No Solidarity


“I walk alone, I walk alone, I walk alone, EXCEPT FOR THESE TWO GUYS RIGHT NEXT TO ME”

OK, great opportunity for me to explain why I never do any of this “social media solidarity” stuff regardless of whether I agree with the cause.

What if anti-immigrant riots open up in France and more people-refugees this time- die? What if the French expel all their refugees? What if Marine le Pen’s neo-Nazis win big and start passing exclusionary legislation?

My heart bleeds for the French in the aftermath of the recent act of pure evil committed against them by the vile Islamic State, and may al-Bagdhadi burn in Hell. But human beings are human beings, with a thirst for vengeance and with an amoral complexity to their politics. Put yourself fully on the side of an emotional populist movement, and you become affiliated with it in all its behavior and stances, good and bad.

That’s why I didn’t and don’t stand by the UMissouri protestors in solidarity, even though I agree with them that their administration should have stepped up against lingering anti-black racism long ago. What happens when those protestors start shutting down journalists? What if they overreach and try to bring down their administration? Hell, social justice protests have gotten violent before. What if these ones do too, god forbid, and they get violent and destroy property- or worse- lives? (Not expecting they will- much much much more likely that’ll happen in France.)

So how else would I recommend action be taken against grave injustice and evil? Frankly, I don’t have an answer right now for that, aside from that those already in power should adopt reformist social agendas- not radical ones or reactionary ones- to address these sorts of issues before they explode. When they do explode, it makes perfect sense that movements rise up in response- I can’t blame those who join them for it, especially if they are personally affected.

But there is a cost to all political action, especially when it radicalizes. I suspect elements of French society will begin to radicalize soon, just as elements of the Black community have partially radicalized now and as college activists have definitely done for years. And in my observation, radicalization tends to divide people, cause more injustices to be committed on BOTH sides rather than the original oppressors, and morally complicate formerly morally simple situations. And it makes a just arrangement and reconciliation that much harder to get, because the opposing forces now hate each other more.

Also, the French people-ISIS situation carries MUCH more moral weight, I think, than the Missouri racists- Missouri protestors situation does.

Anyway, some might call me a coward. I would rather consider myself a complex moral thinker (and bear in mind, I am an unashamed, unabashed American nationalist in my political loyalties, and few entities have as much blood on their hands these days as the American state.) But long story short- I don’t go solidarity, because I would rather not be associated with the swirling passions of the masses of the people. You don’t typically serve anybody well by agreeing with their emotional mindset (which is why so many social justice causes would be much better fought for by non-social justice warriors.)

May principled moderation prevail, may the injustices at home and abroad be corrected, may we one day see the world where no one holds a gun and no one drags a chain (hint: that’s Heaven.) In the meantime, we need coolheaded leaders to get us through the complex evil of the world we inhabit without perpetrating greater evils.

That’s why statecraft is the hardest thing ever, and especially so in democratic polities like the good ol’ USA.

Reflections of a Bad Catholic and American Nationalist

Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States rightly and predictably sparked a flurry of political commentary, with partisans on both sides of the aisle claiming the mantle of Papal legitimacy for their own pet causes. Greens and anti-poverty activists were delighted by the pontiff’s renewed emphasis on economic justice and environmental stewardship, while social conservatives scrambled to highlight Francis’s continuing opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. If anything can be gleaned from this mishmash of political stances affirmed by Vatican theology, it is only the most obvious- the pope is, indeed, still a Catholic. Perhaps a Catholic with considerable media savvy, but a Catholic nonetheless- every pronouncement and every scripted or spontaneous gesture Pope Francis made on his visit aligns closely with the ancient teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, applied to the globalized world of the 21st Century.


Those of us who stand somewhat outside of the standard partisan divide have necessarily taken more nuanced views on the pontiff’s American odyssey and its broader meanings. Three relatively center-right figures who have influenced a lot of my political thinking interpreted the Pope’s economic and environmental ideas negatively. New York Times columnist David Brooks, citing The Breakthrough Institute’s work, argues that Pope Francis’s environmental ideas are misguided, though well-intentioned. Sociologist Peter Berger argues something similar. California urban theorist Joel Kotkin has gone so far as to make the unique argument that papal pronouncements on the environment amount to a renewal of the gentry-clergy alliance of Medieval Europe.

