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Time to get serious

The GOP should address the serious problems facing many Americans

Members and supporters of the of the United Mine Workers of America demonstrate outside BlackRock headquarters on Nov. 4, 2021, in New York. Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer

Time to get serious
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Over the last few weeks, headlines in the United States have been dominated by a string of cheery economic news: The inflation rate has plunged, unemployment remains historically low, and economists are tripping over one another to reduce their forecast chances of a recession. Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most highly regarded analysts on Wall Street, went so far as to put the odds of a U.S. recession in the next year at just 20 percent. In all this, America is riding high compared to Europe, where many countries are already in recession and inflation remains at 5.5 percent. Fantastic news, right? Well, not if you’re in the doomsday prophet business, or if you’re a conservative pundit.

For much of the past year and a half, conservative politicians and commentators have barely been able to conceal their glee at the coming economic train wreck. Not content with echoing economists’ own fears that a recession was looming, many went further, insisting that we were already in a recession and that the government and media were lying to us about it. Of course, it’s not hard to see why. Political strategists have long since learned that the best way to motivate voters in the short term is by pointing to their pocketbooks, if those pocketbooks are feeling a bit empty and “the other side” is in power. But it’s also a high-risk strategy, since it relies on a continued stream of negative news; once things look a bit rosier, voters will understandably ask whether you have any substantive reasons they should vote for you.

The receding odds of recession, then, should be a wake-up call to the right: It’s time to get serious. Merely pointing our fingers at the inflation gauge and then at the guy in the White House isn’t going to cut it. Indeed, such cheap shots are a distraction from the much deeper economic problems facing many Americans right now, problems that conservatives can and should be committing to address. By many measures, the median U.S. worker hasn’t seen a real pay raise in five decades, while corporate profits have skyrocketed. Most families long since came to rely on both parents to earn income, eating away at the foundations of family life. And workers in most industries find themselves with less and less bargaining power to stand up to their bosses, even as much of corporate America crams mandatory DEI training and transgender pronouns down their throats.

Republicans, despite promising to “make America great again,” have seemed painfully shy of committing to any specifics.

The difficulty, of course, is that it’s not so easy to just blame “the other side” for these trends, many of which have steadily advanced under both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades. It’s also not easy for many on the right to admit that markets are about more than merely making money: They must be ordered to substantive goods. After all, we could beat inflation in a jiffy by repealing child labor laws and getting kids on factory floors at $5 an hour, but most of us have no interest in living in such a society. We could also significantly boost GDP by pushing every mother into the workforce and herding every child into large state-run day-cares, Scandinavian-style. But that is not a world any conservative should want to promote.

If many Americans are worried, insecure, and economically downtrodden, we cannot just “blame Biden.” We have to recognize this as the result of decades in which both our philosophy and our politics favored a world in which human beings existed to serve markets, rather than markets existing to serve human beings. Most sensible Americans are fed up by such policies, but thus far, they’ve been unsure where to look for answers. Democrats, who once posed as the protectors of the working class, have long since transformed into snobbish elites mocking the “deplorables” for their guns and religion and admonishing frustrated workers to find fulfillment by joining the newest social justice crusade. Republicans, despite promising to “make America great again,” have seemed painfully shy of committing to any specifics, and could almost be heard breathing a sigh of relief when they were able to go back to the more comfortable business of throwing stones at a Democrat administration.

Solving the nation’s deeper economic problems will not be easy. It will require hashing out very important, and very difficult, debates over the pros and cons of free trade, over when we should worry more about corporate power or government power, over how to provide support for working families without just giving handouts. The answers will not always be clear. No wonder that many conservatives have preferred to distract themselves, and the voters, with diatribes about inflation. But, as that’s not likely to work anymore, it’s time to get to work providing real answers.

Brad Littlejohn

Brad Littlejohn (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a fellow in the Evangelicals and Civic Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He founded and served for ten years as president of The Davenant Institute, and has taught for several institutions, including Moody Bible Institute–Spokane, Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Patrick Henry College. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Landrum, S.C., with his wife, Rachel, and four children.

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