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The New Right's Secret Sauce

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The New Right is succeeding, despite being wrong about most things, because it has a comprehensive worldview. If you take the time to listen to Beck, Limbaugh, and any of the thousands of lesser-known hosts, you will hear them teaching a worldview that is well developed, comprehensive and, at least for its adherents, inspiring.

Some would say the Right is succeeding because it has a major TV network and big business on its side. But at least one cable network is trying its best to fill the market niche of an alternative viewpoint. And there are plenty of wealthy funders willing to put money behind an alternative -- and don't forget the massive (and young!) grassroots funding base that the Right does not have.

The reason Fox wins the ratings game, and the reason conservative donors get more bang for their buck is the effectiveness of New Right's worldview. The worldview is more than a set of policies, it's a complete way of thinking about human nature, history, our present circumstances and the future. It presents a course of action that is logical, based on all its presuppositions, for solving America's problems. That is how New Right talk hosts fill up their three, four and even five hour shows: they're doing history lessons, preaching sermons on economics, and painting pictures of whole new worlds.

Today, the worldview of post-war Liberalism is gone. It's not coming back: It can't solve America's problems, and Americans can feel that in their gut. Post-war Liberalism was the idea that the American economy was on a roll and we just needed to steer it in the right direction with smart regulations, incentives, and investments in Research and Development, and Infrastructure (R&D&I).

That doesn't ring true anymore. People know that our economy has been decaying for decades. They know it is sliding in the direction of more decay faster than ever. They know that the bubbles of the 90s and the 00s only covered over the decay. They know the stimulus and bailouts -- in the way they were structured -- are final desperate measures to keep the decay covered for another few minutes.

What alternative outside of the New Right worldview is currently available for rejuvenating the U.S. economy? Green jobs. People recognize green jobs as an absolutely essential step. But they wonder how a nation can make a living by keeping itself clean and increasing energy efficiency. Export wind turbines to China? But they're already making them, and much cheaper than we ever could. What will America's green economy exchange for the things we need from the rest of the world such as cars (with the Big Three folding), laptops (with 90% of components not manufactured in the U.S.), etc, etc.... Even Al Gore's massive program to make our economy more energy efficient -- which is also an absolutely essential step forward -- doesn't address that fundamental problem. It was never intended to.

Even a bigger plan -- which almost no one is talking about now -- to invest trillions in R&D&I, going far beyond energy, is a purely positive idea. But that still leaves Americans wondering where our new competitive industries will come from. They know instinctively what economic historians know academically: that any smart industrialist will build his or her factories in China or Mexico before the United States as long as American workers' standard of living is many times richer than it is in those and other countries.

That all explains why America, contrary to its incremental interest, is not willing to fight for huge expenditures on R&D&I: because people don't fight for increments, they fight for life changing improvements, or they fight for ideals. Even trillions of dollars spent on R&D&I, if we refuse to touch the productive core of our economy, will not pull 100 million Americans out of poverty and will not fully turn around the fortunes of 100 million American struggling middle class people.

In opposition to vague and muddled R&D&I schemes, the New Right's worldview gives people an ideal to fight for: individual entrepreneurship -- and a cause to fight against: anything that's not individual entrepreneurship.

The New Right worldview says:

Don't waste our money on incentives and R&D&I investments, I don't trust you (politicians) to spend it wisely. I think you're just going to waste my money on earmarks that won't amount to a better economy or society. You can talk about green jobs, but I think you're going to blow this money on pet projects or poorly run projects. I think it would be smarter if you let people keep their money and let them get America back on track in their crowd sourced/ free market way: we'll start new businesses, invent new things, etc... If you look at American history, it's that kind of decentralized action that has always moved us forward, and the big collective efforts have been footnotes.

That rings pretty true to a lot of Americans. It rings true to a lot of Democrats and Progressives. But the important thing is this: It inspires millions of Americans -- not a majority, but a significant and vocal chunk. Meanwhile, there is no alternative story that inspires.

Parts of the New Right's story is true, but as a whole, it is wrong. It holds together only if you accept all of its presuppositions, but most of those presuppositions are inaccurate. No economy in the history of the world has ever revitalized itself purely through decentralized, spontaneous action by disconnected individuals. That kind of action is half the story. But without the other half -- forethought and limited but important collective undertakings -- economies do not transform, they stagnate.

Our problem today is that many people who are trying to provide an alternative to the New Right's worldview actually believe in its most important premises. That happened because the old Liberal paradigm's main enemies were Stalinist and Fascist central planning. Both had strong advocates in America before and after WWII. So Liberalism wrote forethought and limited collective undertakings out of the script. Anyways, by the end of WWII, the American economy had been fundamentally transformed (through a whirlwind of planning) -- and was almost the only major economy left standing in the world. The need for another restructuring felt centuries away.

What happened next was that Europe and East Asia succeeded in transforming their economies (mostly using that common sense mixture of entrepreneurism and planning) into powerhouses that gave the U.S. a run for our money. At first, their great transformations created jobs for Americans, as we supplied the steel, the machines and the know how. But soon, their cheap, quality goods put many Americans out of work. For the past 30 years we have kept unemployment relatively low and incomes relatively high by blowing financial bubbles and borrowing money unsustainably from abroad. Also, real wages have been falling the whole time -- precipitously for the bottom half of U.S. income earners.

America finds itself in a position now where we need a massive transformation of our economy. But we find ourselves without access to any worldview that can imagine it. Reconstructing such a worldview is the great task of our age. We have to be careful to do it with full awareness of the very real threats from Socialism and Fascism. Especially if America's economic crisis deepens into a depression, both of those paradigms will become tempting to many once again.

We will find this alternative worldview in the origins of the American republic -- in a homegrown tradition of collective economic creativity that is totally consistent with individual entrepreneurial creativity. It is the tradition of Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and so many others who saw no contradiction between individual and collective enterprise. That tradition was suppressed through the rise of big capital after the Civil War, and then it was forgotten forever when the left was flooded by European Technocrats, Communists, Socialists and Fascists in the 20th century. But that is long story for another time.