We’re already at war
Alas, the cultural conflict is already blazing. Some people think a federal tax on tanning is a legitimate tool of economic policy. Some don’t. Some think the President is entitled to bestow a $400 million guaranteed loan on a single company because he favors their product. Some don’t. Disagreements like these are not the result of idle preferences. Whole worldviews are at stake.
E.D.’s insinuation that social democracy merely reflects some peoples’ preferences simply begs the question. But economics takes preferences as it finds them. Its refusal to look deeper — and it refuses because its refusal makes its behavioral leverage possible — reveals the truth: statism is a cultural project, a vision of the highest, that conflicts at the level of first principles with the culture of free enterprise. Arthur Brooks is right, like it or not: there already is "a struggle between two competing visions of America’s future." It’s been underway for at least a hundred years. Obama knows which side he is on. Do you?
I’m always loathe to draw hard lines in soft sand, but I nevertheless think James has a point. There really is a cultural struggle under way, and while the sides in question may be murky at times – as evidenced by the ongoing liberaltarian debate – that struggle isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
I’m not sure James is very far off in his assessment of this cultural conflict, but that doesn’t particularly change my own argument: namely, that cultural questions need not necessarily become culture wars even though it is inevitable that they will lead to disagreements, struggles, and so forth. Nor does picking sides necessitate an ‘us against them’ mentality – or at least, not always. I think amidst all of our disagreements over economics, there is still room for common ground. And these are the places I’d like to take the conversation. Perhaps there is a place for soldiers on the field, for partisans and generals, but there is also a place for diplomats. That doesn’t mean we have to meet in some blurry middle. There are questions that require us to hold firm to our convictions.
But treating our economic differences as a culture war – however cultural those differences may be – will not shed any more light on the debate. It will only serve to obscure.