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Fire, Ready, Aim

On Noem’s bark and DeSantis’ beef.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/ Getty Images)

Dear Reader (despite what you may have heard, we are not sponsoring any cruises),

I know I haven’t been doing much punditry in the G-File of late. Interestingly, I haven’t heard that many complaints about it. I think one reason for that is everyone—or at least a lot of my readers—understands this election is going to be a kick-in-the-pants no matter what. That’s fine for the punditry consumer, but this is the life I have chosen. So, if it takes more loin-girding effort, so be it. I have responsibilities and obligations, alas. So, I’m trying. Indeed, I’ve put myself on a program to improve my tolerance for the politics of the next 185 days until Election Day. This is my goal:

Anyway, I promise not to write about Nietzsche or nihilism or any of that stuff today (I really indulged myself last Friday, but I will say I think that “news”letter was one of the best things I’ve ever written in one sitting). I’ll try to keep it light and bloggy. 

I haven’t written anything about the Kristi Noem story. Nick Catoggio beat me to it here at The Dispatch and was pretty exhaustive. I appreciate his reluctance to eat off my plate, as it were, by writing about the intersection of dogs and politics, or well, dogs and anything else. But that’s okay. And I don’t have much to add to his analysis. But I do think the way Noem has responded to the story is a good example of why politics is so exhausting these days. 

Noem screwed up. I don’t mean she screwed up by killing her 14-month-old dog in one of the great modern examples of victim-blaming. She was a bad dog owner and blamed the dog for it. Nor do I mean her decision to parlay her adrenalin boost into some goat slaughter. I mean she screwed up by putting the story in her own book, and telling the story so badly that she shot herself in the foot. I mean that figuratively, of course (though she should probably avoid wearing those slippers that look like dogs for a while, just to be safe). 

Whatever her motivation for telling this story the way she told it, it’s inconceivable she got the reaction she’d hoped for. She blew her chances to be Trump’s running mate out of the sky like a poodle out of a skeet launcher. She may have even hurt her chances to be a pundit on Fox News after she leaves office.  

But Noem hasn’t given up. She’s now going around blaming the “Fake News” for her problems. “Don’t believe the #fakenews media’s twisted spin,” she tweeted. “I had a choice between the safety of my children and an animal who had a history of attacking people & killing livestock. I chose my kids.” On Hannity, she made it sound like she killed Cujo to protect her kids. We can give her the benefit of the doubt that there’s truth to all of this. The fact remains that she didn’t tell the story that way in her own book. She played down the alleged threat to her kids while hyping how happy the dog was and how bad a hunting dog Cricket was. And, as for the poor goat, she basically threw that in because … I don’t know why. It needed killing or something.  

She had every opportunity to tell her story however she wanted, honestly or dishonestly. She chose poorly, to the point where everyone from the ultra MAGAs to the cast of The Five were aghast. Rather than own it, she tried to turn it into a story about how she’s a victim-martyr to the “media.” And, of course, Sean Hannity was all too happy to help. He could have asked, “So, are Brit Hume and Jeanine Pirro part of the ‘Fake News’ media?’” I mean he couldn’t ask that, because, Hannity. But you get the point. 

DeSantis’ beef with ‘beef.’

Since I started out playing clean-up to Catoggio, I’ll keep going. Yesterday, Nick wrote about Ron DeSantis’ decision to make it a crime to make or serve artificial meat. Again, I don’t have a lot to add to his analysis. But there are a couple of things I’d flesh out—organically flesh out, of course. 

