When most American think about Denmark, what comes to mind is blonde-haired children in traditional dress. Maybe it will be the image of Viking invaders, rushing off their long boats. The more worldly sorts will know it is one of the happiest countries on earth, according to regular surveys. It is also one of the safest, with a high standard of living and high quality of life. Those who have visited the country come away with a highly positive view of Danish society.
It turns out that Denmark is a blighted hellscape, a land full of tax slaves aching to be free of the welfare state. According to someone calling himself David Harsanyi at National Review, Denmark is exactly what you’ll get if Bernie Sanders gets his way. “In Bernie’s beloved Denmark, 24.5 percent of tax revenue as a percent of GDP came from personal income taxes and social-security contributions, compared with only 16 percent in the United States.” What monsters!
Further, “Denmark’s corporate tax rate is 22 percent, compared with a combined state and federal American corporate tax stands at 25.9 percent.” As we all know, the bedrock measure of societal happiness is the corporate tax rate. The only thing close on the human rights scale is how a people treat carried interest. Everyone knows that you judge a society by how well it treats its most vulnerable and massive global corporations are the most vulnerable in every society.
All joking aside, that short post by David Harsanyi is everything that has gone wrong with conservatism over the last many decades. He is, to quote Ben Shapiro of all people, acting on his middle-man mentality. The middle-man is not concerned with either side of the transaction. His interest lies only in the efficiency of the transaction, as that is where he extracts his profit. The middle-man is the tollbooth operator, who gets paid on commission, based on the number of cars that pass his booth.
From the perspective of the middle-man, the state is always a competitor, as it makes the transaction less efficient. Sometimes it is through regulation, intended to curb certain undesirable activity. In other cases, the state seeks to displace the middle-man, in order to collect taxes. This is why the middle-man not only opposes state involvement in economic activity, but does so on the grounds of efficiency. The raison d’être of the middle-man is to increase efficiency in order to increase his profit.
Citizens are not driven by efficiency. They have an interest, often a moral interest or a societal interest, in at least one side of the transaction. The citizen opposes drug dealing, for example, because it increases drug taking and makes popular the exploitation of citizens. It is not about halting drug dealing or drug taking, but about stigmatizing both activities. No one wants to live in a land where self-abuse and lethal exploitation is tolerated, much less celebrated.
This is why Denmark has the sorts of regulation on commerce that American conservatives find so abhorrent. The Danes wish to remain Danish, which means discouraging that which they don’t like and encouraging what they like. The Danes don’t think it very Danish to have a small number of people with massive wealth, while a large number live in squalor. The typical Dane looks at an American city, for example, and thinks Americans are monsters for tolerating it.
Therein lies the problem with American conservatism. Over the last many decades, conservatism moved from a discussion about “who we are what do we want to be” to debates about how to maximize efficiency in order to profit the middle-man. What passes for conservatism is just the self-interest of the middle-man, who has no social connections or moral duty to the whole of society. As far as David Harsanyi is concerned, the only thing that matters about Denmark is its tax rates.
A middle-man conservative like Harsanyi does not think about whether it is good for America that corporations now control so much of society. He’s indifferent to the abuses of the tech giants. Why should he care? The middle-man conservative is uninterested in the parties of any transaction. Just as the middle-man only cares about getting the deal done in order to extract his profit, the middle-man conservative just wants the deal open so the middle-men can do their thing and make it happen.
The irony of modern conservatism is that it has actually arrived at the exact opposite of what has always defined conservatism. For the conservative, society is defined by its people, their history and their customs. It is that identity as a people, around which all things must be organized, including economics. Modern conservatism is the complete rejection of that. The middle-man conservative rejects the very notion of identity in terms of society. There are only temporary parties to a transaction.
That’s what makes conservative opposition to Sanders so ridiculous. The Right used to oppose Sanders-style Utopian socialism on the grounds that it was bad for us, as in all of us in the society. Today, the so-called conservatives oppose it because it is bad for them and their paymasters. The rest of us are on our own. They oppose populism for the same reason. For middle-man conservatism, the interest of the people inevitably becomes an adversary, because it is bad for business.
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