Everyone Hates Our Producerist Economy

Inflation has cut into real wages. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Dear Capitolisters,

Over the last several years, prominent voices on the right and left have embracedproducerism”—the idea that U.S. economic policy should start prioritizing production and jobs over consumption, which has supposedly been the country’s economic lodestar for decades (thanks to libertarian “market fundamentalists,” of course). Jobs, so the theory goes, are much more than a paycheck, and people are much more than what they consume. Thus, the federal government should embrace policies—protectionism and nativism, especially, but certainly others—that elevate work above consumption and thus treat it as not merely a means to an end, but the end itself. Producerists are usually a bit coy about the economic tradeoffs of such policies—i.e., the higher prices and reduced consumption that accompany state-directed inefficiency—but former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a proud producerist, let the mask slip at the American Economic Forum in August:

Lighthizer described the Trump administration’s trade policies as “tariffs, threats, negotiations, and industrial policy.” He said government subsidies throughout American history are a primary source of economic growth.

“Free trade is a philosophy of consumption,” Lighthizer said, describing it as “materialistic.” Free-traders “view us only as consumers,” he said, and “no country ever became great by consuming.” During the Q&A session that followed, Lighthizer said, “The best way to fix consumerism is to raise prices. Is consumption really a problem in America?”

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