Can free enterprise become part of the new counterculture?
Speaking at Georgetown University earlier this year, renowned rocker Bono, who has also become well-known for his push for aid to Africa, explained that the only way for the continent to rise from poverty is to embrace capitalism. “So some of Africa is rising and some of Africa is stuck. It’s a question of if the rising bit will pull the rest of Africa up or whether the other Africa will weigh the continent down. Which will it be? The stakes here aren’t just about them. Imagine, for a second, this last global recession, but without the economic growth of China and India, without the hundreds of millions of newly minted middle class folks who now buy American and European goods. Imagine that. Think about the last five years.” He added, “Rock star preaches capitalism. Wow. Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it. But commerce is real. That’s what you’re about here. It’s real. Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce, entrepreneur capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid. Of course we know that.”
Bono is right. But that isn’t the point. The point is Bono’s throwaway line: “Rock star preaches capitalism. Wow.”
The fact is that capitalism isn’t supposed to be cool. Thanks to the counterculture of the 1960s, the prevailing wisdom remains that socialism is what the cool kids say; capitalism is what their parents do to fund their socialist kids’ hobbies. Rock stars are supposed to be redistributionists. They’re supposed to rage against the machine. John Lennon’s Imagine is supposed to be the anthem: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world...”
Rock music often exists to counter something. In Russia, the band Pussy Riot existed to counter Vladimir Putin. In Britain during the 1980s, bands existed to counter Margaret Thatcher and the Queen. For decades in the United States, the belief has been that the supposed entrepreneurial greed of Western civilization is the thing to be against, at least when you’re from the West.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially given the fact that the United States is no longer a capitalist country, having forsaken capitalism in the name of Keynesian corporatism. It is not the rich 1% who are the obstacles to wealth in America; it is the failure to embrace entrepreneurialism. That was always true, but the case for capitalism was an affirmative one, not about negating the status quo. But now that the status quo has changed, it’s time for the counterculture to change too.
This is what explains, at least in part, the popularity of Ron Paul among young people. Paul exists in opposition to the popular order. He is against spending, against government involvement, against foreign involvement, against regulation, against the Fed. Sometimes, as with his isolationism, he is not just wrong but anti-Semitic. But his draw was always among young people who worship those who oppose. The raised fist is the sign of the young, not the open hand. And that fist must be raised against something.
This is why the Republican Party must not fall victim to the temptation to play defense. It is not time to act as though the default status in America is conservative. It no longer is. The government is too big, the regulation too burdensome. To be a conservative is to be a rebel. When rock stars begin to speak about capitalism as though it’s cool, we’ll know we’re on our way back. Until then, no matter how many Bonos endorse capitalism, they’ll be doing it in a backhanded way – and in doing so, they’ll be emboldening a new generation of liberals to fight the supposedly conservative machine.
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