George F. Will

Washington, D.C.

 George Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977. He is also a regular contributor to MSNBC and NBC News. "The Conservative Sensibility," his latest book, was released in June 2019. His other works include: “One Man’s America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation” (2008), “Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy” (1992), “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball” (1989), “The New Season: A Spectator’s Guide to the 1988 Election” (1987) and “Statecraft as Soulcraft” (1983). Will grew up in Champaign, Ill., attended Trinity College and Oxford University, and received a PhD from Princeton University. 
Honors & Awards:
  • 1977 Pulitzer Prize for commentary
  • 1979 National Magazine Awards: Finalist in the essay and criticism category
  • 1978 National Headliners Award
  • 1980 Silurian Award for editorial writing
  • 1985 The Washington Journalism Review named Will best writer, any subject
  • 1997 Named among the 25 most influential Washington journalists by the National Journal
Books by George F. Will:  

The Pursuit of Happiness and Other Sobering Thoughts

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The Pursuit of Virtue and Other Tory Notions

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The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses 1981-1986

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Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home 1986-1990

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The Leveling Wind: Politics, the Culture, and Other News, 1990-1994

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The Woven Figure: Conservatism and America's Fabric

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With a Happy Eye, But ... America and the World, 1997-2002

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One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation

Buy it from Amazon

Statecraft as Soulcraft

Buy it from Amazon

The New Season: A Spectator's Guide to the 1988 Election

Buy it from Amazon

Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball

Buy it from Amazon

Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy

Buy it from Amazon

The Conservative Sensibility

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Recent Articles

GEORGE WILL COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Will clients only)

By GEORGE F. WILL

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan -- It is difficult to discourage and impossible to manage Justin Amash because he, unusual among politicians, does not want much and wants nothing inordinately. He would like to win a sixth term as congressman from this culturally distinctive slice of the Midwest. He does not, however, want it enough to remain in today's Republican Party, which he has left because that neighborhood has become blighted. Amash, 39, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, also has left that once-admirable faction because he does not define freedom as it now does, as devotion to the 45th president.

He is running as an independent, which might accomplish two admirable things: It might demonstrate that voters need not invariably settle for a sterile binary choice. And it might complicate Donald Trump's task of again winning Michigan's 16 electoral votes, which he did in 2016 by just 0.2 percentage points.

With a city named Holland and a college named for John Calvin, West Michigan's culture reflects its settlement by Dutch Americans, who set about vindicating Max Weber's connection between the "Protestant ethic" and the "spirit of capitalism," a spirit incubated in 17th and 18th century Amsterdam. Distinguished Michigan denizens of Dutch descent have included Peter De Vries, America's wittiest novelist.

Local Christian schools drummed into Amash and other young sinners fear of a particular moral failing: pride. His one-word description of his constituents -- "modest" -- suggests an aversion to vanity, vulgarity and ostentation that has an obvious pertinence to the leader of Amash's former party. Amash compares West Michiganders -- culturally, not theologically -- to Mormons. Donald Trump carried 16 states by larger margins than he carried Utah, and won only 51.6% in Amash's district, which traditionally has been the epicenter of Michigan Republicanism. "I think," Amash says dryly, "the Trump people are confounded by this area," where Trump held his final 2016 rally.

A few hours after Amash declared his independence from the husk of the Republican Party, he marched in several Independence Day parades where "I got an overwhelmingly positive feeling." This might indicate increased negative feelings about Trump, who carried Michigan by just 10,704 votes out of 4,799,284.

In Amash's single term in the state legislature, he cast the only "no" vote on more than 70 measures. In 2013, he had the gumption to vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act for no better reason than that there was no reason for it, and it was inimical to federalism: It "created new federal crimes to mirror crimes already on the books in every state." His average margin of victory in four reelection contests has been 15.1 percentage points.

Amash, the son of a Palestinian refugee who arrived in West Michigan in 1956, is philosophically unlike Grand Rapids' most famous son, whose philosophic interests were few and did not include Amash's favorite Austrian economists (Von Mises, Hayek). Amash, however, shares Gerald Ford's devotion to the idea, if not the actuality, of Congress. Ford's pipe, loud sport coats, decency and legislative seriousness validate a famous judgment: "The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there."

Presently, Congress is rarely a legislative, let alone a deliberative, body. Two years ago, when Republicans controlled the House, a Republican congressman defended a committee chairman accused of excessive subservience to the president by saying: "You've got to keep in mind who he works for. He works for the president. He answers to the president." Pathetic.

Because congressional leaders live in terror of spontaneity among the led, hearings designed to generate publicity are tightly scripted, which is why, Amash says, such hearings are "an elaborate form of performance art" and members "often look as though they are asking questions they do not understand." Congressional leaders' stern message to potentially unmanageable members is to pipe down and "live to fight [for spending restraint, entitlement reform, open House processes, etc.] another day." Amash's campaign slogan should be: "Vote for someone who is as disgusted with Congress as you are."