While I generally agree with the sentiments of these three intellectual mentors of mine- namely, their understanding that contemporary Green ideology and policy undercuts broad-based economic growth and social mobility- I think they all get a premise wrong. Pope Francis is not a card-carrying Greenpeace member, and his intellectual and theological foundations are fundamentally anthropocentric and deistic, as opposed to the neo-paganism approaching nature worship that informs post-Transcendentalist environmentalism. As such, the pontiff’s views on environmental protection are more based on the Judeo-Christian God’s admonition of stewardship over all Earth’s creatures to Adam, than on a pre-Christian reverence for nature as a god unto itself that views Man as at best a mere component of the natural world and at worst a curse upon it.

This sort of environmentalism is much more amenable to human wellbeing and, ultimately, to economic growth, than the neo-pagan anti-growth environmentalism that drives mainstream environmental activism. And it is more open to policy experimentation and pragmatism than the ironically dogmatic cults of sustainable development and climate change prevention that dominate most environmental discourse nowadays. Brooks, Berger, and Kotkin do not seem to take into account the idea that Pope Francis’s call for dialogue between policy intellectuals and theologians on the best ways to protect the global environment and fight global poverty could, theoretically, result in Vatican endorsements of Lee Kuan Yew-esque developmental economics across Africa and South America, informed by Eco-Modernist ideas on nuclear energy development and access, industrial farming, and other measures that could simultaneously bring abundant energy, food, and wealth to developing countries, while reducing those countries’ carbon outputs and total land use. Broad-based economic growth and the ascent of the Global South’s mass middle class need not contradict carbon reductions and ecological preservation. If anything, a combination of growth economics and Eco-Modernist environmental policies is the best way for policymakers to achieve the Vatican’s twin goals of poverty reduction and environmental stewardship.


So there is not necessarily a conflict of interests in my personal identity as both a Catholic and a capitalist. Things are more complicated, though, when my political identity as an American nationalist comes into conflict with my Catholic faith. As a follower of Machiavelli and Montesquieu- two influential political thinkers who openly criticized the Catholic Church and sought a return to and updating of Roman quasi-pagan political thinking- I stand in a political tradition that, while aligning well with Christian moral realism, tends to disparage most of the classically Christian ideas on communal political morality that have always driven the Vatican’s social teachings and pronouncements on international relations.

The most glaring area of inconsistency between my Catholicism and my nationalism is on the question of war. While the Church nominally endorses the complicated twists and turns of Just War Theory, in practice, it has generally condemned all wars as unjust in recent decades. Pope Francis said much the same himself. Students of Machiavelli, or of Hamilton or Disraeli or Bismarck or any other number of great nationalists, tend to support war-making as a basic tool of the state and an unfortunate reality of political life. And I must confess that I am comparatively a warmonger on this front, believing that the injustice of war is preferable to the perpetual violence of unresolved geopolitical tension and fratricidal low-scale conflict, or the irredentist aggressions of revisionist powers, or crude imbalances of power that would compel otherwise free nations to adopt so militaristic a stance as to abdicate their domestic liberty (read: the American way of life.) Some things are worth fighting for, but the reasons are rarely “just.”

For example, I am an ardent defender of the American wars of conquest of the 19th Century and American internationalism and imperialism throughout the course of the 20th. I’m an ardent defender of American imperialism in the 21st Century too, for that matter. The 19th Century wars of continental conquest and unification- the Mexican War, the Civil War, the interminable Indian Wars, and the aggressive diplomacy that secured for the United States the Louisiana Purchase, Florida, and the Oregon Territory- secured Washington D.C. unparalleled hegemony over the American continent. This dominance ensured that American continental politics would not feature the constant military mobilization required in multipolar Europe, where powerful central governments limited liberty in the interests of security. Continental dominance was and remains foundational for the preservation of America’s republican essence. Similarly, American power-balancing in Eurasia over the course of the World Wars and the Cold War was integral to forging a liberal international system and, theorists and statesmen rightly hoped, precluding constant wars and violent great power competition. All this was a bloody and duplicitous business better explained by Isaiah Berlin’s “The Originality of Machiavelli” than any treatise of Aquinas’s or Augustine’s, but the ends continental dominance and Eurasian power-balancing served- a republican way of life for the American people, and a liberal international order for the Americans and their allies- were indeed worth fighting for. Catholic theology and Just War Theory would of course approve of the results, while being rightly appalled at the brutal means of attaining them.


