Finger on the Scale

by Patrick J. Deneen on February 23, 2010 · 39 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Economics & Empire,Politics & Power,Short

It’s often asked by more practical-minded readers “so what’s the point”? What is to be done? After all the theory, what practical recommendations can FPR offer by way of encouraging “limits, place, liberty”?

An article in this past Sunday’s “Outlook” section of the Washington Post offered a glimpse into one issue that would go a long way toward the restoration of localities and certain attendant virtues in American life today. Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation and author of Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, authored a lead article in Sunday’s Washington Post noting the precipitous decline in small-scale business ownership in America over the past thirty years. In a lament that could easily be found elsewhere on FPR, he wrote,

Where the independent pharmacist counted pills, we see a CVS employee. Where family livestock farms dotted the landscape, we see immense operations run by Smithfield and Tyson. Where the buttonmakers of New York and Los Angeles sold their wares, we see the imported products of Li & Fung. Where our community bank stood, we see Bank of America. Where the local grocer marketed local fruit, we see Wal-Mart. Where the local general-merchandise store stacked jeans, we see, well, Wal-Mart again.

Lynn notes several pieces of data that focus the mind: America is second-to-last among the world’s 77 richest nations (only leading Luxembourg) in small-business ownership, and over the past 50 years, self-employment in non-farm businesses has fallen by 50 percent.

Writes Lynn,

Ask an economist why so many small businesses have given way to giant chains, and you’ll hear a lecture on the dynamics of capitalism and free markets, and how the creative destruction of small, independent businesses is a natural and benign process. Yet specific political moves and decisions in Washington over the past several decades have made it much easier for the people who control large-scale corporations to displace small proprietors.

Lynn goes on to discuss some specific political policies that will doubtless make some on the Right cringe, including lax enforcement of Anti-trust measures; he also offers a dubious evaluation of the role of “populists” in the FDR and Truman administration in their embrace of centralization of economic power (I’d need to hear more about his definition of the word “populist”). I’d counter that, according to Amity Schlaes in her fine book The Forgotten Man, it was New Deal policy that systematically favored big business over small scale ownership; FDR and his brain trust realized that it was much easier to regulate big private entities, and big private entities came to realize that burdensome regulation actually gave them competitive advantage, since large scale operations could use efficiencies of scale and simple bigness to comply with red tape, while enjoying healthy access in the process of the writing of regulation.

But, one aspect of Lynn’s analysis rings particularly true: in the 1980s, “instead of protecting competitive markets, Reagan officials said they would use anti-monopoly laws to promote ‘consumer welfare,’ which they defined largely as lower prices. It no longer mattered how much power was consolidated, as long as the consolidation appeared to result in the delivery of less-expensive goods.”

We have seen the aftermath of these policies: the destruction of small businesses throughout America, and a corresponding economic crisis in which disconnection, irresponsibility, and the decline of accountability fostered bad behavior throughout the American economic system. As William O. Douglas wrote (cited by Lynn), “When independents are swallowed up by the trusts and entrepreneurs become employees of absentee owners,” [the result] “is a serious loss in citizenship. Local leadership is diluted. He who was a leader in the village becomes dependent on outsiders for his action and policy.”

For FPR sympathizers with a policy interest, this is one area needing sustained attention and examination and specific policy recommendations. It is an issue over which both Left and at least some on the Right can agree, even if specific policy recommendations are likely to be debated. However, perhaps it would not be too difficult to begin looking at systematic ways in which current policy supports concentrated economic power, and to begin its dismantling. It may also be that Government needs to be more active in enforcing anti-trust measures. The Republican orthodoxy will scream that such activity is an intrusion of “Gummint,” but it’s clear that Gummint has already intruded in this area, and is doing tremendous damage to the fabric of the nation (the Republican orthodoxy’s ecstasy in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision that ensures unlimited corporate participation in our electoral process does not inspire confidence about their motives). Perhaps some log-rolling is in order: in exchange for a serious consideration about the disproportionate impact of regulation on differently scaled businesses, a sustained look at anti-trust enforcement could be considered. Or, more creatively still, legislators should read Allan Carlson’s Third Ways, and specifically his chapter on Chesterbelloc, for some innovative ideas on how to protect individually-owned businesses from the depredations of concentrated private power. We will differ even here on how much of a role the Gummint should have in tipping the scales, but it’s quite clear that the scales have already been considerably tipped, and that American towns, citizenship, and virtue have all suffered as a result – and that finally cheap prices are too high a price to pay.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar HappyAcres February 23, 2010 at 9:40 am

Say again? Protect the poor from lower prices?

Promote localism via centralized social engineering out of DC?

I’m sympathetic to your goal, but why not approach it with radical political autonomy for communities.

avatar Bob Cheeks February 23, 2010 at 11:05 am

Pat, this may come as a surprise, but I’m not particularly offended by this piece. I agree with your premise re: gummint policy ‘favoring’ the entrepreneur should be written in much the manner Carlson has suggested.
Alas, it’s a thin line between gummint acting as a just arbitrator in these matters and gummint, in the style of Dear Leader, acting to “take over” this or that industry, as if he and his minions were qualified to take over anything.
HappyAcres seems to be on to something in his “radical political autonomy for communities.”
I trust we’re all buying ammo?

avatar AML February 23, 2010 at 11:37 am

A lot of the changes, which ultimately must originate in Washington, are entirely in keeping with conservative small government principles. Our government must end the subsidies which encourage huge business ventures over smaller more local models. The agricultural subsidies are the prime example of this. The fed. gov.’s regulation of industries, as mentioned above, also encourages consolidation. To make these changes does not require “social engineering out of Washington,” but it does require action in Washington to end these practices that were largely the origin of progressive “social engineering.” What Deneen is arguing for is more autonomy.

