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As Long as We Remember...


December 19, 2018

The Temptation of Socialism

Ken Kellar

Ben Shapiro recently asked Fox News host Tucker Carlson what he would do about the job threat of autonomous trucks if he were president. Republican Carlson’s answer was surprising. How would you answer?

 

Are you a Republican? All it takes to be a Republican is to check a box “R” on a voter registration form and, voilà, you’re a Republican. Easy!

 

Are you a conservative? That’s a tougher question. It might even be tough to find two people who agree on a definition. I personally reject the standard dictionary definitions that all center on “fear of change.”

 

I reject those definitions because it is conservatives who eschew government regulation and promote free enterprise. Free enterprise has introduced more lasting change than all communist and socialist regimes combined. I’m excluding socialism’s and communism’s changes associated with murder, executions and starvation in which those political philosophies excel.

 

Mr. Shapiro presented Mr. Carlson with a very likely scenario. It is possible that autonomous vehicles including trucks could become a reality and threaten existing jobs? Mr. Shapiro stated there are about 10 million truckers in the United States and that trucking constitutes the major employment source for young, male, high school graduates.

 

Then Mr. Shapiro asked Mr. Carlson, if he were in charge of the government, would he do anything to prevent the autonomous trucks? Mr. Carlson answered: “In a minute!” He added he might be dishonest about it by citing safety, or some other excuse, but he would prevent autonomous trucks to save the 10 million trucking jobs.

 

Mr. Shapiro made a polite suggestion that that might be a bit of a Luddite response, but Mr. Carlson doubled down. The jobs must be saved!

 

What is your answer to Shapiro’s question? Before reading further, please decide and develop a basis for your position.

 

I presented my wife and my two older children Shapiro’s scenario. To my surprise and relief all three said something like the following, “Hmmm. The loss of trucking jobs would stink. However, we’ve always had inventions and advancements that take away jobs but advance society. The government probably should not intervene.”

 

What would have Tucker Carlson said when he heard about the invention of the plow? The wheel? The shovel? The bull dozer? And on and on and on.

 

In a free market, autonomous trucks will only prevail if they offer a business advantage such as reduced shipping costs or faster shipping. While driver job losses would be the most observable effect, the drop in commodity prices would likely follow. Every dollar saved on shipping would be free to be spent, or saved, or invested elsewhere.

 

Yes, advancing technology would cause the number of truck drivers to drop, just as the number of farmers has dropped, but I know of no one recommending a return to subsistence farming using pointy sticks to scratch the ground.

 

Mr. Carlson sits in a special category of conservative. My not-so-concise name for the group is Government-should-stay-out-of-our-business-except-for-issues-I-care-deeply-about.

 

To be fair, most of us spend time in that group. You are probably in that group if you are for nation building, welfare, protective tariffs and embargoes, bank regulation, and on and on. I recall Pat Buchanan calling for federal marshals to preemptively arrest the pastor that stated he would publicly burn a copy of the Quran, first amendment be damned, “this is important!”

 

The boundaries between what is and is not conservatism can be very vague and conservatives will often disagree. That’s because conservatism is not anarchy. The government does have valid roles. Unfortunately, every one of those roles can be improperly expanded and distorted.

 

As vague as the boundaries may be, I feel pretty confident, the idea that autonomous trucks should be banned by the government to save jobs is a view clearly outside the realm of ideas that are conservative.

 

So, how did you do? Did you instinctively/intuitively reject government action to ban the robot trucks? Did you initially support government action but, after careful thought, concluded it was inappropriate? Did you think banning was fine but, after reading further, changed your mind? Or do you think government banning autonomous trucks to save jobs is a proper government function?

 

I interact regularly with a small group of “conservative” friends where we discuss many topics. We aren’t shy about calling each other out when we drift into the realm of statism (handing much power to the state). I find it helpful to exercise my conservative muscles in these discussions. It’s easy to espouse high level principles generically. It can be very challenging to apply those principles to a real world situation.

 

In hindsight, Mr. Carlson met the dictionary definition of a conservative: someone who fears or opposes change. He would use big government to save jobs. That’s not the kind conservative I’d like to be.

 



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