At an event entitled “Regime Change and the Future of Liberalism,” held at The Catholic University of America last week, Senator J.D. Vance landed in hot water, left and right, for claiming “there is no meaningful distinction between the public and the private sector in the United States of America.” Of course, Vance is absolutely right.
It should go without saying that he was merely summarizing the current state of affairs and not necessarily offering insight into what he believes should be the model for public-private relations. The outrage at Vance’s statement is what is most noteworthy. Immediately, members of the libertarian business class took to criticizing Vance, going so far as to call him an “authoritarian.” Most shocking, however, was Stephanie Slade in Reason claiming that “corporations have rights.”
What is the “right” of a corporation? Do they have the right to damage the environment, pay for employees’ abortions, or pay their workers lower wages? Simply put, can companies do whatever they want in the name of the “free market”? When can the government regulate a corporation?
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These are all questions that the business class establishment will not or cannot answer. For them, the politics of progress and the financial incentive demands constant production and innovation at the expense of the dignity of laborers, all in the name of profit. Thus, Vance is right to claim there is no public-private distinction. How could there be? When all of the forces in the media and business sector are in collusion with the government to protect their own interests instead of the people of the United States and the common good, what is the conservative to do?
Pope Leo XIII, in his Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, wrote that “The world has heard enough of the so-called ‘rights of man.’ Let it hear something of the rights of God.” In our context, the “rights of man” should be understood as those that premise the existence of society on the contract between individuals, and by extension the freedom of these individuals and corporations to act in a free, unhindered market.
But much like Pope Leo pointed out, the world has heard enough of this. We have heard enough of “supply-side economics,” that the wealth will “trickle down,” or that regulating corporations that seek to destroy the common good and the American family is “authoritarian.” As corporations and the government ship our jobs overseas, refuse to justly pay their employees, and promote an incessant liberal ideology, the American people have had enough. They have the right to respond.
There truly is no public or private distinction. Any reference to one without the other is merely conceptual. This is not to say that markets cannot be free or that the state should control our banking system, but rather, that these are prudential considerations, not ends that are good or bad in and of themselves. Economic structures are legitimate insofar as they promote the common good and support the flourishing of man and the family. What happens in public clearly affects the public, but the same is true for the private. The actions of corporations touch the deepest corners of our lives, all the way from our financial security to our appetites. How can such a reality be considered “private”?
Life begins and ends in the political community. There is nothing outside of it. Every private action, whether it be by individuals or multinational corporations, shapes public life. The interests of the libertarian business class would have us believe that the “invisible hand” and free, consenting individuals should be able to do their labor and work as they please. However, this hand of the market is not so invisible. Corporations and the government have an agenda and are using their power to secure it. For them, there is no distinction between public and private either.
As families struggle to provide, the answer cannot be “uproot your life and follow the job market.” Moreover, when libertarians claim that their economic agenda is deeply rooted in the founding or that conservatives need to relearn “America 101,” ignore them. “America 101” is just another euphemism for unbridled corporatism. In reality, they do not care about you, your family, your nation, or the common good.
Conservatives must be willing to capitalize (pun intended) on their political power. Nor can the Republican Party be of business interests. This does not mean that the state can or should intrude into every area of life but, rather, only when it is prudential and necessary for the common good. Pew Research polls show that Republican support for banks and corporations is dramatically dropping. Again, this is not a wholesale condemnation of the free market but a prudential recognition that corporations must be regulated and broken up to protect the interests of the American people.
The Republican party would be wise, both morally and electorally, to follow in the footsteps of Senator Vance—and Senator Hawley, who has been instrumental in the conservative labor movement as well. This is especially true as only two Republicans, including Vance, voted to advance his Railway Safety Act. All votes against the bill came from Republicans. That is a failure of duty to the American people and taking advantage of policy that is overwhelmingly supported by them.
Lastly, it is important to address what Pope Leo meant by the “rights of God.” Rights, traditionally understood, had complementary obligations. Thus, what of God’s right to demand our obligation to conform to His will and for our leaders to rule for the common good? What of the people’s right, or, better put, their expectation of the common good and the obligation of the state to protect them from predatory corporations? If we cannot manage this, then maybe we deserve no rights at all.
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]