Conservatives on both sides of Tucker Carlson’s broadside against America’s elite last week should be grateful he launched it. In the wake of President Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 and Republicans’ loss of the House of Representatives in 2018, a debate about where the Right ought to go from here is the one we all need to be having. 

Carlson’s must-see monologue may aim wide in a few particulars, but it seems to me directionally correct. He is right that both parties in Washington rely too much on aggregate economic statistics to measure their success. Government — including economic policy — does not exist simply to grow the economy, but to facilitate “the happiness of the people.” Obviously I see economic freedom and prosperity as vital components to social health and happiness, but they’re not the whole story.

Carlson is also right that there is an opportunity gap between America’s elite and everyone else; that those elites have the power to improve this situation; and that they choose not to do so, for reasons ranging from obliviousness to selfishness. I have made many of the same arguments over the years.

On the other hand, many of Carlson’s conservative and libertarian critics score some points, too. First, they caution Carlson against a populism that infantilizes the poor and working class and excuses them from moral agency and responsibility for their decisions. And second, they rise to defend market capitalism from a false politics of demagogic grievance. Market capitalism is not “a religion,” as Carlson said, but it is still the greatest engine of prosperity and opportunity ever devised by man, and conservatives should not abandon it simply because more of the economy’s recent losers happen now to be Republican voters.

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