Ep 10: Economic Mythology

William Galston observes, amid Donald Trump’s take down of the Republican Party, the number of social conservatives now seems smaller.

Economic conservatives, like their social twins, have swooned at big government deficits to fund recession-oriented rescues.  Adamantly—government must live or die by the same belt-tightening rules as households, they say.  For them, government debt is both untenable and immoral.  Indeed, these are the same folks steeped in Ronald Reagan’s take down of government; it is not the solution they screed, but rather, the problem.    

Now, as they watch America’s middle class shrink ever-further, says Brookings’ Galston, more are jumping ship.  Many are even standing down from Republican Party marching orders to gut Social Security and Medicare.  Finally, it seems, some conservatives are acting in their economic self-interest.    

One thing is sure, Galston observes.  Reagan’s three-decade economic consensus is now on life support.  The clue to the next big Republican economic thing, then, may be hiding amid Donald Trump’s rhetoric, he thinks.  Trump doesn’t so much oppose government, as he opposes stupid government.  Of course, in his world, stupid is anything not lining up with Trump.    

Ironically, it is a mythologist—the late Joseph Campbell—who may see things William Galston cannot.  If Campbell could speak, it might be to warn that economic conservativism is wired powerfully, even mythologically.  

To paraphrase from an old hit by the Eagles, Hotel California, you can stab at the thing, but you can never really kill the beast.  Joseph Campbell might like the Eagles’ metaphor.

The beast of laissez-faire defies logic.  The logical way to kill it is to disavow Newtonian orderliness.  But like stabbing a zombie, this beast may live forever in company with its true believers.  

Underneath powerful myths, then, lie profound metaphors.  These are guides to how people think and act, Campbell counseled.  They validate one’s social order, provide guidance for so-called right living, and particularly, inspire a sense of awe.

So, we ponder, what are aspects of economic mythology that instill religion-like awe among fundamentalists?  

Well, imagine you are a double conservative—economic and Christian, that is—and you’re indoctrinating your ten-year old.  What might you say?

You might preach the world works in an orderly manner, consistent with how God works.  He is not a god of chaos, perhaps you pontificate.  Consequently—probably—you inculcate slavish obedience to perceived market forces.  Ultimately, it is God and nature that hold the economic system accountable for determining what society will produce—and who gets to consume it, you remonstrate.  

No social planning necessary, of course.  Indeed, economic planning is a grave offense in God’s sight.  And no doubt you would admonish fierce individualism and opposition to government at every turn.  

And of course, check out Capitalism in Crisis on the Web.  

Well, just kidding, actually; that would not be trustworthy advice from an economic fundamentalist.

From Boulder Colorado, this is Jim Sawyer for Capitalism in Crisis.