages. It was in quest of commodities that Portugal and Spain blazed their way around Africa to India and across the Atlantic to the Americas. The earliest English settlers in North America came as colonists of the profit- seeking Virginia and Plymouth Companies. A decade before the Revolutionary War, the independence of Britain’s American colonies was foreshadowed by their eagerness to trade with His Majesty’s enemies during the French and Indian Wars.
The variety of US wars that have been fought for territorial expansion (which is also commercial expansion), market ‘openness’ and the upholding of a trade- oriented ‘liberal international order’ would be embarrassing, if not for the unceasing efforts of journalists and academics to disguise more recent conflicts as exercises in sheer altruism.
The great Anglo-Celtic minds of the late 18th century — such as David Hume, Adam Smith and indeed Edmund Burke — tried to humanize the struggle for markets and goods by showing how cooperation could achieve more than war and the brutal ways of the British East India Company.
They only partly succeeded: today wars are still fought over access to and ownership of goods, but access and ownership are understood as features of a market system, rather than merely as the interests of a nation or company. There is a need to rehumanize capitalism, now that liberalism has become a hypocritical dogma. Nationalism is the way to do it.
Trump’s economic nationalism has been an effort to save capitalism, not to bury it — to prove it can still work for a free America and not just for a despotic China, and that it can serve Americans of all regions and economic levels and not just the investor class.
This, rather than a rehash of the 20th century’s clash between communism and free markets, is the conflict of our time. Capitalism will triumph again whether the next century is Chinese or American. But capitalism without Smith and Burke and the best of the Anglo-Celtic tradition America inherited will look more like it did in the 17th century and earlier, when trade wars were shooting wars, states sponsored privateers and companies indulged in colonialism and worse.
Liberalism cannot save capitalism with western characteristics because liberalism has become both illiberal and anti-western. What is needed now is for America and the West to harness capitalism as successfully as China has, in the service of our civilization and our way of life. Of all our great institutions — family, faith, citizenship, representative government — free markets are the least endangered. They should be a source of strength to the rest: our civilization’s fate depends on it.
Top US admiral bristles at criticism of ‘woke’ military: ‘We are not weak’
Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, rebuffed pointed interrogations by GOP lawmakers who grilled him over his decision to recommend sailors read a book deemed by some conservatives as anti-American.
The U.S. Navy’s top admiral also defended moves to address and root out racism and extremism in the forces as well as its efforts to bolster inclusion and diversity, which have prompted criticism from some conservatives and Republican lawmakers.
“Do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Gilday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, referring to a passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which argues capitalism and racism are interlinked.
Banks continued to interrogate the admiral over specific quotes from Kendi’s book, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller in 2020, and statements he had made elsewhere in the past.
Visibly distraught, Gilday fired back:
“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” he said. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy, as weak, as woke.”
He added that sailors had spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits — the longest deployments the Navy has done, he said.
“We are not weak. We are strong,” Gilday said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., also challenged the admiral by citing specific quotes from the book and asked him how those ideas laid out by Kendi would further advance or improve the Navy’s power.
Gilday responded by arguing the importance of transparency and open dialogue about racism.
“There is racism in the Navy just as there is racism in our country, and the way we are going to get out of it is by being honest and not to sweep it under the rug,” he expounded, adding that he does not agree with everything the author says in the book.
The key point however, he said, is for sailors “to be able to think critically.”
The exchange was the latest in vociferous complaints from some conservative leaders and lawmakers who suggest the armed forces are becoming a pawn for the country’s culture wars and “wokeness” ideology, as the military takes steps to address issues of racial inclusion, extremism, racism and white supremacy.
And only last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accosted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about Kendi’s book, which Cotton said promoted “critical race theories” at a different Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Austin was testifying.
Days earlier, Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas — two combat veterans — launched a “whistleblowers” online platform to report examples of “woke ideology” in the military.
“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said in a tweet.
Also in February, Austin instructed a one-day stand-down across the Defense Department pausing regular activities to address extremism and white nationalism in the ranks — an issue Austin declared as a priority after a number of rioters at the U.S. Capitol in January were found to have military backgrounds.
The stand down completed in April was an effort to better understand the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a briefing then.
Earlier, Austin had revoked a ban on diversity training for the military.
More recently, in May, a U.S. Army animated ad focused on soldier diversity — featuring the real story of a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California — drew criticism and political backlash from some conservative lawmakers.
