I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the many responses to Tucker Carlson’s now-famous monologue. We’ve had contributions from David French, Kyle Smith, Kevin Williamson, Yuval Levin, David Bahnsen, Michael Brendan Dougherty, Mike Lee, Ben Shapiro, Mona Charen, Jonah Goldberg, David French again, Kevin Williamson again, David Bahnsen again, Jonah Goldberg again, and more. And that’s just on the website. The question has also been discussed at length on many of NR’s podcasts, and, of course, on Twitter. I have strong opinions about most things, but I’m also somewhat ecumenical, so it’s been splendid to be reminded of the breadth of opinion on the American right. We live in interesting times.
I shan’t retread any of the already-trodden ground here. As you might imagine, I’m basically with Kevin and Jonah on this one. But I do want to raise an objection to some of the framing we’ve seen from those more sympathetic to Tucker’s case — and, specifically, to the use of the phrase, “markets exist to serve people.” I object to this not because I disagree with it, but rather because nobody involved in the debate disagrees with it, and because, as a result, it is pretty much useless as a shibboleth. In practice, “I just think that markets exist to serve people” is another way of saying, “I’m a free marketeer too, but I think we need a little more interference than we presently have.” Or, more precisely, it’s a way of implying that the speaker’s preferred level or type of interference in the market is the objectively perfect level and that his opponents are reality-ignoring absolutists. There is really only one circumstance in which it would be appropriate for a person to preface his remarks with “I just think that markets exist to serve people,” and that is if that person were of the view that the market should be completely taken over by the government and put to whatever ends it saw fit at any given moment, and if his opponent were of the view that there should be absolutely no regulation of any kind. That, though, isn’t what happening here, and even if it were, we’d still have a problem: That it is entirely possible to believe (a) that markets exist to serve people, and (b) that, on balance, markets serve people best when markets are left alone.
I’ll go one further: As a rhetorical ploy, “I just believe that markets are supposed to serve people” is not only meaningless, it is dangerous. Why? Well, because anyone using it to describe his position is susceptible to its being against him by anyone who is one millimeter to his left. There is presumably a point at which Tucker Carlson would oppose further interference in the market. By his own standard, would his opposition to such interference suggest that he does not believe that markets exist to serve people or that he “worships the market”? And if not, why not? We can — and should — disagree as to which public policies best serve the country. But we should do so without playing Goldilocks, lest the bears eat us, too — or, at the very least, leave us homeless.