Dreams of Alexander Hamilton

One can always quibble with a conservative columnist, but the Good Brooks is out in force today:

When Hamilton was alive, big landowners stifled competition and economic dynamism. Hamilton created national capital markets to smash local oligarchies. When Lincoln was rising, vast distances retarded trade. The Whigs, and later Republicans, championed internal improvements to build national markets. Today, the global information economy makes it hard for people without human capital to prosper and participate.

There are potential Republican responses to this. But right now the message is: Proposals? We don’t need no stinkin’ proposals!

In a really boring structural way, I'd say that the problem here is caused by growing inequality. The Whig-Republican tradition has always been identified with the interests of the owners and managers of large business enterprises. During relatively egalitarian periods, however, the interests of the business elite and of the middle class don't objectively diverge all that much, so it's easy to devise a pro-business agenda that's still relevant to the concerns of a broad mass of people. When the elite pulls away, however, this becomes much harder to do. The Republicans, after all, do all have economic plans -- it's just that their plans all involve changes to the tax code whose benefits would overwhelmingly accrue to a tiny minority of the population.

Meanwhile, tax cut mania renders the brand of Hamiltonian governance that Brooks hankers for impossible by the simple fact that there's no money available. In principle, something like the Shellenberger/Nordhaus view of climate change would be a good initiative for a Hamiltonian political party. But it would cost a ton of money. So a party whose DNA is now 40 percent Muslim-killing and 45 percent tax-cutting just can't do it.