Also at Happy Acres, while the poor have been spending less on food, they have been spending dramatically more on health care costs, especially on Type II diabetes from eating off of the McDonald’s value menu every meal of the day because it’s the cheapest food available to them (largely because of the corn subsidies). Type II diabetes used to be non-existent among children, but now it is fairly common.

avatar Albert February 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Dr. Deneen, I’d be interested in hearing your (and any other FPR contributor’s) thoughts on James Davison Hunter’s forthcoming book To Change the World (Oxford, 2010). Were you considering reading it?

avatar Marchmaine February 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm

One does not make the poor less poor by reducing the cost of their gruel, but by giving them the means to product real wealth (however little).

It is simply the case that many folks support policies that are working against their interests and against the common good because they believe the policy slogan and not its effect.

One common failing I see among many intellectual movements is a focus on the intellectual history without a commensurate attention to the maths. More good-old-fashioned rhetorical legwork is needed to connect existing policies to actual outcomes and force the establishment to expose their real arguments.

avatar Bruce Smith February 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm

The way I see it I’m entitled to whine about both the state and the market because the market bought the state (especially the financial corporations)and we now have an entity that the British philosopher Phillip Blond calls the Market State. There seems to be little point in targeting just the market or the state for criticism, it’s the fused combination that needs wholesale reform because it denies a meaningful voice to the ordinary citizen. Having a meaningful voice means political and economic suffrage accompanied by democratic systems that really work at all levels of human association.

avatar D.W. Sabin February 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm

My oh my its a long way from “promoting consumer welfare” to jagging him out along a debt jones while presiding over one of the most precipitous collapses of infrastructure and industrial capacity in history.
Yes, but they meant well, as they would be the first to point out.

Start this process in motion under Reagan, increase the speed during the Clinton Administration with their financial de-regulation and the turning of private home ownership into a casino and then gun the jalopy with W. at the helm, picking wars on a lark and , in essence, conducting an economic and “defense” drunk the likes of which should only be catered by the Sex Pistols and there you have it…..not Morning in America but the morning after. Ho Ho Ho.

Corporatism is fine and dandy for a monarchy or despotism that owns a controlling interest in said corporations but its nigh well murder on a Republic of purported free-holders. But then, we kid ourselves that we are anything but under a despotism now….the kind of despotism that , as ole Ed Abbey says, has the most pampered serfs in history. Grin and bear it or study the art of belligerence.

Marchmaine pegs it: Provide…(more aptly encourage) the means to produce wealth. Small business has been bait and switched almost as much as the Christian conservatives. Let this go on another generation and there will be no memory of the old American Can-Do entrepreneurial spirit and at that point, we might as well roll over and suck the collective thumb.

But by all means, computer games for all.

avatar rex February 23, 2010 at 6:58 pm

You can’t just blame this on the feds. Items like free land, waivers on property taxes, and free infrastructure improvements are the currency that state and local governments use to favor the big corporations over small business.

avatar D.W. Sabin February 23, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Rex,
Don’t get us started on State and City level lapses,not only do they play by the rules of the federal sow, they have embraced the wholesale abandonment of subsidiarity like good boys and girls.

Again, there is no deep conspiracy here, just extraordinary self-interest on the part of government and defiant fecklessness on the part of the citizen. The swooning attachment to the Big Is Better, Eternal Growth Fairy Tale has a list of unindicted co-conspirators from all 50 States.

avatar Bob Cheeks February 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm

“defiant fecklessness” makes me warm and gooey!
You are a master of the English phrase..”The swooning attachment to the Big is Better,” is pregnant with double/hidden entendres (damn, I wish I could spell it!!)or something French like that.

avatar Kevin J Jones February 23, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Don’t many of these nefarious regulations only apply to businesses of certain sizes? If abolition is unlikely (or a bad idea), then boosting the limit at which the regs kick in would be a plausible strategy for incremental progress.

avatar Cecelia February 24, 2010 at 12:31 am

Absolutely – this is an area which requires sustained attention. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many – this threatens our republic, our communities. There can be no stability or peace in a nation where few are fabulously wealthy and the rest have little but their envy and a belief in American myths of opporunity to sustain them in their increasingly reduced circumstance.

I do think though that when we speak of small business we often envision Main Street – lined with small grocers, clothing stores, the hairdresser etc. But it would do us little good to affect laws and regulations which would permit a revival of those Main Streets stores if all they sell is stuff made in China. Small business is also manufacturing. And the demise of manufacturing in the US is directly related not just to government rules etcv but to wages. Japan has wages equal to 80% of the US wage – we can still compete with that. But China has wages that are equal to 3% of a US wage. We cannot ciompete with that. And we cannot restore a small business manufacturing base even with more benign government action if that is what the competition looks like.

