Belmont Club


The IMF says that unless the jobs situation turns around an entire generation may lose its faith in the status quo. A recovery will only usher in a new world; it won’t bring back the old.

The study cited evidence that victims of recession in their early twenties suffer lifetime damage and lose faith in public institutions. A new twist is an apparent decline in the “employment intensity of growth” as rebounding output requires fewer extra workers. As such, it may be hard to re-absorb those laid off even if recovery gathers pace. The world must create 45m jobs a year for the next decade just to tread water.

As just one example of the passing of old and solid things, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. announced that “we will stop printing The New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD.” The end of an institution is a reminder that nothing should last forever. The only skill worth a damn is the ability to keep one step ahead of events. One reason for the shifts in the job landscape is technology. As the barriers to entry across many industries have fallen, new entrants have displaced established players. Although the IMF report did not take a position on whether globalization has moved jobs from the West to the Third World for the duration it seems clear that the future will not resemble a return to the past. Detroit can’t play the old game, bailout or not. About all Obama has done for the UAW is staked them to the ground, wedded to a yesteryear that will never come back

The inability to cope with underlying changes and the belief they can create their own reality may explain the ineffectiveness of the administration’s attempts to recreate and extend the “New Deal”. The New Deal belonged to the last century. Its lack of traction isn’t the result of some particularly insidious plot by the Koch Brothers or Sarah Palin; it is the consequence of obsolescence. Deficit spending and redistribution don’t work too well in the 21st century. It’s that simple.

That idea, once accepted, is truly liberating. The New Yorker continues to waste time wondering why “stimulus” has become a dirty word. The New York Times spins wheels trying to puzzle out why Democrats are hiding their party affiliation in this campaign, “distancing themselves from their party’s agenda” and trying to put clear blue water between themselves and President Obama. The answer isn’t complicated.  It is quite simple. The old liberal nostrums are obsolete as torpedo rams in the age of missile-firing stealth warships. And although no one can say it (for fear of giving offense in the short run), they increasingly know it.  The politicians are swimming away from the RMS Titanic.

Sticking to the old narrative is increasingly pointless. That may be the reason why not just the stimulus, but “health care reform”, cap and trade and the proposed new taxes have never finished up as victories but as millstones around the necks of their proponents. The economics underlying them is broken. Soon there will be no point even pretending that they work. There is a fairly good chance that the status quo will fall and far more completely than currently anticipated. What we may be witnessing is not just an electoral loss but a paradigm shift.

But there are also dangers for conservatives.

The problem for conservatives is that while they understand what doesn’t work, they have no detailed consensus on what will. It’s a shortcoming that while not noticeable in opposition may become obvious in office, when they’ve knocked the liberals from their perch.   In this conservatives are not alone. Nearly everyone in the world is struggling to understand and adapt to monumental changes that are taking place. History is in terra incognita.  That fact should be explicitly recognized. Simply going back to the Reagan era will not work any more than a return to the days of FDR.

But  Reagan is a better starting point.  The current advantage of conservatives over liberals isn’t a specific set of policy recommendations; it is a heuristic way of thinking. They are not as tightly organized,  less ideologically hidebound, and few have been saddled with the gigantic handicap of political correctness. As such they are — for the present — more open to learning from experience and more prone to internal insurgency than the Left. That means they aren’t as manacled to dogma. Even the conservative attachment to traditional values has paradoxically made them more flexible. The fondness for “what works” and the willingness to use a rule of thumb instead of complicated ideological models ironically makes conservatives far more suited to dealing with an uncertain future than the Left, which must check back against their doctrine before they turn so much as a hair.

But this advantage in flexibility can vanish in a heartbeat unless the conservatives are aware of it. It can easily be thrown away in victory by people eager to impose orthodoxies on a political culture recently freed of it. As Nationwide once put it, “life comes at you fast.” One of the reasons why the current elite is falling so rapidly from power is that it was for too certain, for too long about too much.  Whoever replaces them should remember that their principal advantage over the Left was not so much ideology as the lack of it.

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