In my American Nationalist-Catholic dilemma, I have no choice but to revert to the Catholic John F. Kennedy’s explanation of his identity. When, as a presidential candidate, he was confronted by Protestant ministers brandishing Pope Pius IX’s “Syllabus of Errors” (an 1864 Vatican document which, among other things, condemned freedom of conscience and freedom of religion,) he replied that his Catholic faith would not usurp his duties of citizenship and high office.

“…I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Similarly, Catholic condemnations of war and nationalism do not bind me, and, I must confess before God and my fellow man, that in public life I am more bound to the American’s Creed than to the Nicene Creed. The Roman Catholic Church informs my moral thinking, but as Machiavelli discerned an insurmountable gulf between public and private morality, I necessarily must be a complicated moral thinker and a bad Catholic destined for a good amount of burn time in Purgatory.

A more personal mentor of mine, the historian and priest Father Jim Heft, routinely counsels me that this course is spiritually dangerous- that it is wiser to be a Catholic who happens to be an American, than an American who happens to be Catholic.

I don’t doubt that Father Jim is right, and I expect that if I enter public life or even simply influence it through my writings, I’ll be going to confession quite a bit. Here, I suppose, I must stand with Machiavelli again, and acknowledge that I love my country more than I love my soul.

Friends, guess who this passage about Alexander Hamilton is about!

“A passion for immortal fame is characteristic of the romantic…

Romanticism, perhaps the most sublime of afflictions, is a congenital psychic disorder whose symptoms are evident throughout life. In childhood the romantic writes poetry and dreams of grand and noble exploits. As a youth he embraces causes and fights for them with reckless bravery— which is easy enough for him to do, since he is unable to imagine that failure or defeat is possible….

He is spirited, gallant, and bold and sees high drama where others see blandness. He inspires admiration and loyalty in some, envy and hatred in others; he can be charming and witty but not genuinely humorous, for though life to him is always a joyful affirmation, it is never funny. Like the sentimentalist, the dreamer, and the do-gooder, the romantic is ruled by his heart rather than his head. Unlike them, he is also tough-minded and realistic, and that creates within him a turbulence they never know: he drives himself to excel, requires discipline of himself far beyond that of other men, is ever concerned with honor, sometimes obsessively…”

Luke’s Musings Episode 1

First attempt at being a hackish radio host. Please feel free to comment with criticism, suggestions, and vicious personal attacks.

My Main Magazines

I am an unashamed magazine connoisseur, but not just for any magazines. I have a real love for longform opinion journal-magazines that offer up analysis and opinions on current affairs from that magical middle ground between technical expertise and complete vernacular. The public intellectuals and public figures who publish in these magazines are usually pretty darn smart, and have both a deep intellectual grasp of the subjects at hand, and a broad cultural-historical understanding gleaned from active life in society, and so are able to translate their ideas into relevant messages capable of informing poor dumb sons of farmboys like me. They do important work, and moreover, their work does not go unnoticed- this intelligentsia articulates the ideas and principles that policy wonks, politicians, businessmen, civil society leaders, and other members of our elite fundamentally talk in. Knowledge, it is true, is power, and those who write with fire in their pens fundamentally shape the debates that shape the policies that shape the world the rest of us inhabit. If you would read a country’s fate, read what its elites are reading and writing.

