Wednesday, June 11, 2014


The surprising primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) by economics professor David Brat is sending shock waves through Washington and the political establishment.

We could talk about the Republican Party bringing this upon themselves because they fed the tea party movement. We could also talk about low primary voter turnout, excessive gerrymandering (which made Cantor's district hyper-conservative), or the fact that Cantor was viewed as increasingly distant by the constituents within his district because of his national level profile and work.

Then there's the fact that Cantor's campaign relied on internal polls that showed Cantor ahead by as much as 34 and 13 percentage points at the end of May (showing that conservatives learned nothing from their "skewed polls" nonsense in 2012).

For me the important points to consider are what drives David Brat, and the single issue that inspired his supporters: Free market fundamentalism and opposition to immigration reform.

As an economics professor David Brat proudly announces that he's an Adam Smith, free market kind of guy. Those of you who have read my book, or follow this blog regularly, know where I stand here. The idea that we live in a free market society is based on myth, which makes mainstream economics little more than a cult.

David Brat may have touched a populist nerve with his primary victory, but the economic ideas that drive him means that he's as out of touch about how the world really works as the next guy in Washington. So, yeah, he should fit right in.

Then we have Brat's opposition to immigration reform.

By using undocumented workers as his 'whipping boy' Brat was able to touch a nerve in the Virginia electorate that's built around fear and ignorance. Specifically, by agitating over the coming Brown Horde it's clear that Brat understands the role of fear-mongering in politics. But it's also clear that he has no understanding of how our market system really works in a globalized economy. People moving to find work, and a higher wage, are the backbone of any free market market economy - including a globalized one.

Brat may be an economist but he seems to have forgotten that the free movement of "labor" is just as important as the free exchange of "land" and "capital" when it comes to building a free market platform.

Let me restate the above another way. Every economics text makes it clear that land, labor, and capital must be unfettered, and capable of finding its level price if you want to have a free market economy. Brat's opposition to immigration reform does nothing to suggest that he understands this simple point.

At the end of the day Brat is not a free market kind of guy. Worse, his intellectual heart is wedded to a failed theory built by the first free market economists.

However, Brat's politics of fear, over the coming Brown Hordes, will help make him one of the guys.

With exception of the tea party paranoia running through the veins of the Republican Party now, Brat's victory will not alter politics (or gridlock) in Washington. We all know who is still running the show.

- Mark

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