Economics

Joe Conason Prefers American Cheese to Vienna Sausages

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Joe Conason's columns are reliably stupid, but this week he's really outdone himself. Here's his reaction to the news that Tea Partiers have been reading Austrian economics:

It probably isn't necessary to point this out, but many "Austrian" economists were born right here in the U.S.A. (and some who weren't came here as immigrants); and needless to say, Americans did not invent the "native-grown concepts" of tariffs, research subsidies, deficit spending, the regulation of private infrastructure, or government schools. The fact that one set of ideas is called "Austrian" and the other "American" doesn't change the fact that both have international pedigrees.

The Austrian craze is particularly curious because it has displaced a school of economics that ought to be more appealing to the proud and patriotic, especially those who claim to be true to the views of the nation's founders. That would be the school known as "the American system"–which offers the added attraction of a real record of promoting national prosperity.

What is (or was) the American system? As articulated by thinkers from Alexander Hamilton to Henry Clay to Abraham Lincoln, it included protective tariffs to foster industry, national support for scientific research, federal spending (and debt!) to finance public works, regulation of private infrastructure (such as railroads) and universal education. That way of doing things persisted well into the past century, influencing policy in the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society. It preserved the nation's independence after the Revolution and built the United States into the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world.

But Austrian economics–which the Austrians themselves have wisely rejected, by the way, in favor of a more democratic and egalitarian style–had precisely nothing to do with that historic process.

So why would the Tea Party movement, so prone to bouts of jingoism and xenophobia, embrace an untried foreign ideology? Why would they ignore the traditional, native-grown concepts that bear the stamp of Hamilton and Lincoln?

The "American system" was an early step toward the modern corporate state, so naturally Conason wraps up the article by accusing the Austrians of advocating a "corporate oligarchy." Click through to the whole thing for more fun, including a passage that seems to suggest that Mises, Hayek, and Bastiat were anarcho-capitalists.