The American Mind: Blue America Needs Red America

From Hillsdale College’s Michael Anton, writing at The American Mind, comes Blue America Needs Red America

In a recent essay in The New Republic, Chris Caldwell predicts the coming crackup of the Blue coalition. Since I argued something very similar in my recent book, The Stakes, I naturally agree with the thrust of his thesis.

Except, I think, with the conclusion. Caldwell notes in the last paragraph that

in the 1860s, three major Western countries—Germany, Italy, and the United States—each fought similar wars of national unification, in which the more dynamic part of the country subjugated the more bucolic (or backward) part. In our time, Democrats are the party of relatively greater technological and demographic dynamism, Republicans the party of relatively less. This is not the same type of relationship as the one that obtained until half a century ago, when Republicans were (roughly speaking) the party of capital, and Democrats the party of labor. Capital and labor need each other in a way that dynamism and tradition do not. One fears the present conflict will differ accordingly.

The point about the three great examples of the advanced part of a nation subjugating the backward part is insightful and chilling. I do believe that is what Blue America intends for Red.

But Caldwell further says that dynamism does not need tradition in the same way that labor needs capital and vice versa. I suppose the qualification “in the same way” makes that statement true, but Caldwell’s implication seems to be that they don’t need each other at all. Is that really true?

I doubt it, for a number of reasons. In our specific context, “dynamism” is not what it was in the 1860s, when “dynamism” was quite materially, physically productive. Contemporary “dynamism” is productive on paper but not in the physical world. Blue elites have bet their entire project, and all their status and wealth, on the proposition that this distinction doesn’t matter. No, even more: they’re entirely convinced that “knowledge” productivity is inherently superior to physical productivity. But what if that bet doesn’t pay off? What if physical productivity is inherently more valuable economically, socially and politically, more conducive to civic life? What if virtual productivity depends decisively on its physical counterpart?

To what extent, also, is our paper productivity simply fake? I’m no expert on high finance, but our whole economy seems to me to be jury-rigged, smoke-and-mirrors—dependent as it is on debt, fiat currency, etc.

The Blue Economy

Mass financialization seriously drives the Blue economy. This seems to be based on a few factors, all of which are inherently unstable. The first is a reliance on monetary policy, which is mostly chicanery—zero interest rates for more than a decade now?—and which depends on the dollar’s status as a reserve currency, on the willingness of foreigners to lend us money, and on our ability not necessarily to pay them back (we almost certainly can’t, and even more certainly won’t) but to meet the interest payments.

All of these are interconnected and will go on until they don’t, or can’t. But they seem to have much less staying power than the massive economic expansion from roughly the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, which was driven by concrete innovation and delivered real gains in standards of living for all classes.

A related but hardly irrelevant point: financialization seems to amount in large part to creating new “products” and markets at the high end, which enrich elites based on…what? Rents excreted out of government monetary policy, outsourcing, immigration, globalization, etc.—all of which make the middle and the heartland poorer. In particular, financialization means finding new ways to stoke consumerism from people who can’t really afford “stuff” like they (or their parents) used to and so must pay for with debt, which obviously benefits banks, in two ways. They make money on the front end through “market-making” and financing the global expansion of big business, and on the back end by lending (and charging usurious interest rates and late fees) to consumers. This is, of course, parasitic.

The other major pillar of the Blue economy is Big Tech, the actual rewards accruing to which appear to be wildly out of proportion to the benefits conferred. When you think back to what the Industrial Revolution accomplished in the transportation sector and manufacturing alone, all of it was vastly more “concrete” than what tech is doing. And the earlier expansions’ benefits were far more transformative and widespread. 1900 looked far less like 1860 than 2020 looks like 1980. Tech is powerful today because of how it can throttle information flows, but information flows are as old as writing. Tech is an effective instrument of tyranny but it does not yet provide benefits for most people that aren’t merely frivolous or enstupefying. Which is in itself a problem for the “dynamic” coalition.

The last element of the Blue economy is media, broadly understood, which either doesn’t make money but is subsidized by Tech or Techies, or does make money but only through its tight alliance with Big Tech, to which it is an appendage. Media (to be more specific, propaganda) is the pillar of the Blue regime, in the sense that it is in effect its army and police force. But as such, it is fundamentally a cost center, not a profit generator.

Perhaps most important, those most emblematic of Blue America, and of the Blue economy—coders, app developers, financiers, VCs, senior managers, foundation grant-makers, professors, vice chancellors for diversity, bloggers, Vox editors, sous chefs, hairstylists, interior decorators, handbag designers, etc.—do not constitute a majority, or even close, of Blue America. They are in fact a minority—and a small minority.

