Casey Mulligan notes that Canada has been reducing government spending as a percentage of GDP, nearly reaching parity with the U.S. The U.S last accomplished such a feat under Clinton. Come back, Bill! I see no evidence for Scott Sumner’s contention that the U.S is headed for less statism over the next decade, though it might be a bit more accurate to say the world as a whole is entering a “golden age of libertarianism”.
Sumner is clearly an optimistic or “comic libertarian” a la Julian Simon, and even describes himself as a “right-wing liberal”. He takes a particular delight in pointing out economic freedom and well-being in “liberal” polities elsewhere in the world. Elsewhere Paul Gottfried reviews a book on past right-wing anti-materialists (many of whom might fit the label “proto-fascist”) and asks whether modern American “conservatives” would recognize them as fellow-rightists. Can we recognize them as rightists if not fellows? I agree with Gottfried’s contention that the “fusion” of tragic anti-materialist traditionalist conservatives and more comic boosters of capitalism is entirely contingent on historical circumstances and could easily have been otherwise. I made note of a similar phenomena regarding paleo proponents of isolationism (which Steve Walt offers as the only policy fit for the wimps he sees around him, while explicitly rejecting it himself) and realists here. Some paleoconservatives would even be less sympatico with paleolibertarians than with realist Mearsheimer regarding trade with China (they for domestic reasons, he for geostrategic ones). I’d also like to note Gottfried’s favoring of the American small-town Protestant bourgeois ideal over the throne-and-altar conservatism of European nobles. I similarly identify with those dissenting Protestants and find the Cavaliers rather repulsive.
For all his mocking of “comic” or “cosmo” libertarians, Richard Spencer is not particularly receptive to the paleo argument against materialism/consumerism. Andrew Bacevich seems to have taken the lead on that question, with Daniel Larison and others at Front Porch Republic carrying the torch. Bacevich didn’t put up much of an argument when Scott Horton used his admittedly meager knowledge of Austrian economics to argue against the efficiency of invading Iraq for oil, and one of Bacevich’s defenders admits that particular event doesn’t fit the example even if others do. To me the best argument for preaching satisfaction with one’s lot over seeking acquisitions is the hedonic treadmill. However, it is still the case that happiness seems to increase monotonically with wealth and wealthier countries are happier. I stick with Lucas. Once you start thinking about accelerating growth, it is hard to think about anything else, and critics most likely fail to comprehend it.
Criticism of consumerism is more often associated with liberals. Robert Frank and Geoffrey Miller are two recent examples. Both of them believe that we consume in order to show we are wealthier and higher-status than others. The way Robin Hanson sees it, their arguments serve to make the signals they have comparative advantage in indicate higher status. Although old money really is more conservative, this seems reminiscent of the aristocratic complaint about the “vulgarity” and materialism of new money. The “aesthetic argument”, like much of aesthetics, strikes me as more about signaling things about yourself than actual enjoyment. Fred Siegel at Telos gives an interesting account of that perspective in Taking Communism away From the Communists: The Origins of Modern American Liberalism. The best quote there is from Vernon Parrington who said “Rid society of the dictatorship of the middle class and the artist and the scientist will erect in America a civilization that may become, what civilization was in earlier days, a thing to be respected.” This is the view that holds suburban living and big box chain stores (especially Wal-Mart) in contempt. The Progressives of that era remind me of Mencius Moldbug (despite his championing of the dictatorship of the profit-maximizing joint-stock corporation) who is quite open about his charge that America has “gone to seed” resting on an aesthetic judgment about strip malls and the like, and even has a poem griping about standardization. Personally, I find the philistinism of Nick Gillespie’s Reason one of its better points.