First, I was a little surprised that Nick didn’t connect the dots between DeSantis’ position(s) on Disney and his position on fake meat. (I’m only surprised because Nick is one of the great dot-connectors and receipt-holders of our age.) When DeSantis signed a law designed to punish social media for censorship or something, the law had a special carve out for Disney. “Theme parks” were immune to the regulations. But, later, when Disney (idiotically) waded into the culture war stuff on the falsely misnamed “don’t say gay” law, DeSantis went after Disney’s special tax advantages in the state. The details are wonky, but the relevant point is that DeSantis was for special treatment for Disney before he was against it. He was also against ethanol subsidies as a congressman but for them as a presidential candidate. Where he was consistent, at least as a presidential candidate, was talking about the evils of “corporatism.” Unfortunately, he rarely used the word correctly. Corporatism is an actual form of political economy with deep roots in medieval European and Catholic thought. It’s not “rule by corporations.” That’s how he meant it when he constantly attacked Nikki Haley’s “warmed over corporatism.”  

(Corporatism, as promulgated by the church in the 19th century, was a “system of social organization that has at its base the grouping of men according to the community of their natural interests and social functions, and as true and proper organs of the state they direct and coordinate labor and capital in matters of common interest.” The church was trying to find a “middle way” between laissez-faire capitalism and authoritarian socialism. But before that, the basic idea of corporatism was that nobles, guilds, clergy, and other stakeholders, would work in coordination to maintain the social order.  The root idea of corporatism isn’t a “corporation” like Intel or Exxon-Mobil, but “corporeal” as in “corpus mysticum” or “corpus politicum.” The whole society working as one body—no surprise that the economic system of fascism is corporatism.)

In his defense, I suppose, you could say DeSantis was more consistent in his approach than I’m suggesting, given that he often specified that his real target was the “woke corporatism” of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing in general and the “Magic Kingdom of Woke Corporatism” in particular. But just as “common good” has become right-wing speak for “social justice,” “woke corporatism” is right-wing speak for “corporatism we don’t like.” 

Now, I don’t like corporatism, full stop. And I probably agree with DeSantis on most of his criticisms of ESG and the like. But banning—criminally banning—artificial meat is right-wing woke corporatism, in the sense that he means it, and quite consistent with the way the popes of yore meant it. He’s pretty honest about it. He justifies the move as a way to protect cattle interests in the state against competition. Nick writes:

The governor himself was explicit about the ban’s protectionist intentions. “What we’re protecting here is the [cattle] industry against acts of man, against an ideological agenda that wants to finger agriculture as the problem, that views things like raising cattle as destroying our climate,” DeSantis said at his press conference, reminding the audience that Florida has “one of the top cattle industries in the country.”

That’s domestic protectionism, crony capitalism, and corporatist on his terms. Culturally fashionable economic interests get protection from innovators and disruptors. When DeSantis issued his “Declaration of Economic Independence” he bemoaned how “large corporations have secured massive carve outs and bailouts. This has become a form of venture socialism in which gains are privatized at the top, whereas the losses are borne by you, the hardworking American taxpayer.” DeSantis vowed, “No more socialism for the wealthy and rugged individualism for small businesses and for individuals. and for working class people.”

Well, DeSantis is providing a carve-out for natural—carvable—beef. If you’re a rugged individual or small business in the artificial beef business, DeSantis wants to put you in jail. This is precisely the sort of thing that happened under the corporatist systems of medieval Europe. I wrote a lot about this in Suicide of the West. Guilds—i.e. incumbent industries—hated innovation. Here are some examples I quoted (via Joel Mokyr):

• In 1299, Florence banned bankers from adopting Arabic numerals.

• At the end of the fifteenth century, scribe guilds of Paris managed to fight off the adoption of the printing press for two decades.

• In 1397, pin manufacturers in Cologne outlawed the use of pin presses.

• In 1561, the city council of Nuremburg made the manufacture and selling of lathes punishable with imprisonment.

• In 1579, the city council of Danzig ordered the secret assassination of the inventor of a ribbon loom—­ by drowning.

• In the late 1770s, the Strasbourg council barred a local cotton mill from selling its wares in town because it would disrupt the business model of the cloth importers.

These things were done to protect the established order, the world as God willed it. One of the backers of the fake meat ban explained that he opposed fake meat because it is an “affront to nature and creation.” I agree with that, aesthetically. But in the 19th century, this was the sort of thing people said about anesthesia. Women should experience pain in childbirth, for instance, because the pain was God’s will. 

