Jonah Goldberg is not impressed with Patrick Deneen’s new book, Regime Change. Two slices from Goldberg’s review:
Grant this to Patrick Deneen, the author of Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future—he doesn’t repeat the progressive mistake. Instead, he proudly holds the yardstick up to the present and finds the past better in almost every regard. I don’t just mean the 1950s or the 1850s, arguable—yet contestable!—claims. Rather, he insists that, by the time of Lexington and Concord, the horse had already left the barn: things had gone catawampus for the West a century earlier.
As with his previous book Why Liberalism Failed, Deneen looks upon the great expanse of progress since the Enlightenment and shudders. His complaint isn’t merely that the West’s embrace of liberalism meant too many sacrifices in pursuit of progress; it’s that embracing progressas a concept—both moral and material progress—was a kind of original sin.
Deneen never adequately defines progress in Regime Change, but he is constantly throwing shade on the term. The left’s belief in moral progress gave us wokeness and other horribles. The right’s belief in material progress gave us everything from closed factories and climate change to anomie. As with his previous book, Deneen writes like a prosecutor, downplaying inconvenient facts and evidence in his brief—or leaving them out entirely—while pounding the table about damning circumstantial evidence and anecdotes.
Thus, looking back at some five centuries of rising life expectancy, exploding living standards, population growth, literacy, etc., Deneen could declare in Why Liberalism Failed: “Among the greatest challenges facing humanity is the ability to survive progress.”
Even poor Adam Smith is charged as a co-conspirator. His crime lay not so much in pointing out that the division of labor was essential for economic progress, but for saying that prosperity was worth pursuing at all. Smith acknowledged that the division of labor could “stunt the reflective capacities” of some workers who would increasingly specialize on specific stages of the means of production. But, Smith argued, the concomitant prosperity generated from such efficiency made it an acceptable trade-off. (Life expectancy in the U.K. when Smith was writing was about 39 years, and about a third to half of children didn’t survive childhood.) But for Deneen, growing material prosperity for all wasn’t worth it. Men, you see, lived much richer lives when they made more expensive pins from scratch by themselves in the isolation of their dimly lit workshops. (I do wonder why Deneen simultaneously laments the opening of factories in the 18th century and the closing of them in the 21st.)
We recently urged the Justices to take this appeal from a bad ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case concerns a provision in the 2017 tax reform that levied a one-time mandatory repatriation tax on foreign companies, as Congress scrambled to find revenue to pay for tax-rate cuts.
But the tax applied to American shareholders, even passive investors like Charles and Kathleen Moore of Washington state. They were hit by a surprise $14,729 tax bill, though they had never seen a dime of income from their investment in a friend’s company in rural India. They were taxed instead on the unrealized income of the foreign company.
And there’s the rub. The Moores sued for a refund, but a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that “realization of income is not a constitutional requirement.” This defies the traditional understanding in U.S. tax law, and in Supreme Court doctrine, that income must be realized before it can be taxed. That is, the income must be real income, not merely an increase in the value of an asset in market value or on some company’s books.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Secure the Border Act of 2023. Among other things, the bill would mandate that all employers use the E‑Verify program to prove that their new hires have federal authorization to work. A coalition of conservative advocacy organizations praised this provision because it would “turn off the ‘jobs magnet’ for illegal immigration.”
But is this good? Should the U.S. government really have the power to “turn off jobs”? The answer for people who believe in limited government is clearly no. The government in a free society should not have the power to decide who can work; free people shouldn’t have to request permission to work; and the founders of this country could not possibly have imagined a scenario where the federal government held a kill switch for everyone’s right to earn a living.