A 15 minute speech from Tucker Carlson on his show has attracted a lot of attention from conservatives.  Like his recent book many of the arguments he is making from the right would have come from the left a few years ago.

These two considerations of Tucker’s speech are notable:

From The Health of Nations by JD Vance in National Review, Jan 7

Of course, the recognition that corporate interests might not always align with civil society’s interests comes from the patron saint of capitalism, Adam Smith. We simply must develop the intellectual ability to understand the way in which law and policy drive outcomes in our society besides creating bad incentives for poor people. Sometimes they create bad incentives for the rich. Sometimes they allow the incentives that already exist to run roughshod over our communities and families. The market, as Smith understood, is merely a tool — a powerful tool, yes. But if we care about the flourishing of our society, and if we value ends besides a larger GDP, then we have to do the difficult work of balancing the competing demands of our values. Instead, many of our intellectuals simply pretend there is no competition — that what is good for markets is good for the rest of our nation. This is a recipe for boring thinking and bad policy.

The Populism Debates by Yuval Levin in National Review,  Jan 7

I think that’s a critical point in thinking about the populism wars on the right. There is a tension in American life between goods that need to be kept in some balance, and we have often failed to find that balance lately. Conservatives generally favor market competition and a traditional social order for reasons that make some sense together. The uneasy conjoining of the two is not a new phenomenon, was not invented by the modern conservative movement in the 20th century, and isn’t just a marriage of political convenience. Markets sometimes offer ways to solve problems from the bottom up and to allow for an edifying diversity of solutions to coexist at once, and so can be allied to the logic underlying a commitment to civil society. The market also relies on a stable and orderly society made possible by sturdy families and strong social institutions. And freedom from unduly coercive authority is an essential prerequisite for making moral choices.

And yet, markets and a traditional moral order characterized by commitments to family, faith, community, and country can also be in very great tension with one another. The market values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family and community, and it rewards the lowest common cultural denominator in ways that can undermine traditional morality. It seeks the largest possible consumer base in ways often hostile to national boundaries and loyalties. Modern markets can also encourage consolidation in ways that are very far from friendly to civil society. Traditional values, meanwhile, discourage the spirit of competition and self-interested ambition essential for free markets to work, and their adherents sometimes seek to enforce codes of conduct that constrain individual freedom and refuse to conceive of men and women first and foremost as consumers.The things we value are therefore sometimes in tension with each other. When that tension arises, we have to prioritize, and that prioritization has to be guided by an idea of human flourishing that lets us roughly figure out in individual instances when and how far the demands of market competition need to be met and when and how far those of family, faith, community, or country need to be met. There is no perfect formula for doing this, obviously. But there are better and worse ways to do it, and our society has not been doing it well enough in this century, which has left a lot of ruin in a lot of people’s lives.


Within this debate there are two views of capitalism. One that it is a natural order that arises spontaneously in an environment of freedom and natural rights.  Government frustrates this natural order with regulation, social engineering and cronyism.  This is the attitude of hard libertarians and is also described in Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything.

The other view, the center argument of Jonah Goldberg’s The Suicide of the West,  still within the conservative realm, is that the requirements of capitalism do not come naturally and it requires a social order that subdues inherent flaws in humans.  These institutions that control our weaker impulses and makes capitalism function are threatened by a political order that in refusing to recognize and value them, undermines them.

Populism on the right has risen from the neglect of the values that uphold the market and lack of recognition of the market’s effect on our social values.

Populism on the left has risen from an unfulfilled promise of more democracy and then frustrating it with the administrative state, executive orders and judicial decrees.