I am not sure how to overcome this difficulty. I would pass on the notion that people should be willing to pay more especially with the decline in real wages American workers have experienced since the 70′s- I will pay a bit more to buy American but not 2 or 3 times more. Some say we will eventually see wages globally go to a common norm – which would mean increased wages for the Chinese and lower wages for the West. That presents other problems. So how do we restore a small business base with a wage structure that allows for a reasonable standard of living given the realities of global competition? Tariffs? I have no answer but this is something that must be factored into what is certainly a very very important discussion.

avatar Bob Cheeks February 24, 2010 at 5:24 am

“The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many – this threatens our republic, our communities.”
This reads like hyperbole from some leftist periodical. By the time Dear Leader gets done you’re goin’ to like what’s left…it’ll be all equal…oooh, oooh boy, won’t that be great.
Cecelia, you’re breakin’ my heart…!

avatar Patrick J. Deneen February 24, 2010 at 8:02 am

Bob,
You’re working within a paradigm that needs re-evaluation and ultimately should be rejected – i.e., either we accept severe concentrations of wealth, and attendant governance by those unaccountable private entities, or we have “Big Brother” statism. I think the recent “economic crisis” has shown us that it works to the benefit of both of these entities when the herd, ahem, I mean “American people,” can be led to believe that these two are mutually incompatible.

It is not finally a choice between one or the other – what is needed is a rejection of both, and in the name of liberty. It was the view of classical republicanism – one could mention Aristotle, or the Anti-federalists, as at least two examples – who held that both kinds of concentrations would be objectionable, and that both would constitute forms of tyranny. Instead, self-government and liberty includes the disciplined capacity for moderation, frugality and suspicion toward unlimited acquisition and concentrations of power, whether public or private (and, more often, public AND private). It favors private property, but in the form that is widespread and – if not equal – at least not excessively unequal. It is suspicious of centralized power, at the same time, and insists that any such form of self-governance of appetite must be accompanied by the active self-governance of citizens over themselves, “ruling and being ruled in turn.”

I am afraid that your immediate assumption that there is a Communist tyrant lying beneath the seat-cushion of every critic of our corporatist economy gives rise to the tendency to flee into the arms of our corporate masters. I remain truly stunned, if not surprised, at the unanimity with which the Republican (so-called) Party has embraced the Supreme Court ruling on corporate campaign financing, meaning that they crave electoral victory and power at the center more than republican self-government itself. This is trading one kind of despotism for another – albeit, admittedly, more comfortable (if rapacious), but one that ancients (and Tocqueville) would understand leaves us in a kind of enslavement of a different form. It’s a paradigm we need to reject, and argue instead for a truer kind of liberty.

avatar John Médaille February 24, 2010 at 9:03 am

Maybe its time for FPR to have a symposium on the reform of the controlling American institutions.

avatar Patrick J. Deneen February 24, 2010 at 10:14 am

John,
That’s a most intriguing suggestion – let’s explore it. My only hesitation is that very few if any of us in the “stable” here are policy wonks – but, that’s at least as much a virtue as a vice, since most people in the policy realm are guided by a false philosophy in one form or another. And, given that we have so many smart readers, we’re sure to see not a few very good suggestions in the com-boxes. Anyone out there in the “real” world interested in offering some thoughts, were we to put together such a symposium? Send me an outline or your full-blown scribblings at pdeneen AT gmail.com

avatar Bob Cheeks February 24, 2010 at 10:28 am

Patrick, please, you know I have a great deal of fun poking my “left” leaning palsies here at FPR but to take that poking as a belief in “…a Communist tyrant lying beneath the seat-cushion of every critic of our corporatist economy gives rise to the tendency to flee into the arms of our corporate masters,” is just a little disingenuous. Maybe I’m being to sensitive for I am a sensitive fellow. I think that you are expressing, perhaps subconsciously, a desire for the “perfect” society, that on a conscious level you know is not attainable in this world.
For example I criticized the lovely and vivacious, Cecelia, for her socialist whine about “The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many – this threatens our republic, our communities.” And you come to her defense.
The point you may be missing is one centered on our ‘nature.’ In societies there will be those who gather more nuts than their lazy neighbors who would prefer to “…bang on the drums all day.”
Do you really, really want the gummint taking the nuts from Ogg who worked assiduously to gather them and give some of them to Mogog who spent the day on his arse? We will always have those who are harder working, smarter, more clever and consequently acquire more wealth. Should they be punished because of their attributes? I don’t think so-they’re the ones who make things work. Yet, you fellows slightly to the left of center do think that they should contribute to Mogog’s bugaloo party.
And, this “I remain truly stunned, if not surprised, at the unanimity with which the Republican (so-called) Party has embraced the Supreme Court ruling on corporate campaign financing, meaning that they crave electoral victory and power at the center more than republican self-government itself.” Patrick please, corporations, like unions, are groups of people with, among other things, political interests…the Left is just upset that these “evil” corporations may speak as freely as ACORN or the Black Panthers, Knights of Columbus or whatever. The irony is that Dear Leader and the commie-dems recv’d more bucks from these evil corporations than the laconic GOP (I believe I’m correct on that!).
The political paradigm breaks down into two factions: those who are pro-gummint and those who ain’t. I’m not aware of any democrat who isn’t in one way or another pro-gummint. I know a few Republicans who are anti-statist e.g. republicans.
Are you sure you really want to re-capture the “republican” virtues or is it the progressivist virtues you seek?

avatar Steve K. February 24, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Cecelia -

Excellent post. Re:

I am not sure how to overcome this difficulty.

Easy. Saddle Chinese goods with punitive tariffs or some other mechanism that overcome the wage advantage they have. Or simply don’t allow them to sell their goods here at all. As Murphy’s laws of combat say, the important things are always simple, but the simple things are always hard (and the easy way is always mined). Taking the sort of action necessary for a restoration of American small manufacturing would be a move so bold, so radical and so initially painful that our paralyzed institutions would never undertake it. So we’ll linger on as things are until the utter collapse.

avatar Patrick J. Deneen February 24, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Bob,
I think we could continue talking past each other until Kingdom Come, when all will be reconciled. So let me agree that perfection is not possible in this world – that we seek the best imperfection we can get.

