Yuval Levin on Capitalism
By Arnold Kling
Now that it is on the web, I listened to Yuval Levin’s lecture . Basically, Levin does not think that capitalism has any enemies. However, he thinks that it has many misguided and/or unreliable friends.
1. Liberals are misguided/unreliable because they believe in an impossibly perfectionist version of capitalism that they think is achievable with strong technocratic management.
2. Libertarians are misguided/unreliable because they do not understand that capitalism is part of a larger moral project, one which emphasizes self-discipline. Watch for his citations of Adam Smith.
3. Populist conservatives are misguided/unreliable because they depend on anger and resentment of elites, and this anger and resentment could easily be turned against capitalism.
By process of elimination, that leaves as true friends of capitalism only those who, like Levin, have an intellectual social conservative outlook. There is a problem with Levin’s thesis, which came up during the Q&A (this is a rare case where the Q&A is at least as worthwhile to watch as the lecture itself). The Bush Administration’s version of social conservatism expanded the welfare state (the prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind) and crony capitalism (the bank bailouts), thereby discrediting social conservatives as reliable friends of capitalism. One either has to say that Bush did a poor job of executing or he got unlucky (Levin might say it was a little of both), but that “compassionate conservatism” deserves another chance. It seems to me that James Manzi is headed in the same direction.
The view that I have been headed toward over the past couple years is that I am no longer content with the second worst form of government. Democracy, which gives us the choice between social conservatives and progressive technocrats, is too dysfunctional. The powers that have accrued to government officials simply make a mockery of the concept of democracy or equal rights.
I could go on at length, but I have already done so, in Unchecked and Unbalanced. I wonder if the ideas there are too far out on the fringe, or whether there are too many problems with the way I structured the book. In any case, so far it is not getting much in terms of reaction.