The Fox News host amplifies a debate the right needs to have.
The most interesting thing in conservative politics right now is not the government shutdown and Donald Trump’s flailing attempt to claim victory while being defeated on all fronts. Instead it’s an ideological battle over Tucker Carlson’s recent Fox News soliloquy, in which he accused his fellow Republicans of building an anti-family, finance-dominated economic system that might be “the enemy of a healthy society.”
Carlson’s monologue was an expansion of themes that have dominated his reinvention as a Trump-era populist — the general folly of elites, the unwisdom of the bipartisan consensus on immigration and foreign policy, the failure of Republican leaders to defend the national interest.
But in expanding on those themes he went somewhere that Fox hosts rarely go — from culture into economics, from a critique of liberal cosmopolitanism into a critique of libertarianism, from a lament for the decline of the family to an argument that this decline can be laid at the feet of consumer capitalism as well as social liberalism.
Just about every conservative worth reading was provoked into responding.
- One set of responses accused Carlson of a kind of conspiratorial socialism, which exaggerates economic misery, ignores capitalism’s fruits, and encourages ordinary people to blame shadowy elites instead of cultivating personal responsibility.
The other group basically said, no, Tucker has a point — the point being that market economies are inevitably shaped by public policy, that policies championed by both parties have failed to promote the interests of the working class, and that social conservatives especially need a framework of political economy to promote the institutions — family, work, neighborhood — upon which civil society depends.
If there is to be a healthy American right, after Donald Trump or ever, this is the argument that conservatives should be having. And it is especially an argument that Fox News should be highlighting, since Fox is frequently responsible for stoking populism but keeping it vacuous or racialized, evading the debates the right really needs.
Now let me attempt my own quick contribution. A key issue in the Carlson contretemps is distilled in this line from David French of National Review, one of the monologue’s critics: “There are wounds that public policy can’t heal.”
This is a crucial conservative insight, a caution for policymakers everywhere — but it can also become a trap, a cul-de-sac, an excuse for doing nothing. And that has happened too often for conservatives in recent decades: They’ve leaped to despair without even trying policy.
But in hindsight this was wrong, the feared inflation never came, and the economic recovery was slowed because of the Republican fixation on tight money. Of course, in the Trump era some Republicans have conveniently become dovish on inflation. But in the preceding eight years, wage-earning Americans suffered unnecessarily because of a wrongheaded right-wing counsel of despair.
A second example: While it’s true that family breakdown has deep and tangled roots, it’s also true that in the 1940s and 1950s, a mix of government policy, union strength and conservative gender norms established a “family wage” — an income level that enabled a single breadwinner to support a family.
Maybe it isn’t possible to recreate a family wage for a less unionized and more feminist age — but are we sure? Is there really nothing conservatives can do to address
- the costs of child care,
- the unfulfilled parental desire to shift to part-time work,
- the problem that a slightly more reactionary iteration of Elizabeth Warren once dubbed “the two-income trap”?
If marriages and intact families and birthrates declined as the family wage crumbled, perhaps we should try rebuilding that economic foundation before we declare the crisis of the family a wound that policy can’t heal.
A final example: Historically conservatism has been proudly paternalist, favorable to forms of censorship and prohibition for the sake of protecting precisely the private virtues that Carlson’s critics think government can’t cultivate. But in recent decades, the right’s elites have despaired of
- censoring pornography, acquiesced to the spread of
- casino gambling, made peace with the
- creeping commercialization of marijuana, and accepted the
- internet’s conquest of childhood and adolescence.
Yet none of these trends actually seem entirely beyond the influence of regulation. It’s just that conservatism has given up — once again, in unwarranted despair — on earlier assumptions about how public paternalism can encourage private virtue.
The deeper point here is that public policy is rarely a cure-all, but it can often be a corrective. And the part of Carlson’s monologue his critics should especially ponder is the end, when he suggests that absent a corrective that “protects normal families,” even the normal will eventually turn to socialism — choosing a left-wing overcorrection over a right that just says, Well, you see, we already cut corporate taxes, so there’s nothing we can do.
Now that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have plummeted from last year’s absurdly high valuations, the techno-utopian mystique of so-called distributed-ledger technologies should be next. The promise to cure the world’s ills through “decentralization” was just a ruse to separate retail investors from their hard-earned real money.
.. Faced with the public spectacle of a market bloodbath, boosters have fled to the last refuge of the crypto scoundrel: a defense of “blockchain,” the distributed-ledger software underpinning all cryptocurrencies. Blockchain has been heralded as a potential panacea for everything from poverty and famine to cancer. In fact, it is the most overhyped – and least useful – technology in human history.
