Arnold Kling  

Bootleggers, Baptists, and Minorities

Must-Read from Michael Lewis... Your Defined Benefits = My Obl...

The new issue of Cato Unbound promises to be interesting. It starts with an essay by Roderick Long.

because corporate power and the free market are actually antithetical; genuine competition is big business's worst nightmare. But also, in all too many cases, yes --because although liberty and plutocracy cannot coexist, simultaneous advocacy of both is all too possible.

What he seems to want is a successful political party that is true to an ideology that opposes crony capitalism. It is not going to happen.

Crony capitalism comes to us in the form of bootleggers and baptists. (The original Bootleggers and Baptists model comes from Bruce Yandle, as Wikipedia explains.)

Anyone who claims to oppose crony capitalism is a baptist. A crony capitalist is a bootlegger. The problem for Republicans is that if they make friends with bootleggers, then they get accused by Democrats of being crony capitalists. On the other hand, when Democrats make friends with bootleggers, including Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Goldman Sachs, George Soros, and Warren Buffett, they are immune from charges of crony capitalism.

So, the Democrats get most of the baptists--the people who say they want to rein in corporate power--as well as plenty of bootleggers. On top of that, they have the minorities.

On the Republican side, the baptists are the libertarians, who are sympathetic with Long. The problem is that the baptists want to drive the bootleggers out of the Republican Party, which would leave the Democrats as the only party that can collect campaign contributions from the bootleggers. Moreover, the libertarian baptists are culturally misaligned with actual Baptists.

Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, shows how the Democratic coalition works. All of the major bootleggers that provide funding that is critical for achieving elected office--real estate developers, teachers' unions, and so on--contribute to the Democratic Party. The baptists on the left are reliably Democratic. Minorities are reliably Democratic. The result is a one-party system that puts the former Eastern Europe to shame.

I could see the same phenomenon taking shape at the national level. The Republican base is shrinking demographically. The incompatibility between libertarians and religious conservatives is harder to reconcile than the divergence among interest groups that make up the Democratic Party. And developments in recent months have weakened the private sector, with American business executives standing outside the Capitol like a bunch of homeless people wearing signs begging for handouts.

I can envision a scenario in which the Democratic coalition is never defeated in an election. The government may collapse financially. Or libertarians may find a way out--secession, emigration, or what have you. But the Republicans Party might not rise again.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (8 to date)
libfree writes:

I could see that situation, but I really doubt it. Republicans are paying for not doing the things they said they would do. When people have faith that they will eliminate fraud, abuse, waste, and bring us back to a more reasonable level of government; they will start winning again. GM may be building more reliable cars now, but no one really believes it yet.

Radical Capitalist writes:

Possible but unlikely - latest Rasmussen shows we are still a center of right nation - the message is still valid but the messengers have failed us. I'm convinced conservatism can prevail. I'm not positive it will, mind you.

mjh writes:

This is the most depressing thing I've read in a while. I don't know why it should be. I guess I just keep holding out hope that democracy could, maybe, kinda, sorta ... work. I'm losing that hope.

NB: I would equally lose that hope if it were the republicans about to create an unbeatable coalition.

floccina writes:

My idea is that the republican party needs to go away and then the democratic party will split. Many minorities are quite liberal (libertarian in todays language) but will not vote republican (politics is not about policy). A split might for a while make politics about policy until people identify fully with their new party.

Randy writes:

It depends on the currently young voters. Right now they are all gung-ho for "change". Personally, I don't think they are old enough to know what they are changing from, or what the change to a more "Progressive" America will really mean to them. For example, they all want to save entitlement programs. Are they even aware that this will have to be done at their expense? My guess is that they will soon be as disillusioned as I am. Not sure what will happen when that occurs. The result could just as easily be the overthrow of progressivism, or a totalitarian reactionary progressivism.

b-psycho writes:
What he seems to want is a successful political party that is true to an ideology that opposes crony capitalism. haven't read much of Long's work, have you?

AMcguinn writes:

The key truth is that government does not, ultimately, exist to serve the people. To a degree, we have domesticated it to that purpose, which is a great thing, but underneath is still the wild animal. The essence of government is that the strong enslave the weak.

Will writes:

I don't think that the Republican Party will never rise again. If Ray Fair is right, and the state of the economy is the most important determinant of reelection, I think we would see cycles. Eventually, things will go south while Democrats are in power, and the voters will elect the Republicans again to see if they can do better. I also think that the social conservative base will begin to fade into the background soon, and that the party as a whole will move towards the center. That will help them come back in the future.

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