Recently I was interviewed by the organizers of the website “The Conservatory.” The answers and my responses are posted here.

Here’s an excerpt in which I mention FPR:

What, in your view, underlies the recent political alliance between “social conservatives” and “economic conservatives” in the U.S. Republican Party? To what extent is there an inherent logic to that alliance, and to what extent is it an historical contingency? Has it served social conservatives well? Insofar as it has not, what realistic political alternatives exist, or, if none exist, how might some be created? If none exist or can be created, can social conservatives preserve and strengthen their own subculture without isolating themselves from the ambient culture? Or is the best that they can hope for to persist as a self-isolated “remnant,” a bit like the Amish?

I attended a recent conference that gathered together many conservatives seeking to repair our culture and reclaim our legacy. Interspersed with laments about the decline of our culture was an ongoing insistence that we also needed to support policies that advanced economic growth and prosperity. There was little evidence of any reflection on the ways that economic growth and prosperity – certainly as pursued in our globalized market economy – might be a major, maybe THE major, agent in undermining the health of culture that was being lamented from the other side of their mouths. This remains a legacy of the Cold War, but more: I suspect that there is a willful resistance on the part of many conservatives to resist raising this sort of discomfiting question, because it is easy and self-flattering for us to claim that there is no tension or even contradiction between economic prosperity (and the kind of ethic required for its attainment) – and a healthy culture. Thus, there is the effort to blame sources other than the very success of our economic system for the decline of our culture. One culprit frequently fingered for leading to our cultural demise is “government.” But, in the same breath, government is accused of doing nothing well. How can it be the case that government does nothing well, but has been exceedingly good at corrupting modern culture? I do wonder.

I don’t know whether the twenty years that now separates us from the end of the Cold War are sufficient to allow us space to begin to ask these questions. There are many powerful interests marshaled to keep interests the way they are currently aligned. Dissenting voices are disorganized and don’t fall easily into either reigning political camp (nor are they powerfully financed with corporate money and supported with think tanks). Part of the reason I joined the efforts at “Front Porch Republic” is with a view to try to forge a different kind of political (and intellectual) alliance.

For newer readers, I have also been interviewed by Ken Myers at “Mars Hill Audio.” A brief summary and excerpt is available here.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Patrick. I think you are right to highlight the link between economic prosperity and the kind of ethic required for its attainment. I would argue that you can put this link slightly differently and say it’s the link between economic prosperity and an allocation ethic. So, for example, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War Japan had to rebuild its economy and the Bank of Japan up to the 1980’s chose to use guidance to direct the credit creation of the private banks towards specific sectors of the economy. This was the opposite of the laissez-faire, or market fundamentalism, operated by the American Federal Reserve Bank. Japan was highly successful in growth terms with its directed economy up to the 1980’s when it appears to have abandoned the directed economy model for the American model and quickly fell foul of a real estate bubble which continues to dog its return to health. The reason for its abandonment of the directed economy model would appear to be simply the decisions of a few top executives of the Bank of Japan which illustrates that credit creation guidance was never democratically accountable in any robust manner. China’s success too can be seen as a fusion of directed economy methods with its combination of tightly controlled credit creation and export subsidization through currency pegging. Again nobody could accuse the Chinese Communist Party of deviating from old style central planning in its use of democratically unaccountable methods to achieve its remarkable growth.

    With regard to the American system of undirected economic credit creation we are now beginning to realize the consequences of this market fundamentalist belief system, The American people would appear to be endlessly condemned to boom/bust cycles with the deliberate and unethical manufacturing of these bubbles, or the attempt to cynically ride the bubbles and exit with the loot before they burst. Analysis of the breakdown of credit creation statistics between financing speculation and real economic needs shows a steadily increasing growth of the former over the last thirty years which, of course, coincides with the rise of increased market fundamentalist fervor starting with Ronald Reagan’s election as President.

    It is manifestly obvious to those who bother to investigate that the private Federal Reserve Bank is not subject to any democratic accountability with the net result that no ethical policy prevails to restrain private banks from credit creation which results in bubble formation and a perpetuation of the boom/bust cycle. This is further reinforced by the willingness of Republican and Democratic politicians to adhere to the terms of free trade agreements that permit the mercantilist policies of currency pegging export subsidization by other countries in regard to trade with the United States. There is, therefore, a clear need for the American people to recognize these facts and seek to establish a democratically accountable ethical allocation policy for credit creation so that credit can be directed to socially optimal outcomes and global trade terms can also achieve these outcomes for all countries. Accompanying the re-think of credit creation and global trading policies there must be continued effort to reach democratically accountable agreement over planetary sustainability. This will be difficult with undemocratic countries like China but persistent focus on allocation ethics may create some movement to greater responsibility for the environment. It is difficult though to lecture Chinese Communists when you have no allocation ethics of your own!

