OP-ED: The “New Right” Illusion: Oren Cass's Flawed Vision of Top-Down Governance and the Betrayal of Capitalism
Oren Cass, founder of the think tank American Compass, presents a vision of the “new right” in his recently released book, Rebuilding American Capitalism. In it, he advocates for a top-down approach to governance in response to what he perceives as free-market failures.
He tends to believe that certain politicians can and should shape markets to achieve desired outcomes rather than letting free markets, which are free people, work. This attempt to rebrand not only the right but capitalism itself is flawed, as history and sound economics prove.
Cass pinpoints growing concerns in the economy to help bolster his arguments, like poor inflation-adjusted wage growth and lack of strong social and family units. These are problems making it harder for people to prosper, but they are not, as he suggests, evidence that free-market capitalism has failed.
But these problems–if they are problems, as Scott Winship and Jeremy Horpedahl recently found that people are thriving–aren’t the results of free markets but are driven instead by government failures.
These failures include bloated government spending, restrictive regulations, high tax burdens, excessive safety net programs, costly tariffs, and other barriers to entry in the marketplace. They are imposed by politicians and government bureaucrats, hindering competition, disrupting entrepreneurial endeavors, impeding wage growth, and destroying human flourishing.
Cass contends that capitalism only works under the right conditions, which must be facilitated by the government to keep the labor market and the economy strong. Rather than what he calls the “Old Right’s market fundamentalism” of fewer regulations and less government intervention being best, he welcomes more government with certain politicians in power. He proudly makes markets the scapegoat and, with it, globalization and financialization.
In the book’s foreword, Cass writes:
"Globalization must be replaced with a bounded market that restores the mutual dependence of American capital and labor and invites the trade and immigration that benefit American workers. Financialization must be reversed so that both talent and capital in pursuit of profit find their best opportunities in productive investment rather than extraction and speculation."
Believing that more opportunities in the form of globalization inhibit rather than help Americans is the same faulty basis with which people discourage immigration and trade, which are central to thriving economies.
But the crux of Cass’s theory is that he believes markets must be molded, even referring to work by the father of modern economics Adam Smith. Conveniently, he fails to cite the economist Frederick Hayek, who built on Smith’s ideas, to identify spontaneous order, the basis of free-market capitalism that argues economic growth and prosperity arise from voluntary transactions by free people, not government guidance and control.
This “new right” idea was debunked long before Cass came along by Hayek (and others), who also highlighted the “knowledge problem” associated with central planning. He argued that no central authority can possess the information necessary to make efficient decisions for an entire economy. The complexity of economic interactions and the constant flux of information require decentralized decision-making and market mechanisms to aggregate and incorporate local knowledge effectively.
Hayek’s insights emphasize the limitations of top-down control and the importance of allowing market forces and individual actors to shape economic outcomes based on their localized knowledge and preferences from the bottom-up. But Cass would have it that government is heralded as the keeper of knowledge and the arbiter of good decisions rather than encouraging freedom and liberty in individuals, i.e., the essence of capitalism.
Capitalism allows individuals to pursue their economic aspirations and make decisions based on their knowledge and preferences through voluntary exchange within rules of the game set by limited government. Through this freedom, innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition thrive, leading to greater prosperity for all.
History is full of successful economic transformations driven by leaders who championed limited government and free markets.
Former President Calvin Coolidge cut government spending, cut taxes, and reduced the national debt, providing more paths for human flourishing. Likewise, former President Ronald Reagan cut taxes, tried to rein in government spending, and reduced regulations, unleashing economic growth and job creation.
Both of them understood that cutting spending, reducing taxes, and removing excessive regulations create an environment where businesses thrive and workers can benefit. Their approaches embraced the power of individual freedom and self-determination, not top-down control that breeds the opposite.
Oren Cass’s theory of the “new right” and its embrace of government fundamentalism misunderstands the principles of capitalism and human behavior. Top-down approaches, rooted in centralized control and regulation, do not lead to economic prosperity or personal freedom no matter who is in charge but do distort the efficient allocation of resources, undermine the adaptability of markets, and reduce opportunities to let people prosper.
To achieve a thriving and prosperous economy, we must adhere to and strengthen the principles of free-market capitalism, which too much of our economy today is deprived of when considering healthcare, education, transportation, manufacturing, and the labor market. This should include embracing limited government, voluntary exchange, and individual freedom as the pillars of strong families, productive workers, and profitable employers.
Economist Milton Friedman noted what this debate is about decades ago. “The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm; capitalism is that kind of a system.” And while “history suggests that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom,” it’s clearly “not a sufficient condition.”
But capitalism is the best system yet that has supported economic prosperity and political freedom. The problem is that we have had too little free-market capitalism for people to thrive because of too much government.
There’s no need for a “new right” of big-government progressive policies offered by Cass and others when free-market capitalism of the “old right” is too often missing in our lives.
Originally published at Econlib.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.