The Libertarian Party might ask Amash to take his -- actually, it's the Founders' -- message to the nation as the party's presidential nominee. He does not seek this -- he has three young children -- but does not summarily spurn the idea of offering temperate voters a choice of something other than a choice between bossy progressivism and populist Caesarism. Or he could become the first non-Republican the Grand Rapids area has sent to Congress since 1974.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

GEORGE WILL COLUMN

(Advance for Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Will clients only)

By GEORGE F. WILL

CHICAGO -- Given its surplus of violence and scarcity of resources, Chicago surely has bigger things to worry about than the menace, as the city sees it, of Laura Pekarik's cupcakes. Herewith redundant evidence of regulatory government's unsleeping solicitousness for the strong.

Pekarik, a feisty 33-year-old single mother and embodiment of America's entrepreneurial itch, grew up in Chicago's suburbs and at age 24 began baking for the fun of it. Eventually, she invested her entire savings ($12,000) in a lime-green truck, called Cupcakes for Courage, from which she began selling.

She was part of the proliferation of heterogenous truck-dispensed foods -- one truck was called The Schnitzel King -- that grew in response to consumer demand for the fun and convenience of curbside lunches of all sorts. This was, however, neither fun nor convenient for restaurants, which responded by (guess one): (a) upping their game in order to compete with the upstarts in trucks or (b) running to the government for relief from competition. If you guessed "b," you get an A for understanding the land of the free and the home of the rent-seekers.

Rent-seeking is private factions manipulating public power to enhance their profits. This is what Chicago's restaurant industry did, with the help of an alderman who owns several restaurants and is the former head of the Illinois Restaurant Association. In 2012, at their behest, the city revised its vending laws to forbid food trucks from operating within 200 feet of any business that serves food (with fines of up to $2,000), which banned the trucks from almost all areas with office workers seeking lunches. And the regulations require food trucks to install GPS devices so government can track their movements, like convicted felons wearing ankle bracelets. This made the truck operators' right to work -- itself radically truncated -- contingent on forfeiting their right to privacy.

The commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection says that the city's food truck regulations -- the city's protection of consumers from more choices than the city thinks is good for them -- "strike the right balance" between the interests of restaurants and trucks. Oh? Why is striking such balances between the interests of rival economic factions the proper concern of politicians and bureaucrats?

The commissioner was echoing Illinois' Supreme Court, which said the city had a "rational basis" for its "attempts to balance the interests of food trucks with the need to promote neighborhood stability that is furthered by brick-and-mortar restaurants." And the court was echoing the rent-seekers' self-serving and evidence-free faux sociology.

In reality, which is a foreign country to many courts, the "rational basis" test is too permissive to be dignified as a test: It means that any government infringement of economic liberty passes constitutional muster if the infringing legislature offers (BEG ITAL)any(END ITAL) reason for it or even if a court can imagine a reason for it. And even if the reason -- the legislators' motive -- is obvious to any sentient observer: to placate rent-seekers.

The court said the rational basis test applied here because the challenged regulation "does not affect a fundamental right." So, the highest court in the state that advertises itself as the Land of Lincoln, an apostle of free labor, says that the right to work autonomously is not "fundamental."

The court swallowed the junk-food sociology that asserts, without evidence, two things: that the existence of brick-and-mortar restaurants is threatened by food trucks, and that such restaurants are essential to "neighborhood stability." Never mind the absence of evidence of damage to neighborhoods or restaurants in food-truck meccas such as New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

Laura Pekarik was lucky. She diversified her business early on by opening two brick-and-mortar stores. When the weather is clement and business is good, she has 40 employees. But others have not been lucky: The number of food trucks in the Windy City has dropped by 40%. She hopes the U.S. Supreme Court, where she will continue to be assisted by the Institute for Justice, will hear her argument against government picking winners and losers, and doing so on behalf of those who have already won advantages.

The court should assert that the rational basis test does not require courts to be willfully oblivious of disreputable legislative motives. This also should be an opportunity for some conservatives to rethink their obdurate devotion to a "judicial restraint" that is indistinguishable from dereliction of judicial duty.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

GEORGE WILL COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Aug. 11 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Will clients only)

By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON -- Regimes, however intellectually disreputable, rarely are unable to attract intellectuals eager to rationalize the regimes' behavior. America's current administration has "national conservatives." They advocate unprecedented expansion of government in order to purge America of excessive respect for market forces, and to affirm robust confidence in government as a social engineer allocating wealth and opportunity. They call themselves conservatives, perhaps because they loathe progressives, although they seem not to remember why.

The Manhattan Institute's Oren Cass advocates "industrial policy" -- what other socialists call "economic planning" -- because "market economies do not automatically allocate resources well across sectors." So, government, he says, must create the proper "composition" of the economy by rescuing "vital sectors" from "underinvestment." By allocating resources "well," Cass does (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) mean efficiently -- to their most economically productive uses. He especially means subsidizing manufacturing, which he says is the "primary" form of production because innovation and manufacturing production are not easily "disaggregated."

