Markets in Everything
Following up a bit on my “General America” piece, I wanted to add that I find the “all markets all the time” position within conservatism to be somewhat unfulfilling as well. Market solutions are only solutions insofar as they do not necessarily perpetuate problems quite so badly as government solutions. Choice and economic liberty are only useful instruments within society because they avoid many of the traps that come along with big government picking winners, rewarding rent seekers, and so forth. To base an entire philosophy of governance along these lines is somewhat short-sighted, I would argue.
Perhaps this comes down, paradoxically, to the philosophy of choice –that very thing which rests at the heart of both liberalism and capitalism and, for that matter, contemporary conservatism. There is something fundamentally antithetical to conservatism – or to the way conservatism has been classically understood – about the notion that choice should rest at the epicenter of society, should so inform all public debate and should so define who we as a people. With choice you must also parcel competition, liberty, and a host of other ideas which conservatives and libertarians especially hold dear. That these things are the best vehicles for our economy is hard to debate, but that a world of limitless choice, fierce competition, and little if any public sector (or ‘commons’ for that matter) is best for society in the long run is a more difficult claim to make.
This is not to say that we should scrap free trade or limited government or any of these things – only that as a philosophy, man cannot live on free trade alone. A conservatism not rooted in tradition is not really conservatism at all. A conservatism focused too entirely on market solutions inevitably ends up falling short, and may as well be libertarianism with a dash of culture war populism sprinkled on for flavor.
Similarly, a conservatism which takes its first philosophical baby-steps only as far back as the American revolution is doomed to perpetual immaturity.