Liberal Media Coverage Is Boosting Conservative Nationalists

 Big-government conservatives gain from liberal media bias. Much of the U.S. media is accustomed to accepting left-leaning framing of economic policies and arguments—and it's impacting coverage of the conservative civil war over economic principles.

A significant portion of the right—from legislators like Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) to Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson, traditionally right-leaning magazines like The American Conservative, and all sorts of rank-and-file Republicans—has started to sound very similar to the far left when it comes to private business and government regulation. "In the current environment, when you see somebody railing against how the system is rigged to benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of the working class, you have to double-check to see whether it's coming from somebody on the far left or the populist right," notes Philip Klein at National Review.

They're part of a "growing movement on the right challenging the longstanding commitment of conservatives to limited government and free enterprise"—one that presents "a potentially fatal threat to the conservative movement as it has existed for decades as well as to the cause of limited government," adds Klein. (For more on this, see Stephanie Slade's "Is There a Future for Fusionism?")

And an American press already biased against libertarian views of markets and economic liberty seems more than happy to indulge the narrative of this being a more enlightened, populist, or politically compromising form of conservatism.

Take, for instance, this recent article on antitrust law in Washington Monthly. Republicans who want to join Democrats in expanding antitrust law and using it to punish large or politically disfavored companies are framed as folks wanting "to combat the monopolist corporations that have gained a precarious level of market power as the American economy has become more concentrated than at any other time since the Gilded Age." Those who want to see antitrust law stick to its current strategy of using consumer welfare as a lodestar are framed as "pro-monopoly."

The article is partially a profile of The Alliance on Antitrust, founded by Ashley Baker. The group aims "to align conservatives on the narrow and limited view of antitrust that Robert Bork popularized in the 1970s, called the 'consumer welfare standard,'" notes Washington Monthly. This standard says consumer interests—not breaking up companies just for being big or inducing artificial competition just for the sake of competition—should be the primary concern of antitrust law enforcement. It is not a "pro-monopoly" argument but an argument against excessive government intervention in private industry and for a conception of antitrust enforcement that puts protecting consumers—not any particular economic ideology—first.

"Under the consumer welfare standard, which has anchored U.S. antitrust law for over four decades, consumer harm is measured through tangible economic effects and empirical evidence," notes Tom Herbert, federal affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform, in a recent opinion piece in The Hill. "Antitrust law under the consumer welfare standard allows business conduct that benefits Americans through lower prices, better quality products and greater access to goods and services."

Just a few years ago, the fact that Republicans would turn against such a standard in favor of a leftist vision of antitrust enforcement would be weird, to put it mildly. But antitrust law is now seen as another tool in fighting the culture war. "Large businesses [are] increasingly viewed as the enforcement arm of the cultural Left," notes Klein, and "the cancel culture and anti-PC debates have become more animating for a lot of conservatives than traditional social issues."

The funny/sad/terrifying thing about all of this is the notion that the right joining the left's pushes for more aggressive antitrust enforcement makes these fights "bipartisan." Both Republicans and Democrats may want to expand government control over internet companies and private business more generally, but they have drastically different ideas of what would happen when they do.

Sure, the Republican/conservative wing that advocates against free markets nods to making big corporations serve the people. And to Democrats/progressives—and media used to their framing—this means increasing taxes and regulations to make businesses cover things like Medicare for All, student loan forgiveness, "infrastructure" spending, and expanded health care benefits. But the Trumpists and others railing against "woke capitalism" and calling for less free markets aren't focused on these things at all; they're focused on making companies seen as too socially liberal pay for their perceived transgressions and side-taking in the culture wars. Their goal is enacting a socially conservative idea of the "common good" through economic sanctions against companies that won't play by their rules.

Neither the right nor the left will be happy when the other side has control of these regulations. But either way, businesses, consumers, and economic liberty will suffer.

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