The Thanksgiving guide to making conservative arguments liberals can understand
Timothy P. Carney
It’s okay. I can help you. I was born in Greenwich Village to a lawyer dad and community-organizer mom. I used to live on Capitol Hill, and now I live in Montgomery County in Maryland. I even served a year as an MSNBC contributor. This is all to say, I speak liberal.
You won’t win over your lefty in-laws with appeals to liberty. Those warnings about hubris that tickle your Edmund Burke nerve will ring hollow with Nephew Trevor, who is still infected with his 2008 case of Hope & Change. You need to speak their language.
So let me offer my conservative and libertarian readers the first annual Thanksgiving Guide to Making Conservative Arguments in Liberals’ Language.
Regulators will ban your organic kale.
Your liberal relatives generally trust government regulations to solve problems. They don’t sweat the costs to the economy as much as you do. Throw in a healthy distrust of Corporate America — often even an unhealthy disdain for it — and progressives (this is what they call themselves these days) end up regarding regulation as a force for good.
You can plant a seed of skepticism about regulators’ ability to do good, though, by pointing to the salad course Trevor brought. The organic, local, sustainable kale in it might be impossible to get after the Obama administration’s food safety rules go into effect.
The Food Safety Modernization Act that Obama signed is finally being implemented, and it has locavores up in arms. Quote Nathanael Johnson at Grist (your relatives know this site): “Everyone wants safer food, but some small farmers fear the rules could force them out of business.”
Proposed federal rules on manure-spreading and water-testing seem tailored for industrial farming, impossible for smaller farms to meet. As you discuss this, throw in references to author Michael Pollan.
At work here are two dynamics common to regulation: They’re called “regulatory capture” and “the overhead smash.”
Obama’s food safety czar is Michael Taylor, former top lobbyist for Monsanto. (You’ll be amazed at the power of the word “Monsanto” with some of your relatives.) Industrial farms and major food processors hire the best lobbyists and thus get a seat at the table when the FDA writes the rules. Thus, the biggest players in the regulated industry have “captured” the agency that regulates them.
“The overhead smash” is my phrase for the tendency of regulations to add to overhead — the fixed costs of doing business — which smashes smaller competitors while protecting the big guys. In the food safety realm, small farms are begging to be exempted from these rules that only big farms can afford.
In case your aunts think this is an aberration, point them to similar phenomena in the realms of handmade toys, taxi services, bakers, hair-braiders, casket-makers and so on. (All these links are prog-friendly.)