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by Adam Korzeniewski
Liberalism is a system of economics with political and social controls. Now, for many true faith Liberals the mechanism is reversed, but for most people, even voters, they are ideological on any liberal point. The people who are not ideologically liberal, or liberal identitarian, exist within the purple and red belts of America, the kind of people the Republican Party relies upon for their voting blocks in every election. In recent years, this block is increasingly working class, increasingly around old manufacturing centers in the United States, and increasingly destitute.
I could go on at length about the plight of the rank-and-file American. Rank-and-file because these people are overwhelming asked to take upon the burden of fighting in Boot’s “Savage wars of peace.” People like me, who grew up around a former industrial city, whose family has fought in every major American conflict, and traditionally occupied a yeoman position in American Society. Meanwhile, the Republican Party just holds its nose and fails to address the concerns of their voting bloc time and time again.
Go back far enough, these industrial towns are the very reason why America became the dominant power, and why the United States still has the economic and soft power entropy it has today despite many elites attempting to loot it for all its worth. If a Great Power is built upon its ability to produce its own manufactured goods, then why are Republican apparatchiks dogmatically neoliberal? In a normal country, political actors should at least consider the cynical value in appealing to the only people who will vote for them.
What do I mean by Neoliberal? Neoliberalism is defined by its central figure, Milton Friedman, whose resume needs no introduction. I recommend looking up the Wikipedia definition of Neoliberalism. I tend to throw the Libertarians in this definition as well because their free-market dogmatism is not meaningfully distinct from Neoliberalism for historical reasons. Yes, on several occasions in many countries, proto-Libertarian movements arise, and then they tend to be consumed by an aggressive form of Liberal Interventionism predicated on using force to solve for free trade.
In a normal country, the people in charge of the nation or its politics would consider alternative concepts of economic thinking, at least cynically. Unfortunately, we do not live in a normal country. The great irony is that the United States formed its own political system, the American System, which is more in line with what the regular purple voter’s interest. However, we can change that because the institutions of American prestige and power are so sullied and weakened by the people meant to guard them.
President Donald Trump appealed to this economic normativity in his 2016 campaign. He talked about the application of state power to state projects for necessary ends to help the American people. The border wall, infrastructure upgrades, returning manufacturing are policies that the free market cannot provide in any meaningful scale that requires mass concentration of distributed resources.
Most Americans believe the United States should engage in some degree of protectionism for jobs, could produce more manufactured goods, and a degree of safety from global shock events. As the Coronavirus crisis demonstrated, the United States is in a difficult position to even boot up mask production. Still the Republican Party ‘thinkers’ are ideologues on free markets with the rest of the world, to the point where they will side with a megacorporation conducting widespread suppression of their own party because it could hurt the megacorporation’s bottom line.
Conservative Media influencers subject Young Republicans to endless Neoliberal economic propaganda. These media and authority figures who are telling them to embrace ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ by means of this narrowly reconstructed, abstracted economic thinking. Past conservative demagogues influenced these now influencers in the same way. It is an industry unto itself. Frequently, free-market absolutism is contrasted to socialism, or some Marxist offshoot. In a Communist or Marxist state, the people do not have ownership of private property. In a perfectly Neoliberal state, there is no private property left to own because the capitalist class ships the productive means elsewhere to a country more willing to maximally utilize their resources, and they rent to you through someone else who profits on all ends of the flow of capital. For those of you who are new to political economy, this is a bad thing when the average person has no skin-in-the-game in the country. The United States was built upon volunteerism and ownership, not subjugation and rent seeking.
In contrast to these extreme and foreign ideas are the ideas of the Founding Fathers, who wrote extensively about the importance of domestic ownership of industry and industrial development. Alexander Hamilton, our First Treasury Secretary, told us we need to have an economy such that we can defend ourselves against Britain. Henry Clay would later codify this as the American System of Political economy, focused on tariffs, internal improvements, industrial subsidies, and use of money power. He went on to challenge the slave-based economy favored by the Southern Secessionists, who utilized their ultra-cheap labor to price out yeoman farmers and any nascent industrial development in the South and financialized the economy such that it blocked regular people from entering the agricultural industry. Abraham Lincoln went on to be a staunch advocate for the American System.
