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Nationalist Conservatism’s (Un)Surprising Utopianism

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


William McGurn takes to task nationalist-conservative wunderkind Oren Cass (“And Now a Word for Laissez-Faire,” March 10). He rightly agrees with Mr. Cass’s insistence that the good life involves much more than maximizing material possessions. (Question for Mr. Cass: Who not stuffed with straw denies this fact?)

But Mr. McGurn also rightly criticizes Mr. Cass’s “unbounded confidence that, whatever the undesirable market outcome identified, all that’s needed is to gather the best and the brightest, give them the power to flip the right switches, and—voilà!—the perfect solution, with no opportunity costs, no unfairness, no unintended consequences.”

Such utopianism – at first seemingly so odd coming from a conservative – is the unsurprising result of Mr. Cass’s unfamiliarity with economics, including with the economics of public choice, and his distorted understanding of economic history.

In his new book, The American Dream Is Not Dead, American Enterprise Institute economist Michael Strain nicely summarizes the essence and danger of this brand of populism – which is now virulent on both the political left and right:

“Both the populist left and right are turning inward – anxious about the future, closed to the world, attempting to return to an imagined past, intoxicated with nostalgia or with the concept of an unattainable utopian future. Both are retreating from the importance of personal responsibility [and] embracing a narrative of victimhood….”*

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* The American Dream Is Not Dead (But Populism Could Kill It) (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2020), page 104.