    In the case of America, which still has some vestiges of democracy, there is, therefore, a clear case for campaign funding and lobbyist reform since the unaccountable financial industry is one of the prime funders of Republican and Democrat election campaigns and lobbyists in Washington. My instinct, however, is that this is unlikely to come about through either of these two parties who are too heavily corrupted and progress will only take place through the formation of a new party which whilst retaining a commitment to free market capitalism also has as its central mandate political and lobbying system reform, allocation ethics, fairer global trading policies and planetary sustainability.

  2. I enjoyed the interview, but I felt you avoided the final question about self-segregation:

    How might people of faith form such “cells” in a society where self-segregation is largely illegal? …For example, an effort to create a religiously homogeneous workplace workplace community (even to the extent of limiting employment to people of any Judeo-Christian faith) is federally criminalized as religious discrimination in the workplace.

    It’s misleading to ponder the pre-collapse weaknesses in Christian culture without first recognizing the ways in which that culture has been suppressed, and continues to be suppressed, by law.

    The Christian case against global capitalism is complicated when we realize that for-profit Christian corporations are generally banned from participating in that market.

    The feminist / liberationist takeover of corporations and Christian universities would have been far more difficult without the threat of anti-discrimination lawsuits.

    Neighborhoods, hotels and apartment buildings would have stayed segregated by respectability if their residents and operators could expel adulterous or fornicating couples.

    Would even the cultural effects of television have been so uniformly severe if the Legion of Decency could have bought local network affiliates?

    Back to the interview, one of its commenters noted:

    My brother once worked for a bank in the American Midwest. He was present at a meeting in which the board, all serious, believing Christians, discussed the need to increase lending opportunities in the Hispanic community by breaking down family ties. The Hispanic habit of communal saving and paying in cash was incompatible with the growth of bank profits.

    Troubling news. Can anyone recommend to me further leads about banks targeting Hispanic family stability?

  3. Further to my post here is an article which provides a more detailed overview of why economically things have gone wrong for so many nations including the United States over the last thirty years:-

    http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.com/2009/11/financial-deregulation-and-origin-of.html

    Clearly, Republican and Democratic politicians are still in denial over this and fail miserably to understand the public yearning for a Capitalism Mark II that eschews the unfairness and instability permeating the current Mark I version.

  4. Dear Patrick et al,

    I am still unsure of the direct link between economic prosperity and cultural disorder. Does economic prosperity willy-nilly open the door to materialism and consummerism? It seems to me that economic prosperity and growth or progress are not equivalent. Am I wrong? Am I in denial?

    While I am somewhat new to the tenets expressed on the FPR, I don’t see how economic prosperity and the principles encouraged on this website on local community, limits, restraint and liberty are in conflict. Am I missing something?

    I certainly don’t see economic prosperity as the summum bonum for a well-ordered culture, rather the result.

  5. “I certainly don’t see economic prosperity as the summum bonum for a well-ordered culture, rather the result.”

    Exactly, first seek the kindgom of heaven, and all else will be given besides.

  6. Patrick, I agree with your critique of most self-identified conservatives, that they reflect little “on the ways that economic growth and prosperity – certainly as pursued in our globalized market economy – might be a major, maybe THE major, agent in undermining the health of culture that was being lamented from the other side of their mouths.”

    Your and my differences, however, stem from what to do about that prosperity-pursuing globalized market economy, and even how to think about it. Is it something separable from individual property and contract rights? From, as Mark says, a well-ordered culture? Shall we bring in the nation-state, the liability-limiting corporation, modern science? Is it separable from those things? Do we want to encourage people to actually act politically against those things? So far the Porch has encouraged a lot of loose TALK against those things.

    “Capitalism” is a word and concept brought into being by Socialists, first by Louis Blanc, and then, more noxiously, by Marx’s followers. To get the Ps and Qs on this, see Martian Malia’s indispensable book The Soviet Tragedy, pp. 46-49, wherein he says, “The real emergence of ‘capitalism’ to designate a total system dates only from the 1890s.,” and that “[the term capitalism] does not signify anything that can be rigorously defined and clearly delineated historically.” There, we also learn that the term isn’t even used in Smith, Ricardo, Say, and Mill! So for hundreds of years, millions of sincere persons dedicated themselves to fighting…to fighting what? Something abstract which, as conceptualized, dedicated you to fighting against some basic features of human nature. Absurd, but all too true.

    You haven’t a Leninist bone in your body, but I worry that your use of “prosperity-pursuing globalized market economy” isn’t that different from the old use of “capitalism.” You elsewhere sometimes drift into talk of fighting “modernity” and “Liberalism,” right? But while speaking this way has its initial educational uses of getting us down to key theoretical distinctions, does it not set up a bogeyman that we cannot realistically (or decently) fight?

    That is, you can’t combat a very widespread sort of conservative market-worship, something that does need to be combated, with a Porcher beyond-the-market creed. You know this, ultimately. But we await the discovery of the the Porcher-friendly vocabulary and conceptions that will get us beyond this central problem of Porcherism. Beyond “market-worship,” yes; beyond “global capitalism,” well…er…no. No-one knows what it means to get beyond it, and to the extent we think it means shutting down international trade, corporate activity, and markets, it sounds like Lenin’s famine-producing War Communism. Until Porchers can articulate the likely Limits of what Porcherism would do, short term and long, it won’t become a movement that wins genuinely conservative members. And that “until” will by no means be resolved on your promised coming articulation of policy-proposals. No, there is a fundamental problem in the unlimited sweep of and implicit promise within Porcher Rhetoric.

