The Corner

Begin the Day with a Friendly Voice

Let’s start off the morning with some hopeful signs.

First, the Cato Institute’s Daniel Ikenson makes a persuasive case in a recent paper that any spurt of worldwide protectionism originating from the current economic crisis will be short-lived. The Smoot-Hawley precedent doesn’t apply well to the situation, he argues:

The absence of trade rules in the 1930s meant that there were no proffered courses of action, no sources of adjudication or remediation, and no generally accepted limits to the actions governments could take in response to external economic policies. And there were far fewer domestic constituencies of any political consequence advocating against protectionism in the ‘30s. Consequently, there were no proven stopgaps to prevent the pandemic of spiraling protectionism that erupted and exacerbated the global recession.

Meanwhile, for those of us worried about the fate of American conservatism’s fusion of libertarian, traditionalist, and hawkish strands of public sentiment, my friend Matt Spaulding at the Heritage Foundation offers a reassuring assessment of America’s abiding tradition of constitutional liberty:

A constitutional conservatism unites all conser­vatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles. It reminds economic conser­vatives that morality is essential to limited govern­ment, cultural conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety at home and prominence in the world.

America’s principles were key to Frank Meyer’s original fusionism of traditionalism and libertarian­ism, as well as Ronald Reagan’s robust conservatism of the 1980s. These principles can be the source of a new fusionism and a new American conservatism if we understand them less as a fusion of opposites and more as inferences from the same source of foundational truth.

Finally, our movement’s indispensable man on transportation issues, Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, has written an upbeat assessment of the work of a major national study commission on surface transportation. Its analysis and recommendations chart the right course for encouraging new, productive investment in American infrastructure while strengthening market principles and expanding private-sector involvement:

Those of us who favor expanded use of tolling and public-private partnerships should be cheered by what the Finance Commission is proposing, at both a macro and a micro level. At a macro level, the whole thrust of the report reflects one of their six guiding principles: “The funding and finance framework should cause users and direct beneficiaries to bear the full cost of using the transportation system to the greatest extent possible.” That’s a powerful endorsement of continuing and strengthening the user-pays principle even as the country transitions away from petroleum-based fuels and hence to highway funding sources other than fuel taxes.

John Hood is president of the John William Pope Foundation, a North Carolina-based grantmaker. His latest book is a novel, Mountain Folk (Defiance Press, 2021).

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