I know I’ve ventured from my promise of bloggy punditry, but there’s a second point worth making. Stifling innovation isn’t just bad for the economy and hypocritical for supporters of free enterprise—it’s dangerous. Many of the greatest inventions and innovations in human history were discovered by accident. Smart people trying to do one thing ended up doing something much better. Swiss scientist Walter Jaeger was trying to invent a poison gas detector but discovered his device was triggered by his cigarette smoke. British pharmacist John Walker was messing around with some chemicals and discovered that the congealed gunk on a stick burst into flame when he scraped it on his hearth. That’s how matches were created. Percy Spencer was working on a magnetron for Raytheon when he discovered that the candy bar in his pocket had melted. That became the microwave. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by accident. Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen discovered X-rays while mucking around with vacuum tubes. The stories are endless: pacemakers, Teflon, popsicles (by an 11-year-old), safety glasses, vulcanized rubber, etc. Tea bags were originally just some packaging, but customers started just dunking the whole package in hot water. Bubble wrap was deliberately invented—as wallpaper. 

This gets at the very heart of why humanity started to get rich once—and only once—in all of human history. Innovation was given free rein. That’s the thing about technological and scientific exploration—it’s a process of discovery. Innovation was kept under a wet blanket for millennia to protect the established interests, who rightly feared what the genie would do to them once let out of the bottle. 

I don’t know if artificial meat will ever catch on or be successful at scale. If it is, it will definitely be disruptive. But for it to be actually successful, it will have to be popular, and it can only be popular a) if it’s an affordable substitute for natural meat, and b) if it tastes good. That can only be discovered through competition in the market. 

I’m not for giant subsidies for the fake meat industry for the same reason I’m not for DeSantis’ de facto subsidies for “traditional” meat: I don’t know. And neither do the people who think they’re smarter than the market and the innovators. As Virginia Postrel writes in her wonderful book, The Future and Its Enemies, “With some exceptions, the enemies of the future aim their attacks not at creativity itself but at the dynamic processes through which it is carried.” Fake meat might be a flop. But if it’s a success, it will be a success for a good reason: because it satisfies real human needs. 

The people who want to stop innovation in the present are always reluctant to answer the question, “When would you have stopped it in the past?” Before the invention of seat belts, penicillin, the printing press, the microwave, the pacemaker, fertilizer, crop rotation? 

Various & Sundry
Canine update: It’s been a very long week for me flying solo here at home while the Fair Jessica visited the kid out West. The dogs get incredibly needy when TFJ is missing and follow me around the house like Biden’s entourage trying to block pictures of him shuffling to his helicopter. Gracie, likewise, gets exceedingly demanding of my attention, which of course sets off Zoë and Pippa, which leads to a quadruped version of the three-body problem. Yesterday was particularly difficult because I had to do CNN at 6 a.m., which meant getting up at 5 a.m. And that meant leaving them behind before the morningadventure. For Zoë, even under normal circumstances, this is a serious breach of protocol, on par with trying to high-five the pope while eating messy buffalo wings. But with the Fair Jessica gone, she acts like the submarine is filling with water and I’m closing the hatch behind me. Anyway, I came back and they were simultaneously angry and delighted to see me. Also, Kirsten had a dentist’s appointment, which meant I had to handle the midday walk, too.  I don’t have a video of TFJ’s return last night, but everyone cheered like those Thai teenagers rescued from that flooded cave. The good news was that the weather was so good, I could spend most of the week in my backyard working surrounded by animals. Of course, my work was constantly punctuated by Gracie’s demands for more water, not to mention the need to monitor potential alliance formations. The only other “news”worthy aspect of my bachelor week was that I was voluntold to attend to Chester, the neighbor’s cat, while Jessica was away. Every time I give that cat treats, I feel like I’m letting the Germans rearm the Ruhr—or rowr

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.