In late May, a group of Republican insurgents who call themselves the YG (for Young Guns) Network released what has been dubbed a new conservative manifesto, “Room to Grow”. It is focused almost entirely on economic opportunity and mobility issues and almost totally ignores foreign policy and the divisive social issues, as well as the budget, trade, and immigration. David Brooks goes overboard in describing it as “the most coherent and compelling policy agenda the American right has produced this century”. I admit that I have not read it in its entirety, but have seen enough to get the feel that it smacks somewhat of “compassionate conservatism” 2.0.
To his credit, Brooks does lament that the authors underestimate the consequences of declining social capital, and writes that although the nanny state may have drained civil society, simply removing it will not restore it. In a prominent introductory essay, Yuval Levin argues that conservatives should concentrate policy on funneling resources that will nurture the voluntary civic institutions that mediate between the state and the individual. In other words, accept that the welfare state is here to stay, just cut it down in size and decentralize it. And most of the rest of the document is a series of proposals to do that.
At least it’s a start, and I wish them well, but our declining social capital is the gorilla in the room, and unless we attack head on the damage that has been done to civic virtue over the past half century by government overreach and failures in education, entitlements, immigration, health care, and a range of issues that have undermined our social cohesion, changing the distribution system of “who gets what” will not be enough. Brooks is right that simply removing the nanny state may not completely restore our social capital, but it’s a good first step. Once again, it’s the culture stupid!