Republicans have long declared their supposedly unwavering obedience to the large invisible hand of the market; as former GOP House leader Dick Armey liked to say, “Markets are smart; the government is stupid.
And yet, several recent moments have made this engagement seem situational. Whether discussing Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head, voting rights, or Twitter, Republicans seem uncomfortable – or just plain ignorant – of how the powerful market actually works.
It suffices to witness the artificial hysteria about the fabricated “cancellation” of Dr. Seuss, the beloved children’s author of books. Dr. Seuss Enterprises – the highly profitable company that controls the estate of the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, the man behind the pen name – has voluntarily decided to stop publishing half a dozen of his books because, said company to The Associated Press, they “portray people in a hurtful and wrong way,” unfolding stereotypes about blacks and Asians in ways that Seuss’ own estate deems offensive and inappropriate.
Fox’s indignation machine turned into a big dudgeon on how this private company decided to conduct its business, lamenting Seussian’s scalping; GOP Culture War ambulance hunters quickly followed suit. “First of all, they ban Dr Seuss” – beware, Theodore Geisel died in 1991 and it was his own estate that took this step – “and now they want to tell us what to say”, Parliamentary Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said in a false non sequitur while debating proposals for reform of the electoral law.
The GOP is trying to use the government’s heavy hand to choose who can be a consumer rather than responding to their will.
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Tweeted that the bogus Seuss-squelching – again, the company that owns the rights to its work chooses not to continue publishing a handful in the future – will cause history books to see this era as “an example of ‘a depraved socio-political purge led by hysteria and madness.
Someone is exhibiting hysteria and madness, but that’s not what Rubio suggests.
Let’s put some perspective here: Seuss Enterprises did $ 33 million last year, more than 650 million of his books have been sold worldwide and are available in over 100 countries. There is no significant movement – and certainly no Seuss Enterprises – to ban, to burn or otherwise cancel Dr. Seuss. A private company made a thoughtful business decision by removing a small fraction of the Seuss catalog (none of its Bestsellers).
Exactly why is this part of the business of the federal government? Certainly, Republicans, who believe the government should interfere as little as possible in private business decisions, do not think the market should cease to exercise its infallible will; Certainly if Seuss Enterprises gets it wrong and deals with political correctness that no one wants, market forces will correct it. (Of course, the right-wing cancellation choir didn’t hold their breath to make this happen; neither did you. Most people didn’t buy these particular books.)
Or take the story of Mr. Potato Head, the brand of children’s toys under which Mr. and Mrs. dolls. Potato Head have long been marketed by Hasbro. Last week Hasbro announcement that this whole world of toys will henceforth be marketed under the brand “Potato Head” – although the titular couple is still “Mr”. and “Madame”. – and the conservatives lost their collective spirit, including some on Capitol Hill, where some republicans weren’t going to let the facts get in the way of their feelings.
The growing right-wing disillusionment with free markets could be linked to the distancing of right-wing markets.
Glenn Beck assessed the true significance of the Seuss / Potato Head decisions in a typically flowery fashion: “Buy Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head because it’s the end of an era. ” he said wednesday. “It’s the end of freedom in America.”
But, again: if Hasbro thinks it makes more sense to sell a Mrs. Potato Head as part of a “Potato Head” brand, rather than a “Mr. Potato Head” – and it is – isn’t that a company that’s right? And if the company is wrong, the market will tell them, without any right-wing indignation machine trying to overturn their necessary decision.
So what is going on?
Maybe looking at voting rights can help refine the picture. In a Supreme Court hearing Tuesday on whether a restrictive Arizona law unconstitutionally discriminates against minorities, Republican National Committee lawyer Michael Carvin told the court that overturning the law – making it easier to vote – would put the GOP “at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the Democrats.”
It was a surprising admission, if not surprising. Republicans have lost the popular presidential vote in seven of the last eight elections – or to put it another way, they have lost political market share. But instead of adjusting their product (their candidates and policies) or the way they sell it (their message), the GOP increasingly relies on government interference to maintain power, including the distorted nature of the Electoral College and the United States Senate (which is also divided despite the fact that Democrats represent 41 million more voters), radical gerrymandering, and restrictive voting laws, like Arizona’s.
The Conservatives may not like the market forces businesses respond to, but in a free market that is not their calling.
But it’s not just anti-democratic (or anti-republican) to try to reduce the responsiveness of the system to the will of the people; it’s anti-market. The GOP is, in effect, trying to use the government’s heavy hand to choose who can be a consumer rather than responding to their will.
In other words, the growing right-wing disillusionment with free markets could be linked to the distancing of right-wing markets.
Companies are taking a more holistic view of the factors that drive their decisions. For example, the Business Roundtable – barely a stronghold of AOC stans and the Bernie brothers – announced in 2019 that a company’s objective goes beyond strict adherence to results and includes “all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders”.
The Conservatives may not like the market forces businesses respond to, but in a free market that is not their calling. But in a less free market, they think, it could be.
Which brings us to former President Donald Trump. Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, he reiterated his oft-stated claim that social media is part of a giant plot to censor and silence Tories. “Republicans, Conservatives must… repeal the liability protections in Section 230,” Trump told the crowd to prolonged cheers. (Section 230 actually protects internet companies from liability for legal action for what is posted by others on their platforms, not for what they remove; terminating it, ironically, would result in the removal of more. content, no less.)
“And if the federal government refuses to act,” he said, “then every state in the union where we have the votes, which is a lot of them, the big tech giants like Twitter, Google, and Facebook, should be punished with major penalties, every time they silence conservative voices.
Never mind that Facebook has a long time caterer To preservatives or that it wasn’t conservatism that got Trump a lifetime ban on Twitter, but seditious and insurrectionary lies. Trump called – and Tories applauded – for more regulation and prosecution of private companies based on their market-based business decisions, and for the limited-government party to unleash the power of federal governments and governments. States punish these companies for the way they choose to conduct their business.
In a free market where Twitter made bad business decisions, users would punish it by switching to Talk or Gab. Most, of course, did not; The idea that most users want more abuse, more violent rhetoric, or more conspiracy theories proliferating on their social platforms is absurd. The Conservatives therefore want to find a way for the government to force companies to provide it to us anyway.
In the end, the biggest victim of cancellation culture may well be conservative principles.