Aristotle was certainly not “anti-gummint,” and neither was Augustine. Nor, for that matter, to be honest, are most Republicans, who after all started and remain the party of fostering “the American system” and are today the defenders of the military-industrial complex that a Republican President once warned against (not that the Dems aren’t as well). Republicans are prone not to object to government, as well, when it comes to the regulation of certain “morals” issues such as reproduction and pornography (of course, that’s a split within the party, but a significant number favor legislation that restricts certain kinds of individual liberty). So, I would ask, what is it that differentiates the concerns for morals when it comes to sex, but not to other appetites that can be destructive to the fabric of the community? Aristotle said that he was most blessed who first created laws to restrain appetites, especially when it came to “sex and food.” Yet, today it is typically those on the Right who would legislate sexual appetite but deride those who would seek to change and limit corporate control of food production and consumption, and those on the Left who are naturalists when it comes to food but very pro-scientific manipulation and intervention when it comes to the human body. Explain that to me.

The fact that corporations are just “collections of people” is a canard, since they enjoy a status as “persons” that is quite different from other groupings. They also have no fundamental loyalty to nation and its people, and that ought to be a considerable source of mistrust (I have to chuckle when I hear some lob concern over “foreign corporations,” as if any corporation isn’t only tenuously connected to any nation).

It’s not a question of whether one is pro- or anti-gummint, but our understanding of the nature of that government, and where it is best located (i.e., subsidiarity) and what ends it seeks to support. None of the thinkers I mention (nor, would I include myself) are opposed to the role of political society in providing individuals the capacity to pursue and fulfill their gifts. But in the classical republican understanding (and, to boot, the Biblical tradition – read 1 Corinthians 12-13, for starters, or revisit Winthrop’s speech, “A Model of Christian Charity”), we should understand that such gifts are ultimately belong to God (and are not our sole possessions), and that we are to contribute the fruits of our accomplishments to the benefit of the community as a whole. Of course, the community is to be of sufficiently small scale that the gratitude and obligation we feel is not attenuated and even rendered wholly theoretical; we are to feel bonds of “charity” toward those from whom we are distinct yet in relation with. A main part of your objection I distinctly share – we should not be forced to “share” our gifts at the point of a gun, for people who only seek to exploit those gifts, not receive them with gratitude and a sense of mutual obligation. You are correct that this is a condition more akin to theft than charity. I would only caution that we will continue to operate within a false set of choices if we think that the only option other than distant and centralized government is the embrace of extraordinary concentrations of private power. Indeed, in the end, it’s those very concentrated powers that today have as much or more to do with government policy than the fantasies of Leftish visionaries. The sooner we disabuse ourselves of the distracting and false terms of the “debate” that passes for partisanship in our country today, the more we’ll carve out an exit to the particular cave inside which we have walled ourselves.

avatar D.W. Sabin February 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Steve K.,
Oh goody, punishing tariffs and trade barriers to the Chinese. How picturesque. Particularly with them, and the Japanese already beginning to cash out their purchase of our debt….that would get things going rip-roaringly. I’d think the no-shows at the Treasury Auctions after such moves would be highly interesting.

One supposes that what is coming down the pike will be like choosing between a train wreck and a fifty car pile-up at rush hour.

Cheeks,
The Black Panthers or Acorn, your “groups of people” never shorted CDO’s , then sold the same instruments as a purported good deal to a duped corporation that the government then bailed out after it went down the tubes ….,furthermore reimbursing said original scheming Corporation by Federal Bail-out, thus letting this “group of people” contribute to a financial debacle AND benefit from Government bailing it out. Corporate Socialism is the term of art I believe.

Tea-Partyers and Lefty agitators are “groups of people” subject to the rule and application of law. Corporations are legal constructs expressly formed to limit liability and maximize legal protections. Corporate status has benefits in IRS treatment while the regular “groups of people” and their Schedule C return as self employed business people have been referred to by the IRS with the following: “The “C” in Schedule “C” stands for “Crook”, thus bringing a higher percentage of audit down upon this “group of people”.

As I recall, much of what the Panthers got in the form of a bail out was incendiary explosives dropped on a Philly Rowhouse by the Cops. Why arrest when one can fire-bomb?

Its kind of foolish to compare the Panthers or Acorn with a legally formed Corporation on many levels except one: They are all out for their own specific agenda and the Corporation is a far more artful law-breaker than the average “group of people”.

Does this make me anti-free enterprise or anti-Corporate? Not in fundamental concept but this supposes our great Corporations and their Washington Inside deals are involved in “free enterprise in the free market”. A charming conceit.

In all likelihood, private excesses will lead to public excesses and the chief loser will be those “groups of people” not involved in the inside deals of concentrated power and influence. Just to be clear, you and me is in these “groups of people”. Grab your ankles son.

avatar Bob Cheeks February 24, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Dear palsy Dirk,

It is this left-leaning inclination, exemplified in your myopic history, oft repeated here at FPR, that one is forced to question the objectivity of FPR, e.g.:
“The Black Panthers or Acorn, your “groups of people” never shorted CDO’s , then sold the same instruments as a purported good deal to a duped corporation that the government then bailed out after it went down the tubes..”

If history serves, the banks were “pressured” (forced, coerced, or required) by gummint, particluarly during the Clinton administration, to loan monies to minorities, both racial and ethnic, who had no means of paying those loans. These housing loans were made simply because these people were Latino and black (are we allowed to say that?).

