The case for economic nationalism

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson often points out that the United States, unlike other rich nations, has never had a labor party—a political party dedicated to the cause of organized labor.

Instead, Ferguson says, the conflict of political parties in the USA is a conflict of business interests—protectionism vs. free trade, tight money vs. low interest rates, public works vs. low taxes and so on.

That’s not to say that wage earners have no stake in the outcome of elections. Some business interests are more favorable, or less unfavorable, to working people than others.

It is just that no political party or political faction gets far without the backing of some business interest. Labor unions reached the height of their political power during the New Deal, but even in that era, they were only one seat at the table along with others, such as the oil industry (then aligned with Democrats), the real estate industry and so on.

Bernie Sanders tried and failed to make the Democratic Party into a labor party. Now Republicans such as Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio hope to win the allegiance of working people through a political program called “national conservatism.”

It is basically the program of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and William McKinley.  If you squint your eyes, it also includes much that Donald Trump talked about doing.

The idea is to concentrate on rebuilding American industry, which of course would be good for manufacturers and investors but also for working people, and not just factory workers.

The elements of such a program would include:

  1. Public-private partnerships to improve technology and productivity.
  2. Use of tariffs to protect key American industries, but also maintain access to key raw materials.
  3. Rejection of trade treaties or international institutions that limit national economic sovereignty
  4. A strong focus on competing with China.
  5. A massive public infrastructure program to rebuild and maintain roads, bridges, harbors, airports, railroads, dams and levees, the electrical grid and water and sewerage systems
  6. Investment in scientific research.
  7. An end to regime change wars and reduction in military spending.
  8. An end to weaponized economic sanctions
  9. Control of unauthorized immigration.
  10. Support for public education, with an emphasis on vocational training and STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  11. Tax credits as an alternative to welfare programs.

What is left out?  Stronger labor unions.  A inflation-adjusted minimum living wage.  Reductions in energy use and consumption to fight climate change.

Politically, this is a more feasible program than the Green New Deal.  It probably would be better than what we have now.

In particular, I think anyone who believes in democratic governance has to be a nationalist to some extent, because, at the present moment in history, national governments are the highest level of institutions over which voters have any influence.

I think the world needs more, rather than less, international cooperation, but that’s different from having the world run by the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and global corporations.

Would economic nationalism solve our problems?  No, not by a long shot.  But it could be a step in the right direction. 

LINKS

Rebooting the American System on American Compass, a symposium including essays by Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.

The Bully Platform , a review of Josh Hawley’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt for American Compass.

A Multi-Ethnic Working-Class Conservatism by Oren Cass for American Compass.

The Rise of Wall Street and the Fall of U.S. Investment by Oren Cass for American Compass.

Adopting an Industrial Policy Doesn’t Mean We’re Emulating China by Rob Atkinson for American Compass.

A less Trumpy version of Trump might be the future of the Republican Party by Morgan Marietta and David C. Barker for The Conversation.

All this sounds good, but I don’t really trust these guys.

Rubio says GOP must rebrand as party of multiethnic, multiracial working-class voters by Joseph Choi for The Hill.

What Josh Hawley Is Teaching Democrats by John Stoehr for The Washington Monthly.

Can There Ever Be a Working-Class Republican Party? by Christopher Caldwell for The New Republic.

Republicans and Industrial Policy After Trump by Justin H. Vasssallo for Jacobin magazine.

 

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One Response to “The case for economic nationalism”

  1. Alex Page Says:

    Sounds somewhat like the direction the UK Tories have been going. Moves to say ‘actually the state can invest in things, let’s do some infrastructure’. Of course, I have massive issues with their agenda too.

    Wasn’t the Populist Party an attempt at something like a labour party? Admittedly, limited success.

    Like

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