I don’t think it’s worth cataloging the scores of strawmen wandering around Declan Leary’s piece defending Marco Rubio’s illiberal turn. (I’ve written extensively elsewhere on the array of improvements markets have afforded Americans over the past 40 years, if anyone is interested.) But some thoughts hit me while reading it:
1. Though the anti-capitalists have near-religious certitude that consumerism, open markets, and new technologies are corroding the nation’s soul, they don’t really have a coherent policy agenda to combat the scourge that is modernity — at least not one they’re willing to share. My naïve position is clear: economic policy should maximize economic freedom, so that most Americans can compete and thrive in an open marketplace that provides them with goods and services that allow them to live freer, healthier, more meaningful lives. How they define meaning is up to them.
The unanswered question is: What kind of policy does Rubio believe will bring back the halcyon days of the 18th century, when men spent their 40-odd years on Earth as models of probity, engaging in the dignified and productive work of tilling the land? What menu of economic reforms does Rubio propose will heal the frayed family? What laws will we pass to impel women to stay home and have more children? How will inhibiting international trade and forcing companies to invest in unproductive manufacturing jobs, as Rubio suggests, stop men from watching their cheap televisions and attending mass again? I submit it would take a New Deal–type effort in social engineering to “reimagine” the entire economy. Is that what Rubio wants?
2. There is not a person I know who disagrees with the notion that there’s more to life than “liberty.” Some of us just happen to believe that Americans should have the ability to decide what their lives looks like, rather than having Marco Rubio or Bernie Sanders decide for them. As it stands, there are a lot of technocrats with advanced degrees arguing that lower-middle-class Americans should be relegated to generational work in factories because it comports with their theological vision of a “dignified” job.
3. The anti-market types who dismiss liberal ideas about property rights and trade always speak as if they’ve hatched some bold, “refreshing,” new idea — as opposed to, you know, antiquated Reaganesque policy. Capitalism, already weighed down by a host of regulatory regimes, is now pejoratively referred to as “libertarian.” (I wish!) But nothing about Rubio’s positions is new. His anxieties are the same ones that puritanical progressives of the early 20th century, Occupy Wall Street, and pick your populist movement, worried about. Populists have been putting phrases like “common good” in front of the word “capitalism” for more than a century. They’ve been scaremongering about trade forever. There’s nothing “refreshing” about giving stale ideas euphemistic names.