Conservatism, Inc.

Redefining Conservatism in the Internet Age

Tucker Carlson has set the stage for a robust debate on the need for conservatism to evolve

Tucker Carlson set off a firestorm recently with commentary that suggested the long-held tenets or assumption of conservative philosophy need to be reevaluated and reexamined in the 21st century of the tech giants.

Carlson has done conservatism an enormous service by raising some substantive issues that conservatives in particular and the Republican Party in general have studiously avoided and that must be discussed if the Party and

conservatism as a social and political philosophy is to have any relevance in the era of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Carlson is correct when he suggests some of the inviolable principles of conservatism are no longer meaningful in an age when there is a growing disparity in wealth and a small number of corporations exert a disproportionate impact on our daily lives. Carlson raises the important question of what are the necessary cultural conditions necessary for liberty to thrive in the new economy.

Another implicit issue raised is, what obligation does government have to those who have been cast aside by the “free” trade agreements that have hollowed out huge swaths of middle America, leaving chronic unemployment, despair and an opioid epidemic in its wake. Call it the “Hillbilly elegy” crisis that has been assiduously avoided by the Republican Party and most conservatives who feel those cast aside need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, Horatio Alger style.

Carlson previously had asked a question on his show that is provocative and pertinent, namely, what has Amazon done for you lately? Does its unbridled and explosive growth pose any problems for the well-being of the nation?

If the conservative movement is to aspire to relevance it is going to need to abandon some of its cherished principles that may have made sense in the Ronald Regan era, but for the 21st century may be outdated and anachronistic.

Do the tech giants pose a threat?

The revolutionary changes in technology have occurred in a pace unprecedented in human history. This has had a profound impact on society, the status of the individual and the meaning of exactly what constitutes a monopoly in the age of Facebook and Google. The antitrust laws are clearly not equal to the task at hand in taming the undue influence exerted by the tech giants. The necessary elements sufficient to prevail on an anti-trust action have principally always focused on price and competition, namely whether a consumer is not harmed by corporate consolidation because pricing for the product is still competitive or the consumer still has purchasing choices.

Here is some food for thought in terms of topics that have serious ramifications for individuals in the 21st century but have never been discussed or addressed by conservatives:

We have witnessed one of the greatest consumer abuses in American corporate history. The tech giants, most notably Facebook, have committed grand larceny of individual consumers’ private and personal data on a massive scale and have profited enormously by selling this information, without the users knowledge or consent. Even if one doesn’t have a Facebook account, the company still tracks which web sites that individual visits. The tech giants have operated in a regulatory-free, laissez-faire environment for the past ten years and have profited enormously throughout their data harvesting techniques and unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Conservatism needs to evolve to remain relevant

I haven’t heard one peep from any conservative commentator or politician of stature on this important subject. Has any Republican raised the following question: Who gave Facebook the right to track consumers web history and why were Facebook and Google permitted to abuse consumers private information without even the most minimal of disclosure? Any other S&P 500 corporation that engaged in similar conduct in their relationship with consumers/customers (identical terms for Facebook) would be the subject of class action suits as well as regulatory scrutiny.

The reason there has not been an outcry from most conservatives is that they mistakenly have approached the tech giant problem from the perspective of free competition. Some conservatives, like the National Review’s David French, argue that government should adopt a hands-off approach for the tech giants, as any intervention or regulation would stunt the tech companies growth and unique standing as world-wide innovators.

Given the deceitful and fraudulent nature of the business techniques employed by the tech group, both of the arguments for a hands-off policy noted above, are shopworn, specious and anachronistic.

The problems and pitfalls that await conservatism is that many of the important issues of the 21st century concerning the individual and his relationship to government, the proper size and scope of government and how a “free” market should be structured and regulated in the Internet age are all viewed from the lens of the Regan revolution of the previous century. Is it time to revisit the relevance for today of some of the economic and philosophical principles that have remain unchallenged by Republicans since the 1980’s? Should these same unwavering strictures form the basis of a vibrant conservatism for the new millennium?

For conservatives, a meaningful discussion of these issues is not only long overdue, but also necessary for the continued viability and relevance of the conservative movement.

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