Without further ado, then, I will go ahead and list my personal favorite thought-journals and magazines and other publications:


The American Interest

An eclectic and relatively centrist-reformist-nationalist publication, TAI publishes across the ideological spectrum everything from cultural commentary to strategic commentary to political analysis in a broad historical context. It’s my favorite magazine out there.


Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

A bit further to my left is Democracy Journal. Democracy Journal embodies pragmatic progressivism and publishes essays by all sorts of interesting types.


National Affairs

The self-proclaimed (and deserved) successor to the legendary journal The Public Interest, National Affairs is a thoughtful and fairly wonky journal of policy ideas and philosophical musings on conservative, market-based alternatives to the 20th Century regulatory state.


The New Atlantis

The landmark conservative journal of science and society, The New Atlantis examines questions at the intersection between science, politics, and public policy.


City Journal

Like National Affairs, City Journal examines post-Great Society alternatives to mid-20th Century policies- the exception is it looks almost entirely at the municipal level.


First Things

 A conservative Catholic publication, First Things excellently discusses the philosophical dimensions of American public life.


Foreign Affairs

Probably the single best resource for those interested in foreign affairs and strategic issues, Foreign Affairs is one of the oldest thought-journals in circulation and, like The American Interest, a reasonably centrist and nonpartisan outlet.


National Journal

National Journal is another excellent publication dedicated to covering American politics and policy issues. It, too, has no real policy slant, and features authors from across the ideological spectrum.



The journal of the legendary Foreign Policy Research Institute, Orbis provides in-depth and scholarly coverage and commentary on major geopolitical trends. Like FPRI in general, it puts the events of the present in geopolitical and historical context.


The New Criterion

A neoconservative publication premised on interpreting the classics of Western Civilization anew in the materialist, postmodern age we inhabit, The New Criterion does excellent work defining cultural conservatism for the 21st Century.


Breakthrough Journal

A reformist liberal outlet, Breakthrough Journal highlights the work of The Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think-tank committed to articulating and advancing a pro-growth environmentalism called Eco-Modernism. The journal’s essays are always refreshingly pragmatic.


The Brookings Essay

Published by the Brookings Institution, The Brookings Essay is an occasional longform analytic piece on a given topic. It is always an excellent primer.

Ideologues Playing Games


This morning, Congressman Kevin McCarthy- a Californian and by every measure a conservative- dropped out of the race for Speaker of the House. That race was made possible only by Speaker John Boehner’s abdication of the Speakership in the face of a revolt on his right flank. Boehner, too, is conservative by most conventional measures. Yet the smoking gun in both of these high-profile resignations lies in the hands of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, a Tea Party-affiliated group of Republican Congressmen more committed to radical ideological purity than anyone outside the further reaches of the activist Left. The fact that McCarthy and Boehner worked with Democratic President Obama on various pieces of legislation over the last couple Congressional cycles- also known as “politics as usual”- was, in the Freedom Caucus’s view, McCarthy and Boehner’s great betrayal of conservatism, and sufficient evidence to warrant consigning the two conservative leaders to the status of “Republicans in Name Only.”

As a moderate Republican myself, I look on in horror as pragmatic national figures like Boehner and McCarthy are executed in the public eye by the Republican radicals now ascendant in Congress and many state legislatures. Bear in mind, Boehner and McCarthy stand to the right of Ronald Reagan on issues as diverse as gun control, deregulation, and immigration, yet they have met their demise at the hands of throngs of populists who worship a mutated version of the Gipper in every statement. In this contemporary climate, my mentor the historian Geoff Kabaservice sees eerie parallels to the conservative revolution of 1964, when Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater shunned the moderates in the Grand Old Party and dragged it far to the right. The result: overwhelming victory for the lefty Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Congressional majorities for the Democrats for a decade. The GOP, by radicalizing, marginalized itself from the rest of American society and handed victory to the Democrats. Is the GOP of 2015- presented with a floundering Democratic Presidency, the best possible opportunity for the opposition party to seize the White House in an election year- throwing away its shot?

