Conservatives are currently undergoing another movement-wide debate, this time over the nature of the free market. Just like the previous debates throughout the right over nationalism vs. patriotism and fusionism, this debate over capitalism has all sides out in the arena debating conservatism’s future.
This debate over the nature of the free market started with Tucker Carlson’s early January 2019’s monologue in which he criticized many conservative’s strong adherence to the use of the free market, “Market capitalism is not just a tool…We do not exist to serve markets. Just the opposite.”
Flash forward nearly a year and this debate is nce again front and center among conservatives. In November, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) made a speech at Catholic University in which he stated that he thinks the American economy is in poor shape due to free market absolutism. Based off his article in First Things, Senator Rubio’s address focused on the dignity of work and creating “common-good capitalism.” As Rubio explained, “What we need to do is to restore common-good capitalism: a system of free enterprise wherein workers fulfill their obligation to work and enjoy the resultant benefits, and businesses enjoy their right to make a profit and reinvest enough to create high-productivity jobs.”
Later in his speech, Senator Rubio channeled his inner-Tucker Carlson saying, “We must remember that our nation does not exist to serve the interests of the market. The market exists to serve our nation. And the most effective benefit the market can provide is the creation of dignified work.”
And what exactly would “common-good capitalism” look like? According to Senator Rubio, it would mean increasing investment into providing rare-earth minerals for the United States without leaning on China’s help. It would also mean reforming the Small Business Administration and pursuing more pro-family economic policies such as expanding the federal per-child tax credit and creating proposals for a paid family leave program.
These views on capitalism argued by people like Tucker Carlson and Marco Rubio are perhaps the biggest challenge to the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party as a whole. As Ramesh Ponnuru explained, “Probably the most important question Carlson raised is how we,“we” meaning conservatives, should think about markets and capitalism. He denies, surely rightly, that we should make a religious dogma out of support for them. But it does not follow that we should regard markets as merely a tool.”
Conservatives like Tucker Carlson, Marco Rubio, and Josh Hawley are correct when they speak to the “common-good” as a goal of government, but are they correct when they view capitalism and the free market as a reason for the ills of society? Certainly not, according to people like Kevin Williamson. In a rebuttal to Senator Rubio’s speech, Williamson writes, “Capitalism is not a rival to the common good. Capitalism, meaning security in one’s own property and in the right to work and to trade, is the common good that governments exist to secure.”
People like Williamson look at the economic figures of today and think that life is pretty good, and they do have reasons to believe this. But people like Rubio and Hawley are not just looking at numbers and figures, but rather at what Yuval Levin says is the “second and most serious moral critique of capitalism: that it empties social life of any higher meaning, and so leaves society morally bankrupt even as it grows materially wealthy.” They look at America’s economic successes and ask themselves, “Is there anything more to this?” But, conservatives sympathetic to Rubio’s argument make the same mistake they criticize conservatives like Kevin Williamson over: making economics the fixer of all of society’s ills when some, if not most, of society’s ills are moral.
Debating what the common-good is and what society’s ills are economic versus moral can be saved for another day, but the recent debates within the right over the nature of the free market could potentially spell trouble and a loss of a key tenet that conservatives have held for decades. In his book Road to Sefdom Friedrich Hayek dedicates it to “the socialists of all parties.” Within this debate over capitalism, conservatives should take care to heed his words and use caution when trying to find the common-good.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.