“Holy crap,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. . . .”
Cruz was referring to a TikTok video that compared the U.S. Army ad with a Russia campaign that showed buff soldiers doing push-ups and leaping out of airplanes, adding that the contrast made the American soldiers “into pansies.”
The confrontation Tuesday is also the latest in reproaches by Rep. Banks, who is a Naval Reserve officer, and other GOP members over Gilday’s recommendation to include Kendi’s book in the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program.
In February, Banks sent a letter to Gilday arguing that the views promoted in the book are “explicitly anti-American” and demanded Gilday explain the Navy’s decision to include it on the reading list or remove it.
Gilday responded to Banks in a letter obtained by Fox News saying that the book was included on the list because “it evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities.”
Lamborn and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, D-Mo., also wrote a letter to the admiral to convey their concern about the inclusion of Kendi’s book as well as Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”
The GOP lawmakers argued the books “reinforce a view that America is a confederation of identity categories of the oppressed and their oppressors rather than a common homeland of individual citizens who are united by common purposes,“ Lamborn and Hartzler wrote, according to Fox News.
Looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021
Our understanding of events refines with time. New developments reframe the issues, and prompt reassessment of the solutions applied, their design and outcomes. What does looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021 tell us?
For three decades, India celebrated and criticised the 1991 reforms. The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout. The reforms, they insist, were ‘home-grown’. In the years leading up to 1991, technocrats in government had been thinking and writing about how India’s economic policies had been blocking the country’s rise to potential and the structural changes needed. If the broad range of reforms—including tearing down the industrial license permit raj, an exchange rate correction, and liberalising foreign direct investment and trade policies—could be launched within a matter of days of a new government joining office, they argue, it is because the blueprints were ready, waiting for the go-ahead from the political leadership.
The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout.
At least two well-regarded technocrats that were important in the 1991 reforms disagree—publicly and in off-the-record conversations. In a media interview last month, one of them, the economic adviser in the reforms team, Dr Ashok Desai, suggested that if there were any reformers in government before the IMF “forced” India to liberalise in 1991, “they hid themselves very well”. According to him, after the BOP crisis was resolved, finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh turned “dead against reforms”.
The multiple versions of the reforms story make it difficult to separate fact from romance. It cannot be disputed, though, that the 1991 BOP crisis was a turning point for the economy. India had tided over BOP crises earlier with loans from the IMF, repaid them prematurely, and avoided going through with the bailout’s conditionalities. 1991 was singularly different because India was on the brink of default, which is likely to have forced politicians to set politics aside and listen to technocrats. Any default on external obligations would have meant hurting India’s credibility grievously and an inescapable sense of national shame. The government probably took the view that there was no choice other than to take corrective steps. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao named Dr Manmohan Singh, who had been a technocrat in government and was well regarded in global policy circles, as his finance minister. Dr Singh clearly had the Prime Minister’s, his party’s and the IMF’s trust. Records irrefutably show that the Congress party’s acceptance of the reversals in the interventionist economic policies of the first four post-Independence decades was not secured by the Prime Minister. He had delegated the task of tackling doubts and resistance within the party to his ministers, in particular, the finance minister and the commerce minister, and an aide in his office. The finance minister defended the reforms on the floor of the house in Parliament.
Taxpayer-funded NPR mocks ‘CaPitAliSm,’ prompting calls to ‘defund’ media outlet
National Public Radio (NPR) ignited a social media firestorm Thursday night over a tweet that appears to mock capitalism, despite taxpayer dollars accounting for much of the organization’s annual budget.
The outlet posted a story titled “And Now, Crocs With Stiletto Heels” that explores a curious new collaboration between luxury fashion brand Balenciaga and Crocs, the rubber slipper company responsible for fashion faux pas among the millions of comfort-clinging owners nationwide.
The caption accompanying the article, which was written in both uppercase and lowercase letters, appears to mock the collaboration: “CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn,” it reads.
The tweet’s language sparked outrage on social media, with figures like conservative Tim Young calling out the irony in NPR’s three-word post.
“You wouldn’t exist without capitalism, clown who is tweeting on behalf of NPR,” he wrote.
“Job at public news station wouldn’t exist wo capitalism,” another user echoed. “Are you guys ok?”
“Our tax money shouldn’t pay for this,” one person expressed.
“It’s still a hell of a lot better than communism at breeding innovation, even if some of the products are silly,” one woman fired back.