Two Cheers for Tranzis

by Reihan

For John O'Sullivan, the central political conflict going forward will be that pitting transnational progressives, or Tranzis, against nationalist conservatives.

To sum up, Tranzi-ism is an ideology that extends regulation over the full range of human activity while exempting the regulators from democratic control by transferring governance from national democratic parliaments to unaccountable bureaucracies in independent agencies, the courts, and supra-national bodies.

This informs his subtle and smart view of Obama as a post-national figure, outlined in a recent National Review. As of yet, nationalist conservatives have failed to unite against Tranzi-ism, which, in O'Sullivan's view, accounts for their weakness. I wonder if this gets it right, or if O'Sullivan is (mis)using a Euroskeptic lens to (mis)read the American political scene, and in particular the immigration question. To what extent can we disentangle anxiety over lawbreaking and disorder from a more systemic, ideological concern over American sovereignty? Because I share O'Sullivan's hostility towards juristocracy, I find a lot to appreciate in his analysis. But I worry, perhaps more than he does, about the divorce between the political right and the transnational business class. O'Sullivan writes:

The first task for a serious conservatism is to de-mystify the unaccountable bureaucracies that are not only our enemies but also the enemies of the nation-state, religion, small independent businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs, families and married people, and patriotic and self-reliant citizens.

Earlier on, he explicitly identifies "senior managers in multinational corporations," glorified corporate bureaucrats, with the transnational progressives. This reminded me of Corey Robin's "Endgame," in which he made a closely related observation. And it also reminded me of Shell's fascinating Global Scenarios, which my friend Matt Frost sent to me a few days back. I've always loved scenario planning, from Russia 2010 to Peter Schwartz to Andy Marshall. The Scenarios offer a window into the multinational worldview.

The first of these “possible futures” is called Low Trust Globalisation. This is a legalistic world where the emphasis is on security and efficiency, even if at the expense of social cohesion.

The second, Open Doors, is a pragmatic world that emphasises social cohesion and efficiency, with the market providing “built-in” solutions to the crises of security and trust. The third, called Flags, is a dogmatic world where security and community values are emphasised at the expense of efficiency.

I think we can tell which scenario the good people at Shell like least. Nationalist conservatives can be dismissive of the "cosmocrats," and say good riddance to them. The trouble is that many of the "small independent businesses" and "aspiring entrepreneurs" share in at least some aspects of the Tranzi worldview. Assuming an antagonistic relationship between the transnational class and the patriotic and self-reliant risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. In The Only Sustainable Edge, a terrific book with a terrible title, the authors argue that the offshoring and outsourcing are small parts of a much larger phenomenon they call "dynamic specialization." And "dynamic specialization," in turn, is aided by "productive friction," the process (roughly) by which firms learn from customers and competitors. At the risk of twisting the authors' terms beyond recognition, the most open economies will get smarter and richer faster because they will benefit from productive friction. This applies to the global market for talent.

So while I share many of O'Sullivan's reservations about the European Union, labor mobility is facilitating the creation of agglomerations of skill that will drive a great deal of growth. This doesn't mean that there isn't any room for immigration reforms that are sensitive to cultural anxieties and wage pressures, but it does mean that the Tranzis aren't always wrong. There is a way to reconcile these tendencies, but I'll save that for later.