Why is this important for Clay’s time? Well, you don’t build a big army or big navy to fight off the British Empire by selling them cotton, and a people do not get wealthy from slave labor, only slave holders do. What is the relevance today? The United States won’t hold its position as the dominant power on the world stage and national sovereignty if we do not produce our own manufactured goods. Using the British Empire cotton trade as an example, when we sell China soybeans for computers, we are behaving like a colony would.
In all of this, there is a great irony in that the Chinese bothered to read Hamilton and Clay. So did South Korea, and Japan. One of the most exported ideas from the United States is national economics, adopted by friend and foe alike. I am reminded of a Boris Johnson speech, before he was Prime Minister, about Margaret Thatcher and her use of British soft power. Well of course she was a big believer in soft power, Britain has massively deindustrialized since WWII and has little hard power left. Britain barely won the Falkland Islands War!
Turning back to the Republican Party, you are not free if your people do not control the means of production and if your people are not employed in its production. With the tremendous innovations in production, the United States could launch a reindustrialization effort to shock the world. It doesn’t need to go all out; it just needs to apply a modicum of state power to secure stake in vital industries such as semiconductor manufacturing. This would require Republicans to commit to action though, which their neoliberal economic thinking allows them not to do since actual Neoliberals will do as they please.
If you are a trade balance hawk, the Federal Reserve must multiply the money supply to keep a stable money supply and to buy foreign goods, in a sense you are paying through inflation. A certain amount of protectionism makes sense to solve this problem. If you are a debt hawk, producing and keeping more capital inside the United States allows for an increased tax base and availability for domestic investment. If you are an immigration hawk, this solves the argument for ‘insourcing’ labor from abroad, particularly agricultural, and unskilled labor, because it diversifies the major industries and reroutes existing labor into more productive means. It shifts the labor market, where people employed in back office positions that function as a jobs programs for college graduates, would rejoin the more economically vital material economy. Imagine all the woke Human Resources people going to work in a factory because it is more economical to labor with the working class.
Now, this is the point where the Libertarians and Neoliberals will strawman my point to death. Please go ahead and boost me on Twitter. However, what I am hoping people learn is they need to engage in normative thinking. I am not asking you to roleplay as a 19th Century industrial planner as a low-IQ professor already suggested. If asked how you would describe your political views is that you are a Capitalist, or one of the variations of the term, this point is for you. Breaking free of ideological thinking and being normal. Your very concept of Capitalism is filtered through other people’s interpretation of Capitalism, and these interpretations of capitalism and conservatism were invented in the 1960s. Most of the ideological progressives and liberals have stronger roots than you. Read some old thick, boring, books.
I remember all the mockery over China’s massive construction projects by the libertarian wing, the self-proclaimed smart wing of the Republican Party. Now all those new industries that build skyscrapers, trains, and bridges are now building warships. Warships to threaten the American Naval Supremacy, even if they never need to fire a shot.
At this rate, they may not have to, we are selling the rope to the people who bothered to read our books. They probably make that rope now. China also isn’t the bad guy here; it is the people who taught you to not think in your own or your country’s interest. The Chinese are better at learning America’s lessons from our period of global ascendancy than you. Neoconservatives are slowly picking this stuff up ironically, though they are still not operating in the real world, however the Republican at-large is functionally illiterate when it comes to American History. The same people who rant at length about the military threat of Russia to Eastern Europe do not understand the magnitude of industrial production required to fight the last European war. If Russia and China are major threats, we should be able to produce more industrial and consumer goods.
In practice, these countries are economic rivals, and economic warfare is the relevant battlespace to be discussing, which in a national security interest, our ability to build things in competition with their industries is important. It is also why the Navy is important and why we should deescalate from ground combat engagements that are very costly.
When industries depart, the sunset industries, the people involved in them do not necessarily find employment in the sunrise industry, and there is no reason to expect the sunrise industry to be an adequate or superior employment than the sunset industry. Period. The regular American is suffering from ideologically driven economic fanaticism from all fronts. At the very least, if the Republican Party is to be a viable party in the long run, it needs to rethink its sacred dogmas and act like they want to earn the vote of the working class increasingly alienated by the Democrats. This means they need to drop the people in the party who act in bad faith, and they need to drop the loser economics.
Adam Korzeniewski is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, educated at Columbia University, with an extensive background in military intelligence, technology, politics, and finance. He also worked in the finance industry prior to working in politics and startups. He was an appointee in the Trump Administration at the Treasury Department and Commerce Department. He is also a subject matter expert on a number of things, including financial policy, trade and industrial policy, national security, and the census.