The Blue coalition is something like a layer cake in which the only visible part is the frosting. But underneath that veneer is a light, airy, spongy, not very filling mass that constitutes (spit-balling here) something like 80% of the cake. It doesn’t contribute much to Blue America’s self-congratulatory wealth or “dynamism.” It is, like Blue America’s propaganda arm, a cost center—only much, much more costly. The one thing it contributes is votes. But those votes, even when obtained lawfully, are very expensive. It is at the very least an open question how long “productive” “dynamic” America can generate enough wealth to fund the accustomed lifestyle of the frosting and enough to cover the subsistence of the crumbs sufficiently to keep them turning out to vote the “correct” way.

Blue Subjugation

All of this suggests that the “dynamic” Blue part of the country needs the “backward” Red part a lot more than Caldwell estimates, for a few fundamental reasons. One, the latter are consumers of the stuff the Blues are selling: pixels, bytes, and debt. Second, to the extent that anything gets made any more in this country (other than, perhaps, motherboards), Red people make them. Third, they grow all or most of the food. Fourth, they do the lion’s share of so-called “dirty jobs” or grunt work. Granted, they aren’t hotel maids in Blue cities. But all kinds of other things get done by them and only by them—both Red people in Blue areas and Red people in Red areas, whose work product gets transported into Blue areas also by Red people.

More fundamentally, “dynamism” is inherently parasitic on stability, which is to say virtue. Yes, I know Red America with its opioid crisis, obesity epidemic, welfare usage, etc., is not as virtuous as it used to be. And in some ways—high divorce and illegitimacy rates—it’s in worse shape than the Blue upper and upper-middle classes. But it is also more religious, patriotic and tradition-minded. These traits provide some measure of continuity to a society that is otherwise continually in the process of upheaval owing to the “dynamic” half of the country. What happens when that brake on dynamism is gone, or becomes so weak that it can no longer slow down the car?

Dynamic America has a few ways to address this problem. It can subjugate, as Caldwell says, Boring America. Or it can try to import or develop a Boring class of its own that it can boss around within the confines of Blue America. But the latter solution presumably will, sooner or later, lead to the same problem. “Blue helots” will still be helots. Eventually they will see themselves as such and develop similar interests and political impulses. At which point they will have to be subjugated, too.

Subjugation—whether of a Red class within Blue borders or of Reds where they live now—carries the same risks. One is a reaction that breaks the system and ends the subjugation. That end could take the form of a new settlement that keeps the whole together, perhaps via a kind of radical federalism and regionalism. Or it might lead to a formal separation. Or it might simply end the United States altogether, to be replaced by God-only-knows-what. Barring overt rebellion, the other likely outcome is a kind of implicit general strike in which the Reds’ output and contributions decline.

Aren’t we already seeing at least nascent signs of both? Isn’t the Deplorable support for Trump a sign of rebellion, while the opioid crisis, etc., are signs of apathy and despair?

No one—at least not I—can say which reaction will prevail. But it seems to me that one eventually must if Blue subjugation continues. Which it surely will. The Blues have all the power now, with precious few exceptions, and I see no sign of moderation or circumspection in any of them whatsoever.

Blues sense, at a deep if subconscious level, their need for Reds. Much of their talk about the superiority of their society, economy, and way of life is cant. They may not want to think about where their grubby necessities come from, but they know it’s not from themselves and hence intuit that it must come from somewhere—and someone.

Then there is the unpleasant fact that Blue America wants to rule Red in a way that the latter does not want to rule Blue. To borrow from Machiavelli, in the present-day United States, these two diverse humors are found, which arises from this: that the Blues desire to command and oppress the Reds, while the Reds wish to be neither commanded nor oppressed. Machiavelli offers two solutions to this perennial, inherently irreconcilable conflict. To a prince (sitting or would-be), he recommends becoming the leader-vindicator of the backward or bucolic or less dynamic side and sticking it to the dynamos. To the founder of a republic, he urges the creation of institutions through which both sides harness their mutual enmity to team up and wring the good life out of foreigners.

The problem with the latter solution Machiavelli partly illuminates in another passage where he describes Ferdinand and Isabella’s expulsion of the Jews from Spain as an act of “pious cruelty,” that is, cruelty allegedly in the service of God. Pious cruelty is perhaps the animating impulse of the average Blue’s outlook and behavior toward the average Red: the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor, who, as he flogs you for heresy, really believes he is saving your soul. This, too, is not a recipe for long-term stability. Even—especially—if the Blues win.

In sum, my contention is that dynamism needs tradition more than the reverse, and that tradition may not need dynamism at all—if it’s willing to live a little poorer and with slow or no WiFi.

