There is a certain minuet of sorts going on between the conservative movement and government – specifically how the latter can be used to encourage the former. It isn’t surprising to see this populist dance as the Republican Party and the term “conservative” are going through a rebrand not seen since Banana Republic ditched its safari theme and Jeep storefronts for a more luxurious look. It’s an argument which had previously happened in the 1900s – although the term then was progressive – however, if we’re honest, its genesis is as old as the formation of the American Republic.
The major conflict is on the role of government vis-à-vis the economy – specifically on whether the former should take a hands-off approach or be willing to enter into the private sector with an axe or a bludgeon. Self-described conservatives have traditionally claimed to favor a more hands-off approach – intervening only when they saw fit to enact new sets of regulations on companies or to do some sort of taxpayer-funded bailout (see the end of George W. Bush’s Administration). The nationalist conservatives – if this is what they’re going to call themselves – are more in line with the progressivism espoused by Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
It shouldn’t be surprising to see nationalist conservatives and progressives espouse the same beliefs – whether it’s intentional or not. Both are looking to use the power of government to direct the economy in one way, shape, or form. Fox News host Tucker Carlson used similar rhetoric as that of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren yesterday at the National Conservatism Convention.
“The biggest threat to liberty is no longer the federal government,” Carlson intoned during his talk – aptly named Big Business Hates Your Family – at the convention. “It’s big companies.”
There’s, unfortunately, no video of Carlson’s sermon before the adoring attendees, however, Jonathon Van Maren from LifeSite has the most thorough analysis/summary. “[T]o Carlson, this now seems obvious. Even cookie companies like Oreo, he noted, are now pushing advertising that asks kids to “name their pronoun”—aiming transgender propaganda at children. This is a corporation, pushing the idea that biology is obsolete and that the gender binary is no longer operative. The libertarian response to this—and the speakers at this conference are constantly taking aim at libertarianism as a bankrupt ideology utterly unsuited to the challenges of today—would be “Start your own Oreo company!” Everyone laughed.”
Compare the analogies to the ones spoken by Roosevelt during his first address to Congress in 1901.
“There is a widespread conviction in the minds of the American people that the great corporations known as trusts are in certain of their features and tendencies hurtful to the general welfare…” TR’s rhetoric is similar to Carlson’s in the idea corporations are bad for society. “It is based upon sincere conviction that combination and concentration should be, not prohibited, but supervised and within reasonable limits controlled; and in my judgment this conviction is right.”
Roosevelt is not as harsh as Carlson – but the sentiment is the same. Corporations can be a menace because they have some sort of ability to squelch everyone’s livelihood if you somehow end up perpendicular to their line of thinking. Both want to use the power of government to chop up big business into tiny, unrecognizable pieces. Cory Doctorow had a similar take on larger corporations, as has Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus.
Does this mean the distributists or progressives or national conservatives or whatever you want to call them have won?
Of course not.
The key fallacy is the notion there is no competition between big business and smaller companies. Yet, competition does exist – not just between multinational corporations but smaller, independent companies. For every Nabisco (the owner of Carlson’s hated Oreo) there is a Kellogg’s (the owner of Keebler) or Campbell’s Soup (the owner of Pepperidge Farms). There are also ways for people to make their own version of Oreo’s or buy off-brand versions like at Whole Foods.
There are also alternatives to Carlson’s rage du jour of Amazon, Google, and Facebook.
Overstock.com is available for people who don’t want to give Jeff Bezos any cash (they even accept cryptocurrency), as is GameStop, Half Price Books, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, or Conn’s. There are also independent retailers and grocers Americans can use if they want to avoid the Bezos bogeyman.
The same goes for the spectre of Google. DuckDuckGo, Brave, Mozilla, ProtonMail, Dailymotion, Vimeo, and Twitch (although it is owned by Amazon) can all be used without worrying about Google. Yahoo still offers email – as do various Internet Service Providers. Go to those alternatives instead of complaining and waiting for someone else – mainly the government – to solve your problem!
Facebook is dying already – despite its best efforts to keep its user base stable. The company took a humongous reputation hit from the Cambridge Analytica scandal which caused users to re-think the social media network’s usefulness. There are plenty of competitors to Facebook’s style of social media including Minds.com and MeWe.
“I’ve seen firsthand that this is not a competitive barrier,” MeWe founder Mark Weinstein declared in The Wall Street Journal earlier this month. “MeWe has achieved breakout growth from word-of-mouth alone.”
Weinstein’s ‘solution’ is Net Neutrality – which is no real solution at all because it relies heavily on government – but the fact there is the head of another social media company saying Facebook should not be chopped into itty bitty shards like Lizzie Borden was accused of doing to her father and stepmother should matter. The fact you’re seeing social media users start using short-form mobile videos services ala TikTok and SnapChat shows the business is evolving and, eventually, the alleged titans of industry will fall by the wayside (just maybe not as fast as Carlson and Warren would prefer).
The main reason why Big Business becomes a bane of progressives, nationalist conservatives, and populists is because of government enabling. However, it’s not because government takes a hands-off approach to its relationship with business. No, the indisputable problem is that government – from federal to state to local – exerts too much influence on corporations.
“Big business in cahoots with politicians and bureaucrats is the root of the most odious behavior mistakenly blamed on free enterprise,” Free the People founder Matt Kibbe told me in an email when asked about Carlson and Warren’s claims on corporations. “So when railing against Facebook or Google, and demanding a government “solution,” the question they haven’t answered is: who exactly do you think will write the new rules? It won’t be “the people,” it will be the same self-serving politicians and crony insiders who gamed the system in the first place. The only way to decentralize Power is to limit the power of government, the only permanent monopoly on power.”
People need to remember Facebook, Google, and Amazon have all gotten a plethora of goodies from politicians of all stripes to move into or stay in a city or state. This notion of distributism is allowing elected officials and bureaucrats to pick winners and losers through these subsidies – despite claims from proponents it will level the playing field. The best way to ensure a level playing field is to stop giving specialized carve-outs to any single business – large or small – which claims to need a little help setting up shop. No deductions. No varying levels of taxation. Make it all equal.
Two exit questions for those looking to give government more power on business size. What is to stop a government official from deciding all larger businesses are problematic and shutting down or cutting down every single one? What is to stop a bureaucrat from saying any company with over 100 employees can’t have more because it constitutes a trust?
The danger of breaking up big business – especially ones who are accused of not acquiescing to people who do not agree with their politics – is it opens the door to further abuse by the government. It is indeed akin to a dictator deciding it’s time to rid himself or herself of those who are ideological opposites by making it harder for them to operate. Think China’s Internet censors are problematic? Imagine what might happen if a scurrilous individual in the White House decided it was time to enact a China-like expungement of certain phrases under the notion it would “save” or “expand” the culture. This is the door nationalist conservatives and progressives seek to throw wide open if they give more bureaucratic power to government.
Government will always be more of a threat to liberty than big business. We cannot forget this.