Sen. Josh Hawley Can't Love the People While Hating the Market
A recent online tiff of dueling op-eds between Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and renowned conservative writer George Will has illuminated an issue that has increasingly come to the forefront of American politics. That would be the question of how rapidly innovative technologies are having an impact on our society and what, if anything, should be done about them.
Hawley is of the mind that technology contributes mightily to the “decline of the working class and the loss of the communities that sustain them,” as well as eroding community ties. He also maintains that the global economy is working for too few people and that over-reliance on market choice is contributing to global inequality. His view has been echoed by Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson.
Will, on the other hand, responds that Hawley’s vision places an inordinate amount of faith in government to create Hawley’s desired order. He denies that such collapse of community is taking place and makes the counter assumption that technology, innovation, and market choice has actually decreased global poverty and inequality.
Suffice it to say, Hawley - as he has been on other issues such as government price controls - is horribly wrong.
Even the types of conservatives Hawley is attempting to emulate, from Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk and other traditionalist thinkers, were skeptical of government management of society precisely because of its unintended effects on community. Hawley claims we are “living in a new age of inequality,” yet ignores that Burkean conservatism doesn’t call for the government to make society equal. In fact, one of Kirk’s six canons of conservatism is the “conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes.”
Perhaps this is why Will noted Hawley’s rhetoric had a “Marxist” undertone to it. While grounded in poor philosophy and a poor reading of conservative history, Hawley’s arguments are also wrong. Extreme global poverty is down to below ten percent, compared with 42 percent less than forty years ago.
This is a point Will made in his rebuttal to Hawley. The innovative global economy has actually helped bring more people into livable circumstances. Rather than zero in on that fact, Hawley-ites focus on supposed income inequality. Like the radical left today, it seems they’d prefer the poor stay poor so long as the rich don’t get richer. This is a sad state of affairs coming from an elected official who bills himself a conservative.
Hawley and his disciples also like to point out that technological innovations create disruptions that leave people jobless. He even goes so far as to invoke the sad imagery of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. This is the same tech fatalism we’ve seen for years. It never pans out that way. In 1970 (the year after the advent of the ATM), there were roughly 300,000 bank tellers in the US. Now, there are roughly 472,000 and numbers have peaked as high as 600,000. The automated machines gave banks the resources to expand and create more jobs.
Hawley and his supporters believe that mega-companies have entrenched monopolies. He seems to forget the supposed dominance of MySpace and Yahoo fell away quickly in favor of Facebook and Google. There are still a bevy of other options on social media, as well as search engines. Hawley seems enraged, however, that the ones consumers seem to like at the moment do not conform to his notions of what a company should be. So, he claims they must be predatory monopolies.
It’s this type of tech fatalism that spawned the presidential campaign of Andrew Yang. He is so concerned with the layoff of workers by technology that he's proposing perhaps the most expensive welfare program in the history of the country. Hawley hasn’t gone that far, yet, but wants to make sure the government wraps its fingers around anything that might grow too far or too innovative.
Hawley reduces his opponents to merely “champions of the right to buy cheap stuff from China.” In short, yes. Many American businesses are only able to operate because of goods they get from abroad. Trade barriers increase their costs and threaten to put them out of business. We saw as much with the economic blowback on farmers because of trade tensions with China.
It’s ironic that Hawley bemoans people having to abandon their family farms (as in Steinbeck), but seems to think that farmers or businesses who rely on foreign goods are somehow less American. It’s also ironic that Hawley posits himself as an anti-elitist, but looks down on companies that cannot presently afford to subsist solely on domestic goods. Hawley’s vision, like that of most central planners, pre-determines winners and losers in the marketplace and the only people who can surely survive it all will be the elite boogeymen he claims to despise.
Lastly, how absurd is the notion that technology draws us further away from each other? The crux of Hawley’s argument seems to be buried in the stereotypical image of a teenager with his or her nose buried in a smartphone.Hawley derides the breakup of families and communities because of market innovation, but makes no mention of how many families who are spread across the country or even the world can more easily stay connected because of the social media networks he loathes.
Hawley believes this individualism threatens religion as well. He makes no mention of the number of fantastic sermons made available online because of the tech boom. Nor is there mention of the number of books that low-income consumers can have delivered to their door on topics of faith (or any other for that matter). He also neglects how social media gives us access to stories of thousands across the world that can encourage us in faith.
Technology has done so much good for the world and the country. It is foolish to overlook that one junior senator from Missouri feels the CEOs are too rich, or too progressive, or not adequately reliant on more expensively made domestic products. The beauty of the market is that it is not up to him, nor should it be. It is up to the people he claims to champion to decide. They are the market. The fact that he claims to love the working-class people but hates “the market” should tell you everything you need to know about the hypocrisy embedded in his logic.