The Right’s Real Problem: Too Big to Fail

by Ben Domenech
The New Ledger

It’s always interesting to me how the American Right — arguably the largest pro-capitalist, pro-market political force in the world — is so quick to ignore the lessons of the entrepreneurial marketplace when it comes to their organizations and structure. A powerful example can be found in the analysis of Steve Hayward, a smart scholar for the American Enterprise Institute who I respect greatly, whose Sunday column in the Washington Post on “Brain-Dead” conservatism prompted several reactions from libertarians, conservatives, and bloggers alike. I rarely disagree with Hayward, who is a bright and thoughtful fellow. But in the case of this piece, it is very hard to see past this level of self-indictment.

The real untold story of the past decade on the Right is one of profound misallocation of resources — particularly jarring considering we are discussing for the most part organizations and people who espouse again and again the virtues of competition and the wisdom of the marketplace. It is now a disaster of monumental proportions, one that has gutted innovators and entrepreneurs on the right for the sake of keeping a doddering establishment on life support. Taken as a whole, it represents a total market failure.

Hayward joins the conventional wisdom of Washington in missing the real story about the Right’s struggles in recent years — missing it in a profound way which exemplifies the inside-the-beltway thinking that continues to cripple conservatism. As my colleague Pejman Yousefzadeh summarizes it, Hayward “points out that there is a serious imbalance between intellectuals on the Right, and activists on the Right. There are plenty of the latter, but not nearly enough of the former.”

This strikes me as exactly the opposite of the truth. When one surveys the organization lists and attendees inside the Beltway and in most states outside it, you find scads of policy experts and think tank scholars. While state activist organizations have struggled on small budgets, and while conservative writers and pro-market bloggers can barely keep the lights on, national-level opinionmakers and opinionsharers remain plentiful, saturating the market, the panel circuit, and the cable news with their wisdom — which can be had for pennies, and if it’s a wannabe intellectual, for even less.

Why is this the case? The simple fact is that the dominance of the left in American higher education has left a great number of smart, well-educated people who would otherwise be known as the lone smart conservative professor in a department looking for more comfortable, more reliable, and better paid jobs. There can only be so many token ideological hires at the Ivy League level, and with the doors of the high halls of academia closed off to them, these intellectuals gravitate instead to the world of think tanks…

…intellectuals who are perfectly content to be in the permanent business of being intellectuals are not part of the Right’s solution: tenured fellows who’ve done nothing relevant in their policy arena in nearly two decades are a drain on resources and an irrational sunk cost. “Better intellectuals” may be part of the solution, by which I mean intellectuals who are interested in application and prioritize metrics for success — those who come up with new policy ideas that repair mismanagement, reform government, and result in more freedom for the consumer.

Yet the only way that will happen is if those on the Right, particularly donors who determine which organizations survive and fail, begin to recognize that their money has gone to bail out organizations that have, for all intents and purposes, gotten too big to fail…

Read the entire article at The New Ledger.

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