Daniel McCarthy writes that “America’s fundamental political choice now is between mild nationalism, resurgent socialism, or suicide by liberalism, whether of the libertarian or palliative sort:”
That being the case, how would the nationalist alternative work?
It would begin by rejecting propaganda about the end of the export economy. World population is still growing, and growing wealthier, which means there are more people around the world increasingly capable of buying goods made in America. We sacrificed some of our competitive advantage after World War II for the sake of Cold War strategy, and we were right to do so. But now the time has come to compete to the utmost, at once politically and economically, with our rivals, above all China. That means driving bargains to open markets for our goods while permitting access to our markets—still the most desirable in the world—on terms favorable to our citizens in full, in their capacity as producers, not just as consumers. The argument that the loss of manufacturing jobs to technology excuses the extinction of manufacturing employment is not an argument at all. What follows is that we ought to minimize the loss of employment due to every factor not technologically inevitable, such as ill-conceived trade deals. Tariffs are not an end in themselves, of course: They are a defensive measure and a source of leverage.
President Trump’s instincts are correct about immigration as well: It is in need of reform that puts citizens first, with emphasis on supporting higher wages for workers. Less low-skill immigration puts upward pressure on wages. And what if there just aren’t enough American workers to fill all the jobs? That’s good, too, because, other things being equal, it encourages larger family size. When parents see opportunities for their children in a world in which more labor is needed, they have confidence to have more children. This is why populations everywhere boom at the onset of an industrial revolution, and it’s a reason why frontier settler populations so often have such high rates of family formation. Get employment growing again for Americans who are not already on the top of the heap, and their families can grow again, too. …
The idea that economic nationalism is not compatible with free-market economics is absurd. The history of America from the founding to the New Deal belies the idea that nationalist economics is bad for business or growth. Its virtue is that it is good for labor and political stability as well. From growth, a contented middle class, and moderate political culture flow a strong country and stronger families and citizens. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, when nations and supranational institutions are in turmoil, those benefits are of existential significance.
The ideal of Jefferson’s agrarian America (as distinct from its too often plantation-based reality) was a nation of virtuous yeomanry—small, independent farmers capable of providing for their families themselves. Abraham Lincoln’s vision was of a country in which working men, not only farmers, could improve their standards of life. In the twentieth century, the American dream became a thing to which every salaryman could aspire: a good job; enough money to buy a house, start a family, and retire; and the chance to watch one’s children rise to a higher station. In the twenty-first century, that dream has given way to delirium—feverish uncertainty about whether in midlife one will have to become an Amazon deliveryman or a Walmart greeter, and anxiety about whether one’s children will be tech-company winners or endlessly indebted gig workers.
We need to accept the responsibilities of leadership. That means governing in the century in which we actually live rather than the one shaped by our political heroes. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the world began to change, and our country with it. Those changes have accelerated and are now threatening to tear us apart. The way forward requires refocusing on the American citizen as the basic unit of the economy. This is the essence of a nationalist political economy, which we very much need if our country’s tradition of personal independence and limited government is to endure, a tradition in which government’s primary economic role is not to provide welfare but to safeguard the conditions that make productive work possible.
“Culture comes first,” McCarthy writes, “but like a final cause or end in Aristotle’s philosophy, it is first in priority, not necessarily first in time or action. We need to bring this truth forward, for we’ve forgotten it over the past few decades.” McCarthy’s piece is worthwhile for perspective on something that millions of Americans across the political spectrum feel: that fundamentals are at risk of breaking in our body politic.
What makes Dan McCarthy a consistently interesting writer is that he’s concerned with what so many political and cultural writers ignore: first principles.