President Obama, in a new two minute ad, describes his economic plan* with the sentence above. But calling it a “new” economic patriotism was unnecessary, as an old one never existed.
Patriotism is a love of one’s country. In America’s case, it is specifically the love of our unique culture that exalts individual freedom as a cause worth dying for, coupled with pride in our national experiment that proclaimed certain inalienable rights, declared all men equal, and reordered politics by stating government must be by, for, and of the people. To add a qualifying adjective to American patriotism is to so badly distort it that the phrase immediately becomes incoherent.
So why does Obama use the phrase?
Because the concept of “patriotism” resonates with people, and politicians prefer pleasant sounding slogans, even if they are forced to sacrifice accuracy. And to be fair, the man has made some progress in the last four years, as “economic patriotism”, for all its horrendous flaws, is still more specific than “hope” and “change”.
And Obama believes in the concept, which is the more upbeat cousin of his “you didn’t build that” comments. Both are calls for economic actors to more closely align themselves with the state’s interests. “You didn’t build that” used derision, whereas “economic patriotism” leverages love of country, but both are meant to imply that the federal government has a right to redirect economic activity and co-opt businesses’ profits.
What phrase would have been more accurate?
If Obama had wanted to put an emphasis on accuracy, he would have called for the much creepier sounding “economic nationalism”. Or if he wanted to be even scarier and had read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, he could have used that phrase.
Semantics aside, what’s really wrong with the concept?
Economic nationalism is wrong in a multitude of ways.
For starters, as someone who fashions himself as a globalist and grew up in Indonesia, Obama’s implicit denunciation of overseas investment is odd. God forbid dirty foreigners get any jobs, right?
Furthermore, the details of how we “eliminate tax breaks for companies that outsource American jobs” and “create tax incentives for businesses bringing jobs back home”, as the Obama “plan” states, are subject to the politically-driven whims of a legislative and executive branch who will be bombarded by special interests. What will the legal regime of “economic patriotism” look like? Can companies not have any overseas operations? What if opening a new production facility in Mexico near a specific resource enables a company to lower their widgets’ per unit cost, driving up demand and allowing for the opening of a newer high-end facility in California? I guess we’ll never get the chance to find out. Will Obama have an Economic Patriotism Board that grants case-by-case waivers? Overall economic efficiency and productivity will necessarily suffer as a result of the arbitrary dictates that follow.
Finally, capitalism, aka the free market, is morally good because it allows people to freely associate, interact, and trade with others, but not solely for that reason. Capitalism is also morally good because its structure forces people to be at the service of one another. If you wish to conduct business, you must align your product to the needs of the customer. A business often has equal interest in serving rich and middle class, or even poor, alike. However, when economic activity becomes nationalistic, that arrangement is partially severed. Suddenly businesses must focus on service to the state, looking to gain its favor. The other customer, the common man, is quickly forgotten. And that’s how we end up with the Chevy Volt, which cannot be produced at any price an individual consumer would be willing to pay.
“Economic patriotism” is just a version of crony-capitalism. Its purpose, like all Obama initiatives, is to consolidate power in the federal government. A nation cannot thrive or even survive under such a system. Rejecting it would be the patriotic thing to do.
*By the way, when President Obama claims that he has a plan to do such amazing things as “create 1 million new manufacturing jobs” and “taking a balanced approach to cutting the deficit by $4 trillion”, keep in mind that 1) he is currently the president, 2) therefore he has already had plenty of opportunity to offer up his magical plan, 3) he has, and 4) it’s been voted down 414-0 and 97-0.