In full view of gummint regulators the banks wrote derivative paper and resold it on the derivative market for, at least in part, to spread out the GUMMINT CREATED risk, and in part to manufacture ill-gotten gain.

Now, with that said, there are those people in the banking industry who need to be hung.

But, (now pay attention, DW) there are those Congressional representatives, both in the House and the Senate, who should be hung beside them, because these leftist-statist clowns are the people responsible for not only the housing “bubble” but the following economic collapse. Let me know if you want me to list them..it’s not a problem.

But, as you know, there’s no one getting hung. Not by Bush, and certainly not by the Obama’s administration (because it’s his people who in fact generated this depression by their racist policies).
Further, corporations, usually do not seek to interfere with people voting as the Black Panthers did in Phil. last year. I should note that this act of violence, this constitutional violation, has yet to be prosecuted by the Obama Administration.

I’d much rather deal with any corporation than a group of heavily armed radical leftists (the Black Panthers) seeking to stop me from voting, or expressing my opinions, but then that’s what the Left is famous for, suppressing the free speech of “groups of people.” And, that’s one reason why the Supreme Court ruled correctly!

But, we shouldn’t forget Dear Leader’s primary thuggies, our ACORN friends, and the recent revelation that defines them as little more than a south-side Chicago crime organization who happens to be subsidized by the confused and neutered American taxpayer. And, finally there’s Dear Leader’s favorite union the SEIU (?) that seeks to unionize any and all federal employee…”I don’t wanna work, I wanna bang on da drums all day”

DW, you have every right to criticize corporate greed, corporate law breaking, whatever, but to go about ignoring the violations of law and order committed daily by the statist commie-Dems and their minions requires me to ask why? Why no critique of Obama’s administration that more closely resembles the Marxist Mau Mau uprising than an American political organization, or of Barny Fwank, Maxine Waters, Dodd, Algore??? What, these are honest, law abiding citizens….pleazzzzzzzzzzzze?

Pat, I’m sticking with my paradigm simply because, while primitive and fundamental, most folks understand, for example what a “commie-dem” is. We don’t need no high fallutin’ poly sci making things all complex! Thank you for your reading suggestions, I appreciate that.

To get to where you wanna go in terms of your hoped for societal reconstructions, there would have to be a revolution. Now I really don’t want that, unless there’s no other recourse, and I don’t think you want that either. But neither you nor Wendell are going to build the agrarian workers paradise without the complete and total
destruction of “the American system”…and my suggestion is that you’ll see another “Great Awakening” long before the elements of your longed for subsidiarity are imposed by gummint.
It ain’t about the form of gummint, Pat, it’s about human nature, the libido dominandi.

avatar Cecelia February 24, 2010 at 9:17 pm

I am still recovering from being called a commie pinko leftist dem – although being called lovely and vivacious does compensate. Actually, Prof Deneen did a great job addressing Mr. Cheeks concern but I’d like to add a bit more (I’m a woman so must be forgiven for wanting to get the last word).

It won’t take a revolution to create a more reasonable distribution of wealth – it won’t take commie pinko dem leftists either. There is a relationship between the loss of small business and the growing disparity in the distribution of wealth. The restoration of an economy based on a vibrant small business sector will result in a more reasonable distribution of wealth. In fact – I would suggest that so many of the things we speak of on these pages have a direct relationship with inequities in the distribution of wealth and the disapearance of small business.

When wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few so is power. When business is dominated by big corporations we have a more centralized economy and a bigger more centralized government. The proliferation of big box corporate stores is an example – when these stores proliferate they create great wealth for the owners of those stores – but they destroy small business in communities. They not only strip mine talent from our small towns – they are strip mining wealth. This is how this inequity in wealth distribution is created ( along with the decline in real wages). The owners of the big box DIY stores are making tons of money – and building aquariums and buying NFL teams but that family that owned the local hardware store is out of business.

We don’t need to destroy the “American System” – I don’t think what we have now is the American system – it seems decidedly un American to me. In the 40 – 60′s we had a very much more reasonable distribution of wealth and a vibrant small business sector – that to my mind was “the American System” and while I recognize how big business will fight tooth and nail to preserve the advantages they now have – it is still possible to restore a regulatory environment which encourages a re-birth of that system. Yes the globalization thing has become a new wrinkle but I do believe we can and must restore that genuine American System.

avatar Steve K. February 24, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Oh goody, punishing tariffs and trade barriers to the Chinese. How picturesque. Particularly with them, and the Japanese already beginning to cash out their purchase of our debt….that would get things going rip-roaringly. I’d think the no-shows at the Treasury Auctions after such moves would be highly interesting.
One supposes that what is coming down the pike will be like choosing between a train wreck and a fifty car pile-up at rush hour.

Well, we take a bite out of the s**t sandwich now, or we will have to do so later. Better to do so now, on our own terms and try to rescue what can still be rescued, than at the bitter end when no options or much of anything else are left to us. Well, a man can fantasize anyway – nothing significant will be done until the whole thing comes crashing down around our ears, of course.

avatar D.W. Sabin February 24, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Cecelia, no need to worry about getting in the last word around here. There is no such thing.

As to Cheeks and his importunate accusations of my “myopia”. Let me tell you buster that it aint easy trying to keep prime on the breathing straw while attempting to prop the rear hatch open with my machete scabbard as I plunge ever deeper up the Hindu Kush of southern precincts.