If the Freedom Caucus and its supporters continue to dominate Republican congressional politics and give energy to anti-establishment Presidential candidates like Trump and Cruz, then perhaps. All the factors in the national and global situation point to a 2016 Republican victory- but all the factors in the GOP itself point to an increasingly ideological and regional appeal for the Republicans, which would all but guarantee a Clinton or Biden presidency. The party, by playing games and not doing anything constructive, is committing electoral suicide.

It is unfortunate that the ideals and legacy of so noble a tradition as that of the Grand Old Party would be subverted by heirs to that tradition more interested in political games and ideological purity than in the actual process of governing, crafting principled and pragmatic policy agendas, and leading the United States of America into its next great epoch. We are the generation that will lead America someday, and THIS is what we’re doing?

My Pieces at The Henry Clay Institute

I copy here several pieces I wrote some time back, in the late summer of 2015. Some colleagues of mine and I had set up a small network of Centrist-Whig policy thinkers under the somewhat pretentious working title, “The Henry Clay Institute.” Alas, life happened and we all got busy, and we put the project on hold for some time. 

I am re-posting these pieces, on a couple of policy issues, for the sake of having them saved on my blog.

Welcome to the Henry Clay Institute

Welcome, dear reader, to the Henry Clay Institute. The HCI is a group of centrist, reformist, nationalist political thinkers and policy wonks across the United States, all dedicated to resurrecting the American Whig tradition and updating it for the 21st Century.

A conservative temperament about human nature, a penchant for energetic but limited government, an overriding concern for national union- these are the defining characteristics of Whigs across the centuries. From Alexander Hamilton to Henry Clay, through Abraham Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt, best expressed in the 20th Century through Dwight Eisenhower, the Whigs have been nation-builders and guardians of Americanism. National greatness and individual opportunity have been their prime directives. And they have by and large succeeded.

Unfortunately, though some key politicians and thinkers display the tendencies of Whiggery described above, there is no longer a Whig movement in the United States. This crucial tradition has been lost for all practical purposes.

We at the Henry Clay Institute intend to bring it back.

Through periodical columns and reports, we will build the intellectual foundations of a new American Whiggery, and invite centrist politicians of all partisan persuasions to join our quest for a better future for our country. In time, we hope our research inspires a broader movement.

If you’re interested in being a part of this project, contact one of the co-founders, Luke Phillips, at We look forward to hearing from you.

Pave the Way- Introductions

Pave The Way- Luke Phillips’s Column

Introduction, August 1 2015

You’re most likely a concerned American; that’s what led you to this column. And regardless of where you’re from or where you’re going, you’ve probably noticed a couple of things about the state of the Republic.

Our government doesn’t work. We’re stuck in a bureaucratic governing model- and, for that matter, a political language- that was designed in the era before globalization and the internet. It was clunky to begin with. And it no longer works.

Our government is bought. Decades of solely financial growth has both exacerbated inequality and privileged the political power of the very rich in ways not seen since the Gilded Age. We live in a democratic oligarchy, and it’s not going away any time soon.

We don’t know who we are or why we’re here. We’ve lost our capacity to articulate ideas about what makes us special, and we no longer have a sense of national purpose. We’re a nation that’s lost its soul.

And very few of our national leaders are bringing any convincing and reasonable solutions to the table. The redistributionist narratives of the Left and the libertarian ideology of the Right are boring, overused, and inaccurate.

But there’s another tradition in American politics- the Whig tradition. Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt embodied it. Its philosophy can be summed up in Adam Garfinkle’s memorable phrase: “Pave the Way!”

Whigs sought to use the power of government for a wide array of national purposes- to promote broad-based economic growth and opportunity, to spur technological advancement and modernization, to unite the nation with infrastructure. But they did not seek to manage the economy, to perfect society, or to serve entrenched interests like corporations and bureaucracies. And since its role was limited, government could- and usually did- accomplish its aims efficiently. The Whigs’ preferred tool was energetic, yet limited, national governance.

Everything Whigs did in government was in service to the greatness of the American nation and the opportunity for individuals to better their lot in life. They were truly the party of the American Dream.

But Whiggery has largely disappeared. It persists, but only survives. This is dangerous- the small-government and big-government ideologies now dominating Washington cannot provide the answers to the challenges America faces. The Whigs must rise again.

