… is from page 297 of George Will’s 2019 volume, The Conservative Sensibility:
Before deploring the disruptive effects of new technologies, consider the fact that one of the best things that ever happened to African-Americans was the mechanization of agriculture that destroyed many of their jobs. Time was, in places like rural Mississippi, African-Americans lived in stable, traditional, organic communities of a sort often admired by intellectuals who praised them from far away. African-Americans led lives of poverty, disease, and oppression, experiencing the grim security of peonage. Then came machines that picked cotton more efficiently than stooped-over people could, so lots of African-Americans stood up, packed up, got on the Illinois Central, got off at Chicago’s Twelfth Street station, and went to the vibrant South Side where life was not a day at the beach but was better than rural Mississippi. Destruction of a “way of life” by “impersonal” economic forces can be a fine thing.
In any case, Americans have no alternative to embracing economic dynamism, with its frictions and casualties and uncertainties. Otherwise, they must live with the certainty of stagnation and of a zero-sum politics of distributional conflicts driven by government as the allocator of wealth and opportunity
DBx: People from the political left, such as Bruce Springsteen, and people from the political right, such as Oren Cass, receive much applause for the faux humanitarianism in their lamentations of how economic change destroys this or that particular set of jobs and “way of life.”
I call this humanitarianism “faux” because, while the likes of Springsteen and Cass might well be sincere in their good intentions, their intellectual laziness in failing to look at the big picture causes them to miss the suffering of countless other human beings who would be victimized by policies that succeed in protecting any particular jobs and “ways of life.”
No proponent of free trade and economic progress wishes to deny to anyone the right to continue to toil as he or she wishes, or to continue to live in whatever locale he or she chooses. But proponents of free trade and economic progress do wish to prevent anyone from forcing other people to subsidize their choices.
If Jones wishes to continue to live in, say, a midwestern factory town that, because of trade, has fewer factory jobs today than it had in 1990, let Jones continue to live there. But if Jones wants to continue to live in that town only if, by using tariffs to prevent his fellow Americans from satisfying their economic desires, his town’s ‘traditional’ economic vibrancy is artificially sustained, let Jones instead go to hell – for his willingness to use force to sustain his idea of heaven on earth is a willingness to use force to create for untold others hell on earth. Jones has no right to such favoritism, despite the beautiful ballads that minstrels sing about him and the tomes that economically uninformed intellectuals dedicate to him.