Were you a sensitive liberal, you might not be so indelicate as to remind me of my predicament. Furthermore, somebody has to counter some of your more picturesque invective with an equally vivid fantasy.

I’ll have you know that cranial colonic impaction is a lifestyle and I demand my rights. One had best accustom one’s self to sulfurous environments anyhow because to say we’re going to hell in a handbasket is like saying Sharpsburg was just a difference of opinion.

As to the “genuine American System”…it seems to me we are as close to it now as we have ever been (or should I say “back to it”) and that the halcyon days of longing we seem to think were ‘normal” (the 50′s -70′s) were an anomaly and chiefly characterized by a top tax rate that would make a Swedish Hipster burn down their sauna in a fit of pique. Exactly why should we think we are immune from the fate of every Global Power in the history of the world? Particularly when we treat our officials with the same blithe disregard as has every other briefly free people in the history of the World? Hubris is an equal opportunity employer.

By the way, what do you get when you cross a Vampire Squid with a Commie Dem?
High occupancy rates on K Street.

avatar Bob Cheeks February 24, 2010 at 11:27 pm

DW, dude I love you! And, I love Pat and the rest of the dudes and dudettes that blog and comment here, and that includes the lovely Cecelia who’s “breakin’ my heart.”
The problem is youns have created a “Yes” chorus that provides no incisive examination of the current administration, nor a meaningful critique of the socialist left. I sometimes think you people think Bush is still the president. With no meaningful criticism of the Obama administration we can only wonder, why bother?
Any restoration of an agrarian movement is going to require an in depth examination of the socialist left and/or subsidiarity, though it very closely resembles a socialist model. I would have liked to determine what socialist attributes, if any, you’d care to incorporate into the agrarian paradigm. Yet, you constantly refuse to engage in the debate.It’s almost as if you guys know the dog ain’t goin’ to hunt with Americans, and that, my friends questions the reason of FPR’s existence.

Probably Caleb was the one to rasie the issue of the left?

avatar Carl Scott February 25, 2010 at 6:55 am

No time right now to read all the (very interesting looking) comments, but I did want to chime in and voice basic agreement. The main arguments put forward by Deneen in the post and Sabin in his first comment are convincing to me–although I confess to not knowing much about anti-trust law, and would like to hear a Reagan-defending rebuttal on that, one attuned to FPR sensibilities.

And we all must admit that A) diagnosing how, policy-wise, CVS replaced the local drug store, and B) formulating policies to reverse that, are two very different things. B) is probably a much more daunting task than we realize.

avatar Patrick J. Deneen February 25, 2010 at 7:16 am

Bob,
I think everyone writing here is and has been talking about the pathologies on the Left (this posting is as much an indictment of the Left, if you would remove your blinkers for a moment). But it’s also a critique of the so-called Right in America today, and I think our fundamental disagreement lies not at all about our judgment of the pathologies on the Left (progressivism, Left paternalism, “scientism,” and – of course – Gnosticism), but in our respective willingness to scrutinize the pathologies on the modern Right as well (FPR and PoMoCons generally agree extensively on the former, and almost not at all on the latter. Carl Scott runs around a lot urging us here to “SHHHHHHH” – lest we aid and abet the enemy. My basic response – you’re doing the aiding and abetting by avoiding fair and balanced scrutiny). Perhaps you think, like him, it’s a matter of prudence not to speak ill of what you regard as the lesser threat. I disagree (even that in its present form that it’s enough of a “lesser threat” not to warrant scrutiny), and will leave it at that.

But it’s ungenerous and inaccurate to suggest that there’s an unwillingness among writers here to be critical of all the various modern pathologies, whether socialism – or capitalism. You suggest that to criticize the latter is to embrace, or at least be complicit in, the former. I believe that’s what’s called a logical fallacy, at least if those two options (in their current form) are not mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive of reality. And I don’t think they are. ‘Nuff said. You’re welcome to the last word, but that’s mine about this particular rut that you’re welcome to enjoy with plenty of other company. Just not me.

avatar Patrick J. Deneen February 25, 2010 at 7:24 am

And, as if by clockwork, I posted my last comment before Carl Scott posted his, making me – if not inaccurate – at least ungenerous toward him. A good last question, and one you would not find agreement about here. We range from RA Fox, who would answer, “quite a bit of socialism,” to C. Stegall, who would say “git your Commie hands off my stuff.” (OK, I should let them speak for themselves). I’m with Aristotle – small regime (or, “localism”), private property, limits upon acquisition within a properly ordered economy (“mere life” vs. “living well,” virtue (largely culturally enforced). I know – ain’t gonna happen, at least not too quickly. But the Anti-Feds argued similarly, so it’s not as un-American as you purport.

I don’t think anyone here denies that we’re talking about a daunting challenge. You haven’t been tuning in, if that’s your assumption. Doesn’t mean we ought not to talk about it, though.

avatar John Médaille February 25, 2010 at 8:38 am

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

avatar D.W. Sabin February 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Cheeks,
As Medaille points out in his quotation of Pogo, there is no compelling benefit to dissecting the minutiae of essential differences between the Reprobaticans and their fellow partner in crime the Democrat. Both are now Statist Hacks, Sunbeams for the Unitary Executive, Kafka-esque Technocrats who exist in a vacuum caused by the printing of money we do not have combined with the general casino-like quality of American Political theater. There is much talk about differences but little meaningful distinction. Both political forces are principally engaged in legerdemain because we have crossed a Rubicon of Political and Institutional Sustainability . There are no more white lies in government. With our debt, declining productive capacity (which could change if we so desired but will not do so without concerted sacrifice and common cause ) and the increasing burdens of Entitlement Spending and Military Adventurism, small lies do not cut the mustard….only Bait and Switch on an incuriously befuddled citizenry will do the job.

