Business vs. markets


U.S. President Barack Obama signs the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank at the White House in Washington May 30, 2012.

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  • A recent AP headline brings intriguing news: “Conservatives make it rough for business.” @JonahNRO

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  • “Republicans have preferred being pro-business to being pro-market.” @JonahNRO

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  • What will be intriguing is the way mainstream media responds to the growing philosophical consistency on the right @JonahNRO

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A recent Associated Press headline brings intriguing news: "Conservatives make it rough for business."

Donna Cassata reports that various business groups had a tougher-than-expected time renewing authorization for the corporatist carbuncle known as the Export-Import Bank. "Congress had reaffirmed the independent federal agency some two dozen times since its creation in 1934," she writes. "But this year it took months of pleas, briefings and negotiations to overcome conservative opposition."

So what is the Right's latest ideological obsession? Has the Ex-Im been paying for lesbian birth control?

No, the conservatives are caught up in an even deeper dogmatic quagmire. Cassata explains: "They and their ideological leaders argue that the marketplace should dictate what businesses thrive and falter, not Washington."

Sweet fancy Moses! What's next? Will conservatives come out in favor of bears doing their bathroom business in the woods without government oversight? Will the market fundamentalists soon argue that children eat candy for the sweet, sweet taste? Is there no end to their ideological madness?

"Saying you're more capitalistic than the Democrats is like saying you're sexier than David Axelrod." -Jonah GoldbergSarcasm aside, the depressing -- or encouraging -- thing about Cassata's report is that it is in fact news. For far, far, far too long, Republicans have preferred being pro-business to being pro-market. To be sure, they were always more ideologically constrained than the corporatists of the Democratic Party, who, since the Progressive era, have seen nothing wrong with using big business as government-by-proxy. But that's an awfully low bar. Saying you're more capitalistic than the Democrats is like saying you're sexier than David Axelrod.

Conservatives -- and especially libertarians, but also some leftists -- have been building the case against corporatism for a very long time. But what has prompted this new aversion to it has less to do with the force of those arguments than with the power of example. President Obama is easily the most corporatist president since FDR. He bought a couple of car companies. His health-care law turns insurance companies into utilities. He increasingly speaks the language of economic nationalism used by the two Roosevelts.

It's far too soon to tell if the opponents of "crony capitalism" will capture the commanding heights of the Republican Party, never mind the country. After all, the Ex-Im Bank ultimately got its reauthorization. Still, the trend is encouraging.

What will be intriguing to watch is the way the mainstream media and establishment institutions respond to this growing philosophical consistency on the right. My very strong hunch is that they will decry it as another example of "polarization" and the end of compromise. The old bipartisan consensus around a bad idea will be seen through the gauzy lens of nostalgia, while the new partisan disagreement over a good idea will be greeted with fear. And the Democrats will of course take the position that they aren't ideologically committed to corporatism, it's just a coincidence that at this particular moment it makes enormous sense for Washington to dictate which businesses thrive or falter.

But it is always that particular moment for those who like dictating from Washington.

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