Pinkerton: The Emergence of Hawleynomics

Perhaps this headline speaks to you: “Americans are ready for a comeback. Congress must help unleash it.” This header is from an op-ed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), appearing in the Washington Post on April 8. 

As Hawley puts it:

America is experiencing a moment of crisis, but it need not be a period of decline. From our great cities to our rural towns, Americans everywhere are making enormous sacrifices for the sake of their fellow citizens. It is clear from these selfless acts—nurses and physicians working long into the night; delivery workers bringing essential goods to their neighbors’ doors; church groups assembling care packages for the ill—that Americans’ love of country is undimmed and American courage is unshaken.

We can pause to observe that this is the sort of Can Do rhetoric that Americans are yearning to hear. And yet in addition to visionary goal-setting, Hawley added a specific action plan:

Here is what I propose: Because the government has taken the step of closing the economy to protect public health, Congress should in turn protect every single job in this country for the duration of this crisis. And Congress should help our businesses rehire every worker who has already lost a job because of the coronavirus.

At a time when unemployment is already in double digits, and is thought by the Federal Reserve to be at risk of rising to as high as 32 percent, this is exactly the tonic we need. Hawley continues:

Beginning immediately, the federal government should cover 80 percent of wages for workers at any U.S. business, up to the national median wage, until this emergency is over. Further, it should offer businesses a bonus for rehiring workers laid off over the past month. The goal must be to get unemployment down—now—to secure American workers and their families, and to help businesses get ready to restart as soon as possible.

In other words, Hawley has a worker-first plan. That is, he wants to get money directly to workers, as opposed to bureaucracies or corporations. (His plan was first announced on his official website on April 3.)

Of course, there has been opposition to Hawley, especially from libertarians. For instance, on April 9, Freedom Works tweeted, “The Missouri Republican has repeatedly attempted to cast aside the @GOP’s commitment to limit government.”  

In response, Samuel Hammond of the Niskanen Institute tweeted, “Mass unemployment and job destruction aren’t conservative values.” In fact, as a conservative, Hawley wants to conserve the economy so that it can work for people—and so, too, save our country. 

Today, America is in a kind of deep economic hibernation, and it’s at risk of sleeping even deeper; a new analysis by University of Chicago economists finds that 40 percent of firms hiring hourly workers have closed since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. How long can this economic deep-freeze last if our republic is to survive? 

A solid rebuke to ideologically-based do-too-little-ism came on April 10 in the form of an editorial from the Reaganite conservatives at the Washington Examiner. In a piece headlined, “No, it isn’t hypocritical for small government conservatives to back coronavirus relief,” the Examiner explained, “This current crisis is not economic in nature—it is more akin to a defensive war or humanitarian disaster.”  

The Examiner has it right: This virus crisis is a severe test of the nation, and as such, it requires a strong national response. 

In fact, the Examiner went further, drawing a bright-line distinction between the needed economic intervention of 2020 and the dubious Wall Street bailouts of a decade ago. The current effort, the newspaper continued, “Is in no way morally comparable to what the government did in 2009, bailing out corporations whose irresponsible management and lending decisions created a national crisis.” 

Moreover, the Examiner recalled, “The Bush and Obama administrations conspired malevolently to socialize the losses of some of the nation’s biggest and worst-run corporations.” 

Exactly. We need national activism right now, but we want to make sure we’re active on behalf of Main Street, not Wall Street. (Wall Street will do fine; it always does.) 

In that Washington Post op-ed, Hawley goes beyond addressing the immediate needs of the moment; he’s also thinking ahead, determined to stave off future crises stemming from our dangerous dependence on China:

We must also move decisively to secure our critical supply chains and bring production back to this country. The present crisis has revealed just how vital domestic production is to our national life. And yet, for decades, an alliance of big government and big business conspired to outsource the manufacturing of our most crucial supplies and equipment to China and other overseas sites.

In his concern about China, Hawley is joined by other smart lawmakers, such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), who last month jointly proposed the same repatriation idea for our wayward pharmaceutical industry. 

We might also add that Hawley, Cotton, Gallagher, and other anti-globalists, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), have the wind at their back, public-opinion-wise. A new Harris Poll, first reported in the Washington Post, finds that 77 percent of Americans blame China for the coronavirus. Indeed, 71 percent say American companies should pull back manufacturing from China, and 69 percent support President Trump’s tougher trade policies with China. In the words of Harris Poll chief Mark Penn:

It’s as much of a consensus issue as you can get in today’s divided world. Overall, there’s very little trust for anything that the Chinese government says or does, especially its premier.  Xi Jinping has less than half the credibility of President Trump in this poll.

Indeed, as the Post reporter, Josh Rogin, noted, concern about China is so broad that it has brought in Democrats, such as Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Of course, some on the right might blanch at the prospect of working with these and other Democrats, and yet they should know that it’s only from bipartisanship that we can hope to achieve a sturdy coalition in favor of de-coupling from China.   

Indeed, this author, a veteran of the Reagan White House, recalls that the 40th president excelled at making deals with the opposition party, even as he stayed true to his own core convictions—and in fact, all of our great presidents have had that skill.  

And oh yes, Hawley had one more thing to say in that op-ed, addressing the danger that private equity firms—such as Bain Capital, the outfit that made Mitt Romney rich—will use this crisis as an opportunity to scoop up small- and medium-sized businesses at bargain-basement prices:  

Finally, in an effort to protect our small businesses from a feeding frenzy by bigger firms, Congress must crack down on crisis profiteering by Wall Street. Strong antitrust enforcement and stiffer corporate transparency rules will help to ensure that, when our economy gets moving, we don’t have a wave of mergers and liquidations that set our workers back yet again.

Once again, Hawley has it right: If Bain, BlackRock, Blackstone, and all the other private-equity sharpies get their way, they’ll end up owning even more of the economy. And yet as we should have learned by now, what’s good for Wall Street is not necessarily good for Main Street. Yes, the two “streets” can work together in harmony, but it takes a proper federal umpire to guarantee fair play.

So we can see: Hawley offers a comprehensive conservative vision of not only economic recovery, but also of economic renewal.  

To be sure, his is not the only constructive voice in this crisis; many, in fact, are rethinking the Clinton-Bush 43-Obama conventional wisdom that helped bring us to these dire straits.  

Indeed, Americans who have grown weary of globalism might wish to spend more time considering an emerging new center-right alternative to failure: Hawleynomics.

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