And to do that, we must first think up and articulate the ideas of a 21st Century Whiggery, and disseminate them far and wide. We must approach contemporary issues with the wisdom of our forefathers. We can provide a blueprint of the future informed by the lessons of the past.

That’s what I intend to do with this weekly column. “Pave the Way!” will run in Modern Whig Party-published media and, hopefully someday, in more widely-read outlets. It will explore Whig philosophy and policy for the 21st Century, providing cultural commentary and analyzing policies at the national, state, and local levels. It will incubate the ideas necessary to fuel a Whig revival.

This should be an interesting journey. Stay tuned.

Misplaced Priorities

Pave The Way! Luke Phillips’s Column

August 5, 2015

Misplaced Priorities

These last few months, the U.S. Congress has been working on bills that address crucial questions about the nation’s economic future. In particular, Congress passed the “Doc Fix” bill some time ago, and will likely pass an infrastructure bill soon.

Doc Fix, passed back in April, fixed a minor flaw with doctors’ payments and made Medicare “smarter.”

This last week, the Senate and House have passed different versions of a bill to fund highway repair. The one that gets past both houses will probably only be good for three months.

Both of these stories illuminate the mediocrity that passes for lawmaking in today’s polarized Washington. Doc Fix has been an issue for the last two decades. There is nothing particularly innovative about the bill- it just verifies a payment transfer system. Our healthcare system remains the same. The highway bill leaves much to be desired, too. It’s a stopgap funding measure that pays contractors to patch up some decaying interstates- the same transport infrastructure we’ve used for over a half-century.

Neither of these patchwork bits of legislation does much of anything to fix either our budget deficit or our investment deficit.[1] Meanwhile, mandatory spending (that’s entitlements, folks, and we can’t reduce it arbitrarily) continues to skyrocket and drive up our deficit, while discretionary spending (of which infrastructure spending is but a fraction) remains low. And the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a “D+” in 2013, in their most recent infrastructure report card.

What we have here is a severe case of misplaced priorities. Every year, almost two-thirds of the federal budget– over $2 trillion– goes into Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and various other entitlement programs. Meanwhile, less than $300 billiongoes into infrastructure, innovation[2], and education- the three chief “Hamiltonian investments.” That means that we spend roughly seven times as much on middle-class redistribution as we do on productive investments.

Entitlements are one-time expenditures. But infrastructure, education, and innovation are investments that pay for themselves in the long term. We’re throwing money down the drain.

If Congress’s objective is indeed increasing the size of the national pot of gold rather than merely filling the retirement accounts of its constituents, it should reorient its policy toward bold entitlement reform and better-funded Hamiltonian investments. It doesn’t even have to decrease the overall size of the federal budget- it just needs to make some great compromise to shift money around. There would be three components to such a compromise.

First, overall spending would not decrease. If investments are done properly, they can help to grow the economy, increase federal revenues, and gradually eliminate the deficit and debt.

Second, there would be comprehensive entitlement reform that reduces overall entitlement spending by at least 20%. This would require amendments or even total overhauls of several federal laws. It would be wise to look, too, for new entitlement models for the digital age, instead of just figuring out how to make the old model work.

Finally, the cuts from comprehensive entitlement reform (probably totaling around $400 billion) would be directly invested in infrastructure, education, and innovation, more than doubling our current Hamiltonian investments. And they wouldn’t just go into the pockets of contractors and unions- they’d have concrete goals attached to them, such as a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, universal computer education, or programming a nationwide driverless car network. We’re talking generational shifts.

Policy should be forward-looking; we should talk about building the institutions of the future, not stewarding the programs of the past. A massive compromise proposal of this sort-one that would modernize and streamline our entitlements system, give our investments a new direction, and shift the balance of the budget- would be the epitome of the Hamiltonian way.

[1] See the Breakthrough Institute’s excellent report, “Taking On the Three Deficits.”

[2] However, military spending-which takes up about $600 billion- includes more innovation spending. It’s not clear how much, though.

