Conserving the New Deal?

by | May 8, 2024

Conserving the New Deal?

by | May 8, 2024

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Jeffery Tyler Syck, assistant professor of political science at the University of Pikeville, is the latest conservative to urge the right to abandon—or at least modify—its commitment to free markets and constitutionally-limited government. In an article for The American Conservative, “Conserving the New Deal,” Syck calls on conservatives to recognize that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was not just “a conserving rather than a revolutionary project,” but was in fact the “third greatest constitutional development in the history of our nation.” Presumably the first two were the adoption of the Constitution and the aftermath of the Civil War.

Syck appears to embrace the “living constitution” school of jurisprudence. This school postulates that the U.S. government’s founding charter empowers politicians and other government officials to expand government in order to preserve what Syck calls the “principles that unify the American tradition.” Syck claims that the New Deal was a necessary and proper response, not just to the Great Depression, but to the “maintenance of material rights” that were threatened by economic royalists (i.e. successful businesses).

Syck thus embraces the idea that people have a right to favorable treatment from the businesses they work for and patronize, and that government must enforce those rights. This transforms the theory of natural rights from a tool to limit government power to one that expands the state’s control over the lives of its citizens. It also ignores the fact that private businesses do not have the ability to force anyone to do anything. If individuals dislike their jobs, they are free to find others. If they dislike a business’s products, they can take their money elsewhere. Furthermore, government interference in the marketplace often harms workers and consumers by raising the cost of doing business, thus shutting out smaller competitors and new startups.

Therefore, supposed anti-business regulations increase the power of big business by limiting the options available to consumers and workers. To his credit, Syck does fault the New Deal for leading to excessive centralization of power in Washington DC. He urges conservatives to “localize the concepts and institutions” of the New Deal. However, he cautions that care must be taken to protect local institutions from the “dangerous encroachment” of “big business.” Syck once again ignores the fact that private businesses cannot succeed unless they please consumers.

In contrast, even the smallest level of government can threaten people’s liberties, as anyone who has dealt with a local school board or zoning commission can verify. Syck’s call for conservatives to embrace a right wing version of the New Deal is not conservatism, but what I have labeled Khanservatism, after Federal Trade Commission head Lina Khan. Khan is a leader of the movement to use antitrust action to achieve progressive goals. Khan is particularly concerned about the influence of “Big Tech” companies like Amazon, Meta (parent company of Facebook and instagram), and Alphabet (parent company of Google and YouTube). In this she is joined by Republicans like Senators Josh Hawley, JD Vance, Lindsey Graham, and Representative Ken Buck.

These Republicans are angered by Big Tech’s censorship of conservative views and troubled by the rise of “woke capitalism.” They have called on the right to use antitrust laws to punish Big Tech and other woke businesses. Conservatives ignore the unintended consequences of giving government power over private institutions. Both progressives and Khanservatives presume to know what is in the best interest of the people, and thus believe they have the moral right to dictate to private businesses how to operate.

This type of hubris is to be expected from progressives. In fact, it may be the modern left’s defining character trait. However, it does not fit well with traditional American conservatism, a school of thought that incudes classical liberal thinkers like Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek, as well as traditional thinkers like Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet. What unites traditional conservatism with libertarians and classical liberals is an opposition to the use of force to reshape the economy and society. Instead, true conservatives want to protect the market and civil society from, in the words of John Fogerty, “five year plans and New Deals wrapped in golden chains.”

About Norman Singleton

Norman Singleton is currently a Senior Fellow at the Market Institute. Mr. Singleton worked for Congressman Ron Paul from 1997-2012. Mr. Singleton served as Legislative Aide on Education and Workforce issues for Congressman Paul from 1997-2001, when he became Congressman Paul’s Legislative Director, a position he held until Congressman Paul left Congress in 2013. Mr. Singleton also served as volunteer policy director for the Ron Paul 2012 Presidential Campaign. Prior to working for Ron Paul, Mr. Singleton worked for the National Right to Work Committee. Mr. Singleton graduated Cum Laude from Washington and Jefferson College with a degree in economics and is a 1991 graduate of the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is also a founding member of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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