A while back I wrote this post about George Will’s willful self-confusion (a notch more intentional than self-delusion, I think) on questions of markets. In his column, he argued that progressives “crave social stasis…[while] conservatives…welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism.” I complained that his unalloyed appreciation for market dynamism left no room for human moral purposes. Sometimes markets “creatively destroy” public health, decent community life, and human dignity. These things create new demand, but there is nothing sacred about every outcome that unregulated markets churn forth.
Why bring this up again? While researching other things, I stumbled upon a 1980 column of Will’s that acknowledges the very critique I’ve been making [emphasis added]:
The Republican platform stresses two themes that are not as harmonious as Republicans suppose. One is cultural conservatism. The other is capitalist dynamism. The latter dissolves the former. Karl Marx, who had a Reaganesque respect for capitalism’s transforming power, got one thing right: Capitalism undermines traditional social structures and values; it is a relentless engine of change, a revolutionary inflamer of appetites, enlarger of expectations, diminisher of patience.
The upshot: markets can threaten the ethical core of communities. That’s not a value claim—it’s an empirical fact. Progressives and conservatives each object at times to the ways that our economic life is undercutting parts of our cultural convictions. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is when folks like Will start claiming that one party (or ideological movement) is the unambiguously pro-dynamism or pro-markets crowd. In 1980, at least, he knew better.