New Workers in an App Economy?

Pave the Way! Luke Phillips’s Column

August 7, 2015

New Workers in an App Economy?

With controversies over the ride-sharing app Uber in locales as diverse as New York, France, and California, and with multiple 2016 presidential candidates opining on tech issues, one thing is clear- the “app economy” is disrupting the old ways of business. Today, taxis and hotels. Tomorrow, what? Healthcare? Education? Insurance? Finance?

America’s regulatory and governing institutions have been slow to catch up to the technological innovations that have already transformed many sectors of business and commerce, as well as social life. And attempts to provide a blueprint for the new model- most conspicuously, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s Citizenvillehave generally fallen short on the policy meat.

Out in California, there’s a legal case that may well escalate into a class-action lawsuit, pitting Uber’s current and former employees against the corporation. The issue? Some former Uber drivers (not all) would like to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors. This, of course, would grant them all the benefits of employees, including healthcare, and job security. Uber would prefer not to classify them thus for obvious financial reasons, but it also has its brand on the line- the tech entrepreneurs who built the company see it as a revolutionary new business model based on contracting and IT, rather than just a particularly glitzy taxi company.

And who’s to say one or the other is right? In an age of accelerated creative destruction, workers do need more protections and benefits. But if the spirit of the age is decentralization and democratization, are the old mid-century ways of doing business really viable or desirable?

The labor advocates will insist that Uber and other companies like it provide extensive worker protections, forcing an old labor model onto 21st century companies. The corporate advocates will hide behind trickle-down ideology and insist on the independent contractor model as the wave of the future.

And in the end, both sides will be right. Workers need protections, and businesses need flexibility. But what is important now is not so much defining what kind of workers these new laborers are- that distinction was only valid in an age when there was, in fact, a distinction. Given the nature of their work and their relationship to the parent company, Uber drivers are both independent contractors and employees.

Instead, aside from defining what these workers “are” legally (a matter of semantics, as the market will keep producing them regardless of whether or not they have an academic name,) policy wonks should focus on thinking up institutions that can preserve economic dynamism while promoting a safety net that protects workers during the constant job search such dynamism will likely spawn. As Via Meadia points out, we “need a positive vision for what a social system of support looks like for workers… one thing [Obamacare] did do right was make insurance coverage less tied to employment, so that it’s become easier for people in new kinds of employment situations to get insurance.”

Regardless of its flaws, it seems Obamacare has delivered us the safety net model of the future- health insurance and other benefits based on a compact between the individual and the government, rather than between the individual and their employer. People are only going to keep switching jobs more- it would be better for them to have a government security account, perhaps universal unemployment insurance, to fall back on.

That’s what true progressives- and Whigs- should be focusing on now when thinking about the app economy. Licensing requirements, regulatory reform, and other adjustments will be crucial, but if we want the app economy to become our new low-skill, high-wage, mass-employment middle-class sector- which it very well might, if it continues to infect older sectors- we need to design a new social model with periodic unemployment, multiple employment, and other new trends in mind. Especially if companies in other industries begin using this hybrid worker model, as the IT revolution will likely impel them to.

Debates about old categories just don’t cut it. We need people thinking up new ways of doing things, testing how they work, and implementing the most successful practices. That’s how we move forward into the next American economy.

Truly “Green” Energy

Pave the Way! Luke Phillips’s Column

August 11, 2015

Truly “Green” Energy

Out on the San Luis Obispo coast, California’s last nuclear plant- Diablo Canyon- may be breathing its last. The Breakthrough Institute recently published an articledetailing the consequences of the plant’s closure.

“Shuttering Diablo Canyon would have the same impact on carbon emissions as tearing down every wind turbine and rooftop PV panel in California. If Diablo Canyon is closed it will be replaced mainly by fossil fuels because replacing the nuclear power plant with an equivalent capacity of wind and solar would cost upwards of $15 billion compared to about $2.5 billion for a comparable natural gas plant.

The high cost of solar and wind is why, after Friends of the Earth and other antinuclear environmentalists forced the closure of California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant in 2013, Southern California’s power became dirtier, with most of the replacement power coming from natural gas.