The problem here Robert is less about the faux parties than it is the citizenry, a gullible and lethargic mass that has habituated itself to half-truths and the “team pride” version of partisanship. This is what happens when a people spend five decades in an epic misallocation of resources , elevating One-Horse-Town Financialism to the extent it has been elevated and deciding that a Consumer-Service Society with a Growth Jones is remotely wise as anything but a short term “jamboree” to put it as the lefty Kunstler well puts it.

Truth be told, on the essential human level, the Christian Conservative has more in common, in an individual sense with the cheerfully sensation-loving suburban hipster than they do with the people who profess to represent them. Under a laissez faire , traditionally Republican modus, the common yet divergent purpose can succeed because there is enough room for the people to , in effect “create their own realities” and the ability to create widespread wealth is present. But we have not had a traditionally laissez faire Republican force for a very long time. We’ve had Statist Republicans and Statist Democrats in thrall to an increasingly specialized oligarchy. As a result, the citizen has relinquished morality, care-giving, initiative, planning, identity and expectations to the Statist/ Technocrat Consumer Project. We are wards of the State in many ways, thus punishing any reformative Republican impulse on the one hand, and inducing the Democrat into gluttonous sloth on the other. It is precisely the ceasing of the distinction, the quieting of the Conversation of the Discursive Republic that is stymying our efforts to effectively deal with the issues at hand. Partisanship is confused with conversation and the forced divisions of identity politics insure that the discursive vehicle is abandoned and left to rot…and with it, our hopes and futures.

A pox on both houses Cheeks, we have realized the deleterious effects of factionalism described by Madison in the Federalist Papers. We have the best government money can buy and it sets brush fires to keep the citizens distracted while feathering a nest that is simply and almost exclusively concerned not with results for the populace but with election and re-election.

Just this past weekend, the N.Y. Times Magazine’s Matt Bai wrote an article entitled “the Brain Mistrust” on the Think Tanks of Washington. He cited the $1,000,000,000.00 spent by Conservative Think Tanks like the Heritage Foundation and Cato during the 90′s. These Conservative institutions were developed to counter the Liberal Agenda. While much is produced of real quality and powerful thinking by many of the organizations, they are subsumed by the partisan Bait and Switch of Washington. We have, after $1 Billion bucks of “Conservative Intellectual Firepower”, virtually nothing to show for it. Technocratic Statism , its assigns and heirs remain as firmly ensconced in the life of the country as if not a cent of that $1 billion in conservative research and rhetoric would never have been spent. Why is that? Because we dwell on differences rather than common cause and similarities. We dwell in a house of fear, listening to the baying of Cassandras or sweet murmurings of Boosters while abandoning the discipline and responsibilities of informed discourse in an atmosphere of humility. We look for people to help us, save us, create change for us while not taking the initiative upon ourselves to find communion in this dirty rotten starkly beautiful nation occupying one of the best pieces of productive real estate in the history of the globe.

A long time ago, Irving Stone wrote a classic book about the Western Expansion and it was entitled “Men to Match My Mountains”. We had men and woman who were a match for the mountains. The Frontier demanded it. We are no longer a frontier nation (except in an intellectual sense) and so now, the challenges are even greater. Frontiers were a relief valve and now they are gone and the serious craft of self-governance gets altogether more difficult and complex. Funny enough, we still do have men and woman to match our mountains but not in our so called “leadership”. What we have now are Men and Woman to Match our Press Releases and so spin ….and legerdemain is the squalid edge-of-the-frontier hovel we are beginning to inhabit. Buy a recycled spittoon, lock and load and wait for the attack and once in a while, venture down to Chucky Cheese.

avatar Ana Markan February 25, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I would be interested to know what any of you think about Barry C. Lynn’s book “Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction” ? While the Washington Post article brought up some interesting ideas, the book is much more interesting. I am not sure you can call him lefty.. he is much more about freedom, liberty, democracy than the average so called “progressive.”

avatar Austin Storm February 25, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Love it! Thanks as always, guys.

avatar Bruce Smith February 25, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I’ve not read Barry C. Lynn’s book “Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction” but is this book about heading towards a future American business model that relies on ineffective democracy, obese Americans driving in their cars using under-priced gas to big box stores that trade under different names but are all owned by the same corporation and where people get angry when somebody tells them they are living in a Communist state?

avatar Carl Scott February 26, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Again as busy as can be, off to summarize the Reformation in one class session!

But in brief–I’ll forgive Pat for anything after a thread in which he praises BOTH this Cornered book and Amity Shlaes’ Forgotten Man! Bob, you gotta love that! I sure do. It really can be consistent.

And no Pat, no offense taken anyhow. For whatever reason, you interpreted some of my comments back in June as fitting this SHHH theory…and well, that just wasn’t my intention. I’m against third-wayism and pox-on-both-ism that is literary politics, or quasi-theological literary politics. FPR third-wayism does not have to be literary. The specific proposals of someone like Carlson or yourself, back by an overall platform, can and could form a significant bargaining part of some partisan coalition, particularly on the state level. AND I WANT AMERICANS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS OPTION!!!