Manufacturing jobs, Cass's preoccupation, are, however, only 8% of U.S. employment. Furthermore, he admits that as government, i.e., politics, permeates the economy on manufacturing's behalf, "regulatory capture," other forms of corruption and "market distortions will emerge." (BEG ITAL)Emerge(END ITAL)? Using government to create market distortions is national conservatism's agenda.

The national conservatives' pinup du jour is Fox News' Tucker Carlson, who, like the president he reveres, is a talented entertainer. Carlson says that what Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., calls "economic patriotism" sounds like "Donald Trump at his best." Carlson approves how Warren excoriates U.S. companies' excessive "loyalty" to shareholders. She wants the government to "act aggressively" and "intervene in markets" in order to stop "abandoning loyal American workers and hollowing out American cities." Carlson darkly warns that this "pure old-fashioned economics" offends zealots "controlled by the banks."

He adds: "The main threat to your ability to live your life as you choose does not come from government anymore, but it comes from the private sector." Well. If living "as you choose" means living free from the friction of circumstances, the "threat" is large indeed. It is reality -- the fact that individuals are situated in times and places not altogether of their choosing or making. National conservatives promise government can rectify this wrong.

Their agenda is much more ambitious than President Nixon's 1971 imposition of wage and price controls, which were (BEG ITAL)temporary(END ITAL) fiascos. Their agenda is even more ambitious than the New Deal's cartelization of industries, which had the temporary (and unachieved) purpose of curing unemployment. What national conservatives propose is government fine-tuning the economy's composition and making sure resources are "well" distributed, as the government (i.e., the political class) decides, (BEG ITAL)forever(END ITAL).

What socialists are so fond of saying, national conservatives are now saying: (BEG ITAL)This(END ITAL) time will be different. It never is, because government's economic planning always involves the fatal conceit that government can aggregate, and act on, information more intelligently and nimbly than markets can.

National conservatives preen as defenders of the dignity of the rural and small-town -- mostly white and non-college educated -- working class. However, these defenders nullify the members' dignity by discounting their agency. National conservatives regard the objects of their compassion as inert victims, who are as passive as brown paper parcels, awaiting government rescue from circumstances. In contrast, there was dignity in the Joad family (of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"), who, when the Depression and Dust Bowl battered Oklahoma, went west seeking work.

Right-wing anti-capitalism has a long pedigree as a largely aristocratic regret, symbolized by railroads -- the noise, the soot, the lower orders not staying where they belong -- that despoiled the Edenic tranquility of Europe's landed aristocracy. The aristocrats were not wrong in seeing their supremacy going up in the smoke from industrialism's smokestacks: Market forces powered by mass preferences do not defer to inherited status.

Although the national conservatives' anti-capitalism purports to be populist, it would further empower the administrative state's faux aristocracy of administrators who would decide which communities and economic sectors should receive "well"-allocated resources. Furthermore, national conservatism is paternalistic populism. This might seem oxymoronic, but so did "Elizabeth Warren conservatives" until national conservatives emerged as such. The paternalists say to today's Joads: Stay put. We know what is best for you and will give it to you through government.

As national conservatives apply intellectual patinas to the president's mutable preferences, they continue their molten denunciations of progressives -- hysteria about a "Flight 93 election" (the Republic's last chance!) and similar nonsense. Heat, however, neither disguises nor dignifies their narcissism of small differences.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

About
George Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977. He is also a regular contributor to MSNBC and NBC News. "The Conservative Sensibility," his latest book, was released in June 2019. His other works include: “One Man’s America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation” (2008), “Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy” (1992), “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball” (1989), “The New Season: A Spectator’s Guide to the 1988 Election” (1987) and “Statecraft as Soulcraft” (1983). Will grew up in Champaign, Ill., attended Trinity College and Oxford University, and received a PhD from Princeton University.
Books
  • The Pursuit of Happiness and Other Sobering Thoughts
  • The Pursuit of Virtue and Other Tory Notions
  • The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses 1981-1986
  • Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home 1986-1990
  • The Leveling Wind: Politics, the Culture, and Other News, 1990-1994
  • The Woven Figure: Conservatism and America's Fabric
  • With a Happy Eye, But ... America and the World, 1997-2002
  • One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation
  • Statecraft as Soulcraft
  • The New Season: A Spectator's Guide to the 1988 Election
  • Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball
  • Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy
  • The Conservative Sensibility
Awards
  • 1977 Pulitzer Prize for commentary
  • 1979 National Magazine Awards: Finalist in the essay and criticism category
  • 1978 National Headliners Award
  • 1980 Silurian Award for editorial writing
  • 1985 The Washington Journalism Review named Will best writer, any subject
  • 1997 Named among the 25 most influential Washington journalists by the National Journal
Links