  7. Carl is right about the old “be careful what you wish for” standard of political action but in reducing the so called “Porcher” rhetoric to having “a fundamental problem” of “unlimited sweep”…and “implicit promise”, he might be just as aptly describing his own creed, or what i take to be his creed. Global modernism, aka the “growth economy” and so called “Free Trade” can be just as easily tarred with the claim of having “unlimited sweep” and implied promises that don’t always pan out. But it is the operative paradigm and so seems to have the corner on its own accepted definitions.

    The modern State, whether communist, socialist or capitalist seems to have never met a subsidiary approach it does not wish to exploit before stomping as a matter of right. Where you might see a “central problem” in “Porcherism”, its grasping and sometimes confused rhetoric, I see the benefit of inquiry and the sincere reactive questioning of a paradigm which has stumbled grandly this past several years….after, of course, a pretty grand stretch of wins for those who write the post occupancy evaluations. It is too early to expect that something so new…the one year old electronic porch…. might have the pleasure of a standardized set of definitions nor a thoroughly worked out case, nor even equanimity amongst its malcontents, a funny sight to conjure. In legalistic terms, we’re still in discovery. The new Frontier.

    At risk of being centrist or “third way”, a damnable concatenation which spat out the current sideshow, I guess that there may indeed be prudent roles for global approaches, for certain forms of corporate endeavor and for global market capitalism but not at the expense of the individual and their intercourse within an equitable polity. “Porcherism” is, after all, a reaction against some of the self-defeating excesses of the system you wish to preserve or pragmatically reform from within and so it cannot but be beneficial all around for a little “plea facing plea”. In sum, “subsidiarity” ( a more comprehensive term than simply “localism”) and “gratuitousness” seem to be two defined behaviors that can describe a lot of the sentiments here. But you are right, they are as yet merely sentiments, except when practiced already by folks out of the vicarious agora we call popular culture.

    As to “fighting the abstract”. I don’t think any localized indigenous opponent, watching their village bombed, their families killed and their province put under the boot of an occupier that professed to be bringing them the gift of global democracy felt they were fighting something abstract. No, whatever was shooting at them or putting the torch to the premises or mucking about in the crops was about as concrete as things can be. I suppose the most concrete description of human existence has been the choice of embracing your own bastards or those bastards who came to replace them.

    You are right Carl, there is a lot of loose talk, thanks be for the privilege of living in a country where this is still possible but surely you can see the inexorable erosion of the craft of citizenship that is dovetailing with a steady coarsening of the citizenry and a simultaneous retreat in people controlling their livelihood at the local level….all while the local gets a little more flea-bitten and nihilistic. I think you drop in here because you do and I’m glad you do. Criticism is vital, particularly when it is collegial.

    Deneen and others have suggested the vetting of policies as a means to tighten up this loose talk. You suggest it is the only way we will find seriousness. I only hope that while we do tighten our ship, that the agrarian , land-based, local-emphasizing, subsidiary and eccentric are not lost in the standardization coveted by the modern technocrat. In my book, property and a healthy, lightly fettered marketplace are vital. The current American paradigm, economically flummoxed, at war and in occupation across the globe, dependent upon hostile forces for its principle source of energy, its middle class and small business sector eroding and , not the least, a government beginning to overlook both tradition and constitutional limits on the altar of Security….This america is overflowing with all manner of definitions, standards, mission statements and proud proclamations in triplicate. With a system increasingly narrowing to winners and losers, its nice to think that the notion of gratuitousness may be important to all.

  8. Mr. Sabin, disagreements remain, but you’re making a lot of sense. I think the last paragraph, with its worry that FPR become dominated by policy talk if my advice is followed, articulates a just worry.

    So, how to remain potentially populist, eccentric-allowing, and vote-winning, given the necessarily tricky short-term policy planks adopted? I think it means Porchers need to find ways of still speaking with fire but without these broad categories of what gets denounced.

  9. The United States and European Union member countries have become Tsunami Economies pounded by Walls of Money from two sources. These sources are firstly, the unrestrained creation of credit by their own banks for the purposes of speculative gambling using asset, commodity and consumer debt bubble inflation and secondly, the unrestrained recycling of wealth in particular from Asian and oil economies into American and European Union government securities and assets thereby artificially supporting the currencies and economies of these latter countries. The only means to stop these Walls of Money from continuing to destroy these economies is for the people of those countries to have the debate on the issue of allocative ethics. How should the allocation of credit creation be decided? How should the allocation of foreign governments and private investors’ rights to purchase securities and assets be decided? To paraphrase Carl Scott FPR needs to have a great deal of “loose” talk on this subject!

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