I leave to the reader to decide for himself whether this short missive has ended on a hopeful note or gives cause for alarm.

Mises Institute: America at the Point of No Return (Book Review)

The Mises Institute has published a book review of Michael Anton’s The Stakes: American at the Point of No Return. Some people could learn a bit about their country just from reading the review.

…In one of the best sections of the book, Anton sets forward his understanding of the Constitution. He says, “Our founders sought to establish the weakest possible federal government capable of performing its essential functions, for three fundamental and intertwined reasons. First, government is inherently dangerous, so the less power it has, the better. Second, the states—being closer to the people and more responsive to regional differences and needs—are better equipped to handle most matters than a far-off centralized administration. Third, the states were prior to the federal government; the people, through their states, created the latter to serve them, not the other way around.”

Anton continues: “According to the parchment [the Constitution], the federal government is supposed to field and fund an army and navy, protect the borders, make treaties, regulate foreign trade and interstate commerce, maintain a sound common currency…and that’s about it. But if you haven’t noticed, there is almost nothing today that the federal government doesn’t do—or try to. The fact that it fails embarrassingly at most of the tasks it sets itself never circumscribes its ambitions, which seem to multiply by the year.”

Again sounding like a supporter of the free market, Anton says about the federal budget: “That leaves about a trillion for means-tested welfare—which, like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, are not constitutionally authorized; they are also of dubious and uneven effectiveness at best.”

Anton notes that the founders believed that the American Revolution was grounded in universal truths, “but they did not expect their declaration to revolutionize the world—nor were they under any illusion that it, or they, had the power to do so….America is—in the words of John Quincy Adams—‘the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all’ but also ‘the champion and vindicator only of her own.’”

Those who wish to restore these principles face a challenge of unprecedented severity. Anton argues that an elite based in certain blue states disdains ordinary Americans. “The core message of the meta-Narrative is that America is fundamentally and inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic, and so on. The flaws and sins of America derive directly from those of its founding stock, who are natural predators, inherently racist, and malevolent.”

Elite policy is at its worst in California, now under the near-total domination of the left wing of the Democratic Party. “In modern California, hypocrisy and double-standardism aren’t merely part of the business climate; they’re endemic to the whole society….Sam Francis dubbed this system ‘anarcho-tyranny’: complete freedom—even exemption from the gravest laws—for the favored, maximum vindictive enforcement against the pettiest infractions on the disfavored.” Anton fears that if President Trump isn’t reelected, the Democrats will seek actively to suppress whomever in the red states challenges them, and they will prove very difficult to dislodge from power.

Who are the ordinary Americans the elite disdains, and who are the elite? The ordinary Americans are those whom Hillary Clinton called “deplorables,” i.e., white males who value their family, their religion, and their property, including their guns. “Funny thing, too: a core tenet of modern liberalism is supposed to be the sanctity of ‘one man, one vote.’ Except, you know, not really. The barely concealed presupposition of denouncing Republicans as ‘racists’ simply because whites vote for them is that all votes are not created equal. Votes of color are morally superior to white votes, which are inherently tainted. Which is why the left holds any election won by a Republican to be morally if not (yet) politically illegitimate.”

The elite consists at its core of wealthy financiers and business interests allied with government. It is buttressed by professionals who have attended top universities, especially those of the Ivy League. In a way that readers of Hunter Lewis on “crony capitalism” will recognize, Anton writes: “So-called ‘public-private cooperation’ will increase. This benign-sounding phrase—who could object to ‘cooperation,’ to government and business ‘solving problems together’? —masks a darker reality. What it really describes is the use of state power to serve private ends, at private direction. Hence foreign policy…will be further reoriented around securing trade, tax, and labor ‘migration’ patterns and paradigms that benefit finance and big business.”

If elite dominance continues, Anton predicts that those of us who dissent will be rigidly restricted. “Free speech as we have known it—as our founders insisted was the bedrock of political rights, without which self-government is impossible—will not survive coming leftist rule. The playbook is already being expanded to include banking and credit. Getting on the wrong side of elite-woke opinion is increasingly to find oneself locked out of the financial system: no bank account, no credit card, no ability to get a loan or pay a mortgage. Pay cash? The move to a ‘cashless society’…will obviate that option right quick.”

Anton cites an especially chilling instance of the policy of suppression. “A new regulation in the United Kingdom—which we must assume will be proposed here sooner or later—would allow Britain’s National Health Service to deny non-emergency care to those deemed ‘racist, sexist, or homophobic.’ Government bureaucrats, naturally, will be the ones doing the deeming.” Small wonder that Anton has had enough…