by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The populist turn of the American right over the past decade has created a policy affinity, if not an ideological one, between nationalist conservatives and mainstream progressives. Both camps are energized by a moral narrative about the injustices of corporate greed and the failures of the elite, which expresses itself through support for industrial policy, worker protections, family allowances, trust-busting, and redistributing wealth to bolster working-class wages and living conditions.
This turn has resulted in a groundswell of support for a kind of benevolent statism. Its rationale usually involves a critique of the disruption wrought by dynamism in an unfettered free market. Understood in large part as Schumpeterian creative destruction, dynamism is considered by nationalist conservatives to be the culprit behind insecurity for workers and stagnation for communities. Their desire to improve protections for workers is usually accompanied by serious skepticism of the entrepreneurial ethic, or at least the unqualified celebration of that ethic.
The right’s pivot to populism occurred because conservatives overlearned the lessons of the 2012 presidential election, when “makers” were prioritized over “takers.” In the years that followed, many conservatives rediscovered wage earners. Though this shift in attention is laudable, blaming dynamism for what ails the American working class is not. In fact, the trouble facing America’s heartland is more likely the result of a lack of dynamism than an excess of it. …
… [T]he liberty-security dichotomy, framed as it is with regard to economic concepts like income, is not the only continuum along which Western political economy stretches. Its predominance in public debates masks a related duality that defines much of the struggle for social and economic progress: that of dynamism versus stasis — or, as philosophers of old would call it, “becoming versus being.” The process contained within this duality — that of fulfilling one’s potential, or working toward one’s own betterment — is a vital element of human happiness and well-being.