It’s a good decade to be liberal. Our concerns and suspicions have been vindicated by cascading storms, collapsing states and, above all, a crumbling world economy. The past decade has been enough for some grand thinkers of conservatism, like Francis Fukuyama, to re-imagine their world while letting others like Paul Wolfowitz to fall into the hush of irrelevance.
Today is a good day to believe ultimately in the importance of social justice. It is a good day to understand that the way we live is subsidized by a grand loan from Mother Earth. It is a good day to make love, not war. But we must remember that to whom much is given, much is expected. Though the liberal voice has been revalidated by an overwhelming international support for Barack Obama, this decade is our last opportunity.
It is too easy to foolishly waste this currency of modern liberalism. The lasting image of the American liberal of the last decade will be the protesters at Occupy Wall Street denouncing the market. It will be Michael Moore’s rejection of capitalism as a valid ideology (OK I’ll admit, his movies are great). It will be Anne Leonard’s Story of Stuff. And in this noise, history will wrongly mark liberals as but a band of hypocrites too privileged to appreciate the free market.
Restricting trade is one of the surest ways we can further the machine of poverty. An important tenet of liberalism is a belief that all Mankind – from the Ganges to the Potomac – has a right to work, the right to a certain prosperity and dignity. By giving into Union demands that protect trade or by patriotically refusing to buy goods “made in China”, we are but denying work to a poor weaver in the Yangtze Valley who will inevitably be asked to go back home, to the throes of rural poverty.
Trade comes with its follies, not the least of which its preference of the owner above the worker, but that may be cured with policies of sound redistribution. Trade is also a great equalizer, without which a poor boy in China will die a poor man in China.
A not insignificant portion of liberals denounce the free market. In this lies liberalism’s most damning hypocrisy. It is mocking to the true victims of globalization – draught-ridden farmers in Kenya and polar bears in the Arctic – for the “anti-Establishment” left to call foul on the market while at the same time wearing Converse shoes or offering their hypocrisies on the Internet, a shining jewel of capitalism.
This is a problem almost exclusive to the educated elite – America and abroad. I have met many who deride the materialism of the West, who are easy to criticize the transgressions of BP, who seek a greater zen Spirituality. Liberals should not give voice to hypocrites such as these, most of whom are themselves slaves of the market they censure, most of whom consume far more in resources than the gun-toting, car salesman in Alabama.
Even as liberals we must be cautious not to associate our values with the vanities of the sentiments above, afforded by the capitalist market. We must remember that markets are not more than the will of its people – that the BP spill was caused by each of us, every day. Every time we purchase a transatlantic ticket, every time we pump our sedan with gasoline, every time we order a book from Amazon, we take ownership of the melting ice caps and raging hurricanes.
It is too easy to criticize a corporation or a market that is not more than an ethereal abstraction of what we are, and what we believe. Once we rid the liberal message of this growing voice of insanity, we can get back to the truer task at hand – the importance of intergenerational social justice, the crystallizing theme of what liberalism ought to be.
This is not antithetical to the market, indeed capitalism is the only way to achieve a truly positive outcome. Even the most classical economists agree that it is the role of the government to correct the externalities of the free market. By transcending the politics we need to accept that the environmental cost of each gallon of gas burned is far more than three or four dollars. The United States is uniquely poised to lead the world with the most robust venture capital networks in the world. If the United States levies a more significant tax on carbon, it will become inevitable that our capital markets finance new and unique ventures in alternative energies, launching America into its next Century.
I was deeply concerned when the White House announced that carbon taxation will not be a part of budget negotiations. Not only does is it an excellent form of revenue for a fiscally strained government, but it is a beacon of all the great things true liberalism champions.
By quelling cries of financial excess and capitalist dominance, instead employing the very old and natural price mechanism, liberalism can redeem itself as the champion of the little man. The ideological vacuum and myopic vision of liberal agents like Anne Leonard can be replaced with the more intellectual belief that to be human is to be in a market.
Steve Jobs once went to India in search of spiritual enlightenment. He was rightly disillusioned, finally realizing that “Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Karoli Baba put together.” We, the world, benefitted from Steve’s choice of contribution to science and technology over ideology and vain spirituality.
Just as the conservative movement in the United States needs to reconsider its staunch opposition to taxes and social programs in crucial areas such as child development, the fake liberalism that is taking shape will starve America and the world of the prosperity that comes from reason, science, and rationality. It would be tragic to see the American people choose an ideology of feckless greed and environmental irresponsibility over one of measured justice and social security because a few spoiled brats think stuff is bad.