Weekly Digest: Buzzwords Won't Save the American Economy
Welcome to my weekly digest for March 25, 2022.
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Buzzwords Won't Save the American Economy
This week I was featured in a Law & Liberty forum on the topic of building a broad-based economy. The lead essay was from someone arguing against trying to create a broad-based economy in favor of more competition and entrepreneurship. I argue that the world isn’t that simple.
It’s important to first note that many of these simplistic economic ideas have not performed as advertised in the real world. For example, when trade globalization was promoted in the 1990s through NAFTA, the Uruguay Round of trade talks, and ultimately the granting of permanent normal trade relations to China, international trade was touted by economists as a win-win for everyone. It was not until the 2016 China Shock paper that economists began publicly admitting that trade with China had caused many American job losses. We tried free trade, and many if not most Americans are right in concluding that it did not work out well for them.
Similarly, the simplistic view of the firm as a profit-maximizing entity requires significant adjustment. As Julius Krein noted, the real goal of corporations is maximizing returns to shareholders and that “increasing profits is at best a means to that end.” He says, “Rather than take the risks involved in expanding operations or developing a new product, it is often far easier for firms to simply reposition or financially reengineer themselves to realize a higher valuation.” Thus we have seen stock prices skyrocket during a period of anemic economic growth.
And as I recently demonstrated, the state of Indiana implemented the full suite of free-market and conservative policy solutions at the state level, yet remained a mediocre performer, with slow growth in population and jobs, and declining personal incomes relative to the nation.
None of this is to say that trade is bad, corporations are indifferent to profits, or that states shouldn’t balance their budget, but just that reality is much more complex than simple models suggest. “Entrepreneurship” and “competition” aren’t magic elixirs any more than free trade. A look at the real world shows a more complex economic development story, one with a more robust role for government action.
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More Content and Media Mentions
New posts this week:
The Unstable, Decaying Orbit of David French - I write about the principled conservative who lost his way.
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Best of the Web
Matthew Schmitz, Sohrab Ahmari, and Edwin Aponte launched a new online journal called Compact. I would describe it as a US version of UnHerd with a more socially conservative bent. Read more about it in the New York Times.
Tish Harrison-Warren has an op-ed in the New York Times talking about the “whole life” movement. This is a good example of what I highlighted in my First Things article on the three worlds of evangelicalism of neutral world cultural engagers embracing a “holistic pro-life” view. In this case, she packages a range of left wing political programs ranging from “living wage” laws to “racial justice” under the heading of “life.”
NYT: Anti-Abortion Groups Once Portrayed Women as Victims. That’s Changing. - this provides some additional perspectives on my newsletter #60 about the pro-life movement’s moral doublespeak.
NYT: A manifesto against sex positivity - “Modern heterosexual dating culture appears to be an emotional meat grinder whose miseries and degradations can’t be solved by ever more elaborate rituals of consent.”
Institute for Family Studies: What we know about paternity leave
Reading through the extensive research on the subject, however, you’d have to conclude that experts think about paternity leave very differently. Their primary interest has not been family bonding, nor even involved fathers as a good in and of themselves, but the re-ordering of gender relations. Fathers need to take care of their infant sons and daughters so that women will be freer to pursue their careers, or as economists sometimes put it, to reach their “full labor market potential.” Paternity leave will ensure that fathers develop their childcare skills so they will stop viewing mothers as the default caretaker. That would allow women to shift some of their energies from domestic responsibilities to market work, to earn more money, and so bring about more gender equality. Women who cut back work hours, work part time, or maybe even stay at home to be with their children represent a retreat into the socially-constructed gender roles policy needs to overcome. Equality is all.
On these grounds, the results of paternity leave have been at best ho-hum. It’s still early in the game—paternity leave has only been around since the late 20th century—but thus far, there’s not much evidence to support the assumptions of policy egalitarians. On the contrary, paternity leave seems to be confirming the existence of the innate differences between mothers and fathers that feminist-minded experts assume to be mere social construction.
South China Morning Post: Marriage on the rocks in China as women rethink their options and Covid-19 limits take toll - It’s important to look at what’s happening in family formation dynamics overseas, as it helps us see that what’s happening in the USA is not unique, and thus likely not attributable to purely domestic causes.
The key dividing line appears to be ideology. Americans who identify as “very liberal” are much more worried about Covid than Americans who identify as “somewhat liberal” or “liberal.” Increasingly, the very liberal look like outliers on Covid: The merely liberal are sometimes closer to moderates than to the very liberal…In recent years, these progressive professionals have tended to adopt a cautious approach to personal safety. You might even call it conservative.
New research suggests, millions have no intention of ending some pandemic behaviors even if the threat from the coronavirus and its variants were to fully subside. Roughly 13 percent of people in the study reported that they did not intend to change their protective behaviors, like avoiding elevators, mass transit and eating indoors at restaurants.
Slate: Silicon Valley’s Favorite Weird Philosophy Is Fundamentally Wrong - on transhumanism.