by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jonah Goldberg reminds us in the latest Commentary magazine cover story that opposition to free-market policies emerges from more than just one end of the political spectrum.
The major difference between the left and the right when it comes to any movement dedicated to overthrowing the free-market order—corporatist, authoritarian, etc.—is which groups will be the winners and which groups will be the losers. A left-wing system might empower labor leaders, government bureaucrats, progressive intellectuals, universities, certain minority groups, and one set of industries. A right-wing system might reward a different set of industries as well as traditional religious groups and their leaders, an ethnic majority, aristocrats, or perhaps rural interests. But both systems would be reactionary in the sense that they rejected the legacy of the Lockean revolution, preferring a Northian natural state where the “stakeholders” colluded to determine what was best for their interests.
Today, in America, we associate defense of the market with the political right, although the new nationalist fervor aroused by Donald Trump and his defenders may overturn that somewhat. Already, the president’s economic rhetoric—and considerable swaths of his policies—is more reminiscent of natural-state economics. Just as Obama picked economic winners and losers to the benefit of his coalition, Trump rewards industries that are crucial to his. One can argue that favoring wind and solar power is better policy than favoring steel and coal, but it’s still an argument for favoritism.
Since the birth of free-market economics, the team jerseys have changed many times. Under Napoleon, for instance, champions of the free market were denizens of the political left. Even today, what makes a libertarian in America a “right-winger” makes him a “liberal” in most of Europe.