In practice, blockchain is nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet. But it has also become the byword for a libertarian ideology that treats all governments, central banks, traditional financial institutions, and real-world currencies as evil concentrations of power that must be destroyed. Blockchain fundamentalists’ ideal world is one in which all economic activity and human interactions are subject to anarchist or libertarian decentralization. They would like the entirety of social and political life to end up on public ledgers that are supposedly “permissionless” (accessible to everyone) and “trustless” (not reliant on a credible intermediary such as a bank).
.. Yet far from ushering in a utopia, blockchain has given rise to a familiar form of economic hell. A few self-serving white men (there are hardly any women or minorities in the blockchain universe) pretending to be messiahs for the world’s impoverished, marginalized, and unbanked masses claim to have created billions of dollars of wealth out of nothing. But one need only consider the massive centralization of power among cryptocurrency “miners,” exchanges, developers, and wealth holders to see that blockchain is not about decentralization and democracy; it is about greed.2
For example, a small group of companies – mostly located in such bastions of democracy as Russia, Georgia, and China – control between two-thirds and three-quarters of all crypto-mining activity, and all routinely jack up transaction costs to increase their fat profit margins. Apparently, blockchain fanatics would have us put our faith in an anonymous cartel subject to no rule of law, rather than trust central banks and regulated financial intermediaries.
A similar pattern has emerged in cryptocurrency trading. Fully 99% of all transactions occur on centralized exchanges that are hacked on a regular basis. And, unlike with real money, once your crypto wealth is hacked, it is gone forever.
.. Moreover, the centralization of crypto development – for example, fundamentalists have named Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin a “benevolent dictator for life” – already has given lie to the claim that “code is law,” as if the software underpinning blockchain applications is immutable. The truth is that the developers have absolute power to act as judge and jury. When something goes wrong in one of their buggy “smart” pseudo-contracts and massive hacking occurs, they simply change the code and “fork” a failing coin into another one by arbitrary fiat, revealing the entire “trustless” enterprise to have been untrustworthy from the start.2
.. Lastly, wealth in the crypto universe is even more concentrated than it is in North Korea. Whereas a Gini coefficient of 1.0 means that a single person controls 100% of a country’s income/wealth, North Korea scores 0.86, the rather unequal United States scores 0.41, and Bitcoin scores an astonishing 0.88.2
As should be clear, the claim of “decentralization” is a myth propagated by the pseudo-billionaires who control this pseudo-industry. Now that the retail investors who were suckered into the crypto market have all lost their shirts, the snake-oil salesmen who remain are sitting on piles of fake wealth that will immediately disappear if they try to liquidate their “assets.”
.. Moreover, in cases where distributed-ledger technologies – so-called enterprise DLT – are actually being used, they have nothing to do with blockchain. They are private, centralized, and recorded on just a few controlled ledgers. They require permission for access, which is granted to qualified individuals. And, perhaps most important, they are based on trusted authorities that have established their credibility over time. All of which is to say, these are “blockchains” in name only.3
A privileged escape that’s hurting communities at home and abroad
.. The privilege of digital nomads
The World Domination Summit (WDS) takes place annually in Portland, Oregon and serves as a gathering place for the lifestyle-entrepreneurship, do-what-you-love (DWYL) community that has grown around the writings of Chris Guillebeau, Tim Ferriss, and the other gurus that dominate the niche.
In its early years, Amanda Palleschi wrote about the event for the New Republic, calling WDS out for being attended primarily by white people who “have advantages or significant successes that enable them to see the world through DWYL-colored lenses (and to pay for the $500 entry fee to WDS).” Guillebeau himself even acknowledged that he was “mostly attracting other Westerners” and told Palleschi, “[j]ust because we have privilege doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our lives.” The summit has advertised a more diverse set of speakers in recent years, but that doesn’t mean its audience is significantly more diverse. As the community has grown, there were bound to be minorities who did well within it, just as in regular society, but that doesn’t mean they make up a sizeable chunk of its followers.
The reality is that the promise of digital nomadism is built on a quasi-libertarian worldview that’s closely related to the ideologies of Silicon Valley titans. In short, certain measures to promote social progress might be acceptable, but many believe that the government needs to take a hands-off approach on economic matters and not interfere significantly in the market.
DWYL is a privileged orientation focused on individual success, which ignores programs in developed societies the were designed to promote collective wealth and well-being. Miya Tokumitsu, a Jacobin contributing editor, called it “the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment.” The movement’s gurus make a gesture toward charitable causes to not seem too selfish, but their initiatives often forward their worldview: helping others to escape the tyranny of traditional work and life structures by building their own lifestyle businesses.