Diablo is the workhorse of California’s low-carbon power sector. Its output last year exceeded the electricity produced by the state’s wind turbines by 31 percent and California’s solar electricity by 24 percent. Coming on top of San Onofre’s closure, the loss of the state’s nuclear fleet would wipe out low-carbon generation equal to the output of California’s entire wind, solar, and biomass sectors combined, thus nullifying decades of climate efforts.

Need more be said?

California has a few energy options on the table right now. Coal is dirty and cheap. Oil and natural gas are less dirty but still cheap. Nuclear is clean and expensive. Hydroelectric is clean and expensive (but there aren’t many more rivers available for damming.) Wind and solar are clean and super-expensive.

Wind and solar are super-expensive because, as those technologies are currently configured, they just don’t provide as much bang for your buck as, say, oil or coal or gas. Or nuclear. Which means that in order to provide, with wind and solar, the equivalent energy a nuclear plant is capable of providing, you’re going to need a lotof wind and solar plants. And that, ultimately, will be more expensive than a single nuclear power plant. You can see why, as the Breakthrough report notes, people reverted back to gas when San Onofre shut down.

Now, this is not to say that there’s absolutely no merit in wind and solar technology- in the future, there may well be, but it will require more research and development. In the meantime, if we’re going to reduce carbon emissions to zero (which would be beneficial for a number of health and environmental reasons besides fighting climate change) we need a more pragmatic strategy.


I outlined such a strategy at NewGeography a few months ago. California- and the United States, really- could use a fleet of highly-advanced nuclear reactors. The money and technical skill are there, and there’s plenty of open land out west available if you want to avoid urban NIMBYism. The benefits are incalculable- carbon-free, abundant, cheap energy for a longer period of time than most would care to think about, complete energy independence, and a booming new sector based entirely in the homeland. And, as I like to say, why harness the power of the sun when you can have the heat of a thousand suns at your disposal here on Earth?

The only sort of government that could carry out a national economic plan of this sort, though, is an activist Hamiltonian one. Current liberal dogma eschews the very mention of any energy plan besides “sustainability” and caps on power use, while conservative ideology opposes the significant government investment and intervention that a comprehensive energy plan would require. Only the big-spending, pro-growth centrist types would seriously consider a proposal like this. And right now, they are next to powerless on the national stage.

If such a nuclear strategy were to take hold, then, it would most likely have to start in one of the fifty states, where lower-stakes politics would grant enterprising centrist politicians more room to maneuver. And it would probably have to be in a blue state, with a political culture already accustomed to big projects and environmentalist rhetoric.

California is arguably the best place to start. Beset as it is with worsening inequality and declining social mobility, no state in the country could more deeply desire a source of cheap, abundant energy. Cheap energy could drive down the cost of housing, utilities, services, transport, and basically everything else, allowing Californians to keep more of their earnings and rise on the socioeconomic ladder.

But moreover, California has already set itself on a crusade to stop climate change. There are echoes of John Winthrop’s “cittie on a hill” speech in that objective, as Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown have sought to catalyze a revolution in climate and energy policy across the country and world by providing a working example of zero-carbon restraint in California.

Predictably, no other states have shackled themselves to stifling cap-and-trade laws, and California’s carbon emissions have not declined significantly. By focusing on propping up presently-unworkable renewables and curtailing the use of energy- and thus economic growth- California is only shooting itself in the foot.

It would be far better if California sought to build a network of nuclear plants out in the Mojave or along the Central Coast. As Breakthrough demonstrates, a single plant can prevent a lot of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. What could five, or eight, or twelve do?

In this model- the Hamiltonian environmentalist model- broad-based growth and opportunity are allies with environmental consciousness. The technology that can bring our economy and infrastructure into the next age of abundance and prosperity is the same technology that can reduce our carbon footprint to zero. We need only be willing to invest in it.

So there you are, Governor Brown. You can save the planet and help Joe the Plumber with the same fell stroke. I hope your successor embarks on that path.


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