At an excellent colloquium on Tradition, Culture and Citizenship run by the Tradition Project of St. John’s Law School, a central question was what kind of politics allows traditions to flourish in the modern world. For me the clear answer is classical liberalism.
The classical liberal order leaves space for tradition in two ways. First, it justifies a state which has its object only providing the public goods that the family and the market cannot provide. As a result, the state has no business imposing wide ranging obligations that may burden traditional practices, so long as those practices do not interfere with these relatively few public goods, like the rule of the law, national defense and the regulation of substantial externalities, like pollution, that the state provides.
Second, classical liberalism recognizes that mediating institutions, like churches and mutual aid societies, are themselves important producers of public goods. It is these mediating institutions that are best at handing down traditions from generation to generation.
As bad as the economics of the Carrier shakedown may be—and it is entirely unclear in which direction the shaking went down, except to note that a supply of rents tends to create a demand for them—the constitutional politics are far worse.
The Wall Street Journal has looked over some big bank settlements--$110 billion worth—and asked one of the obvious questions: where did all that money go? Approximate answer: no one has any idea. No one keeps a tally; no one keeps track. That’s too bad because I’ve been wanting to know. Jointly with Chris DeMuth (former boss of OIRA, former boss of me, dear friend and no stranger to this site) I’ve written about “Agency Finance in the Age of Executive Government.” The subject is every scholar’s nightmare: lousy data, and no explanation that sounds immediately plausible. The idea that the settlements…
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 response to: The Rise of Adversarial Corporatism
Michael Greve’s essay vividly describes some deeply troubling trends in the relationship between the government and the economy. It provides a much needed perspective at a time when politics and policy-making are nothing if not adversarial, and more casual observers succumb to the temptation simply to choose sides without asking how we came to this ugly state of public affairs and where it might be headed. At the same time, however, I fear that Greve’s coinage of “adversarial corporatism,” however apt, will be too often misunderstood. Like “crony capitalism,” it will lead those who inhabit the shallow news-bite space (and…