The fierce individualism of digital nomads is damaging to communities, both at home and abroad, because people who feel “liberated” from space have no stake in improving their local area. They’re far less likely to work toward positive local change, fight for the rights of disadvantaged peoples, or be interested in halting the gentrification that displaces long-term residents — to which they usually contribute — because those issues don’t affect them.
.. Into this situation come the digital nomads, looking for locales that are inexpensive by Western standards, but where they can easily outspend residents to maintain a quality-of-life that would be difficult to achieve on local salaries. Chiang Mai, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia are some of the leading destinations for those seeking the location-independent life, causing a predictable development: developers chasing Western money.
.. The gurus talk of finding destinations where one’s money will go further, ignoring the consequences for local people because the only thing that matters is the achievement of their personal success.
.. Even though digital nomads come from developed countries and benefited from taxpayer-funded education, health, and social programs throughout their lives (and expect to in the future when they return to their home countries), they rarely feel any obligation to give back. Similar to tech libertarians, they do all they can to minimize their tax burden by finding the jurisdiction or country with the lowest tax rate to establish their business and, depending on the tax rules of their country of citizenship or residence, move often enough that they aren’t obliged to pay income tax.
.. Rhetorically, digital-nomad gurus say that everyone should follow their hearts and pursue their passion, but it’s clear that their message is only meant for a particular group of privileged Westerners, as their lifestyles are made possible by people rooted to place and not necessarily enjoying their work.
.. They may achieve an additional degree of freedom and enjoyment from structuring their lives in an unconventional way, but that’s only possible because they ignore the consequences of their actions by surrounding themselves with people who have similar levels of privilege and an unquestioning adherence to an ignorant, individualistic worldview strongly influenced by Silicon Valley’s brand of libertarianism.
.. Low-cost destinations exist because rich countries looted and plundered the rest of the world for centuries through colonialism and unequal trade relationships. The privilege to even consider becoming a digital nomad is a result of legal structures and high-quality public services that are funded through the wealth generated from those centuries of global dominance.
.. Privilege allows digital nomads to ignore all these things and live in a fantasy world where they need only worry about themselves. They take full advantage of their positions to live more fulfilling lives, while trying to avoid the responsibility to contribute to the society that granted them their privilege in the first place and actively augmenting the forces displacing locals in the places they treat simply as destinations, rather than communities. Digital nomads do not care about the societies they live in, and for that reason they have no place in the future.
Billionaire investor frustrated with what he sees as intolerance of conservatism in tech industry; has discussed resigning from Facebook board
Billionaire investor Peter Thiel is relocating his home and personal investment firms to Los Angeles from San Francisco and scaling back his involvement in the tech industry, people familiar with his thinking said, marking a rupture between Silicon Valley and its most prominent conservative.
.. Thiel has grown more disaffected by what he sees as the intolerant, left-leaning politics of the San Francisco Bay Area, and increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for tech businesses amid greater risk of regulation
.. Mr. Thiel has long stood out in Silicon Valley for his vocal libertarianism, but he drew heavy criticism from many tech-industry peers—including fellow Facebook board member Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix Inc.—when he backed Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and later served as an adviser on his White House transition team.
Mr. Thiel has recently said tech culture has become increasingly intolerant of conservative political views since Mr. Trump’s election, an attitude he has said is intellectually and politically fraught.
“Silicon Valley is a one-party state,” Mr. Thiel said last month at a debate about tech and politics at Stanford University. “That’s when you get in trouble politically in our society, when you’re all in one side.”
.. Mr. Thiel has bucked Silicon Valley conventions since his days as a Stanford University student in the 1980s, when he helped start a student newspaper to promote conservative views.
.. He also has backed more unusual initiatives such as an institute that advocates creating ocean-based cities outside the reach of governments.
.. Mr. Thiel also has been an emissary for Facebook to its large population of right-leaning users. In May 2016, after media reports that curators of Facebook’s “trending topics” feature suppressed news about conservative events and from conservative sources, he helped Facebook convene a closed-door meeting to smooth things over with a group of prominent conservatives.
.. Mr. Zuckerberg publicly deflected the criticism of Mr. Thiel, saying in March 2017 that demands for his removal were “crazy” and that “ideological diversity” had become a necessary component of diversity in the workplace and boardroom.
.. Mr. Thiel sees an opportunity to build a right-leaning media outlet to foster discussion and community around conservative topics, the person said.