Conservatives tend to support the free market. But the free market doesn’t necessarily support conservatism. Companies have to make money, so business interests are opposing sanctions against Russia and treading lightly in other countries when it comes to promoting democracy and liberty. So says liberal columnist Harold Meyerson. He could have added that businesses are also finding it in their economic interests to support gay marriage, hedonism, and our decadent entertainment industry. Historically, the free market has been an engine of “progress,” undermining conservative values.
Consider Meyerson’s argument, after the jump. How could you answer him? Or does he have a point?
In an era of globalized commerce, big businesses will go where the money is, no questions — or as few as possible — asked. The problem that the corporate response to the Putin crisis illustrates, rather, is the inherent divergence between corporate and national interests in a globalized economy.
Such a divergence is old news to most Americans. When corporations send profits abroad to avoid taxes, when they abandon the industrial Midwest in search of cheap labor and Chinese government subsidies, it’s hard to make the case that their interests and those of the American people are aligned.
But the divergence between some of the most politically conservative corporate sectors — Big Oil, for instance — and the neocons who want the United States to take a harder line against Putin should serve as a wake-up call for American conservatives generally. In recent decades, as a kind of market fundamentalism has eclipsed other conservative tendencies, the impulse to defend the market against the state has become the default position of most conservative intellectuals, journalists and politicians. But the market can prove as indifferent to conservative values as it is to liberal ones, and as uncaring toward our nation’s interests as toward those of our adversaries.
Conservatives frequently square this circle by asserting that our nation’s interests and values should be those with which the market feels most comfortable. But the market is promiscuous in its affections. The U.S. corporate sector wants to do business with and in Putin’s Russia, no matter how deep its descent into neo-czarism. It wants to keep doing business in Leninist capitalist China and in the medieval oil kingdoms of the Middle East. And while U.S. corporations abroad often complain about the corruption of the nations in which they do business, I can’t call to mind a single instance of such corporations complaining, say, about the absence of democracy in China or the erosion of democracy in Russia.
The problem with worshiping the market is that the market itself is agnostic toward such values as democracy and liberty. Conservatives should want more from a deity than that.