Now you know my judgment as to the partisan coalition that is for the forseeable future the one responsible citizens should back–it’s the Republican one. And I know that isn’t your judgment. Fair enough. But the nonforeseeable future is long, unpredictable, and here before you know it. I would very much like to see a Republican party that admitted an influential FPR faction or movement into its big tent. It would be good for the average conservative to hear from FPR-ers that there is a difference b/t being for the free-market and property rights in general, and being for this sort of anti-trust legislation, this sort of corporation-advantaging law, etc. They could learn much. If the conservative big tent is big enough to allow libertarians and social conservatives like myself to ally, I don’t see why an FPR faction couldn’t play a positive role, even if that role is only temporary and provisional. But in my wildest fantasy, the FPR faction would strengthen within coalition to the point that the coalition could increasingly (and indeed would have to) give less and less to the libertarians and mindlessly pro-corporate activists in its midst.

And while it would be second-best in my view, I have the perhaps Pollyannish view that an FPR faction finding a home in the Democratic coalition would also be a good, becaue it would the dwindling pro-lifes and Galstonian Dems needed allies in their intraparty fights, and this would lead to a healthier politics overall.

What I don’t want is an FPR movement that sucks away social conservative types, epecially Christian ones, into a never-never land of mere essays and attitudes (you know–simple living, pro-Berry, anti-LIBERALISM, pox-on-both-houses), that tends to lead to drop-out-ism, that tends to drain desparately needed strength from a conservative coalition that really is desparately needed for the foreseeable future. And if more FPRers tend to go that way, well as much as I can I’ll be criticizing. Loudly. No shushing about it.

But let’s hope for the best, and say it LOUDLY, all together, F-P-R! F-P-R! F-P-R!

avatar John Médaille February 26, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I think Front Porchers should drop out, at least of national politics, and drop into local organizing. This for two reasons. One, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that can be accomplished at the national level. At the top, this is a republic of the oligarchs, and Front Porch people are not welcome. In fact, real people of any sort are not welcome; they prefer corporations. And two, it’s all about to pass away.

The last time we were in this situation, the nation was re-built from the top-down, first because of the depression and then because of the war. Only a strong federal gov’t was deemed to be capable of handling these problems. We got such an imperial gov’t, but at least it was a stable, prosperous, and relatively just order. But that order has been under stress for 30 years, and there is nothing to be done to save it. Roosevelt started at the wrong end, we must start at the right end.

avatar Bruce Smith February 26, 2010 at 7:07 pm

This week’s dollop of corporate stench:-

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/business/global/25swaps.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1267229032-FTJBwfd6fk6hfoTGqgF4XQ

As John suggests don’t even bother reading it. It’s predictable.

avatar D.W. Sabin February 27, 2010 at 11:04 am

Well Carl, I envy you your durable support of the Gouty Old Party. I too once held onto it as though it might actually prove out in the end. It remains my default but I really tire of default. To your credit, it is to a degree, more difficult to keep turning the other cheek and supporting the political party that once held the “conservative” mantle. However, The Career Pragmatist, and Washington is full of them, abandoned any notion of “conservatism” long ago . Rank and file in the Big Tent can find many areas of congruence despite many differences …such as those you mention…”property rights” and the rumored “free market”. It is the leadership in the syndicate of Washington that fails to live up to the values espoused. However, it is the very height of arrogance for you, an academic, immersed in the world of ideas, heir to the Socratic Method to spurn those who would oppose going with the flow. This site is engaged, like you, in the pursuit and expression of ideas and opinion. To suggest that one sector of the ideas expressed is somehow less , shall we say worthily engaged than any others is remarkable. It demeans your position and said position has its strengths which I would like to embrace.

Nonetheless, I want to thank you for your reference to the “pox on both housers” as practicing an un-serious “literary politics” because it begs a label in reply…..that most spurious of things in a world of ideas…a fitting label for the more purportedly serious “pragmatists” you would like to line up for the calling of attendance in your Big Tent:

Illiterate Conservatives.

The phrase “sell-out” comes to mind as well. But this would be unfair and likely inaccurate and does not reflect my opinion of you despite our differences of opinion. You suggest an invigoration of the Big Tent. Sniffing derisively at those who are consistent in their support of limited government, fiscal conservatism, prudent and dispassionate foreign policy, the benefits of property and the remarkable potential of small business in this country…all things that were once Republican Bedrock Values and simply no longer are, well, it provides a clear demonstration of the “pragmatism” afloat today in our flummoxed party.

Your suggestion of FPR Democrats and Republicans is a good one, the grass roots of both political poles having much more of a common interest than their inept “leadership”.

Medaille’s response, somebody who I have both significant disagreements and agreements with but I would never accuse of being “unserious” or “dreamily ” literary….but his response about placing most emphasis on the grass roots is likely the only venue we have open to us as long as the “pragmatic” Republicans continue their reign of hypocrisy in Washington.

But then, this kind of scorn from the smartest people in the room is to be expected. I know what it means to meet a payroll and scratch for business and let me be possibly the first to inform you that it is anything but “literary”. My literary curiosity and expressiveness are the antidote to running a business within an economy that is currently whipsawed by the combined forces of that Monument to Pragmatism On The Potomac: Washington , District of Corruption.

avatar eutychus March 1, 2010 at 6:52 pm

I believe Chesterton said something like: ““The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

Leave the poor madman alone folks. There’s really no point in engaging him.

avatar D.W. Sabin March 2, 2010 at 9:41 am

Eutychus,
To be a madman in this world is to find full employment. The key to it is finding the humor in madness because once the humor leaks out, as it does from time to time, the madness does become tedious….most of all to the spectator.

Otherwise, bagh!

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