Mitt: Make the Moral Case for Capitalism

Mitt: Make the Moral Case for Capitalism October 1, 2012

Arthur Brooks nails it in this video.  Data-driven arguments on behalf of free-market capitalism will not prevail over moral arguments that appeal to “fairness” and the plight of those the market leaves behind.  In the marketplace of ideas, for the vast majority of people, “It’s immoral” will defeat “It works” every time.

Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute

This is a particular danger for Romney, as he approaches the debates.  Romney leans toward the economic argument for free enterprise while Obama leans toward the moral argument for redistribution.  One of Romney’s best lines from his convention speech was that Obama is focused on redistributing today’s prosperity while Romney is focused on creating tomorrow’s.  But Romney is a data-driven leader, and I hope he understands the importance of making the moral argument, and making it personal and relatable.

To be clear: everyone in the current debate accepts the need for safety nets and some regulations, as well as the need for certain measures to improve equality of opportunity.  This is not a battle from the extremes.  But it is a clash of very different visions of the society for which we ought to aim.  And different visions of how to get there.

I want to hear Romney put together the three strands of conservatism in social issues, economic issues and foreign affairs.  My own view is that the American populace has never been more ignorant than it is today of the economic case and the moral case for the free enterprise system.  Romney needs to educate even as he inspires, much as Reagan did.  So I want to hear a full-orbed vision of American renewal, from the cultural grassroots — where the economic virtues such as diligence and industry, integrity and self-reliance, must be nourished, and where the basic social institutions of family and community must be strengthened; to the economy — where the government needs to restrain its out-of-control spending and give the market a stable and unobstructed space for creativity and industry; to the international arena, where a strong defense and the promotion of free markets serves the American economy even as it creates the conditions for peace and prosperity around the globe.  If Romney can show his mastery of the data even as he provides an animating, overarching vision for American culture and American society, making the moral as well as the economic case, then I think he wins the debates.

We were made for fruitful labor.  The Left has managed to cast the free market as freedom for greed and conquest.  In my experiences in that marketplace, the freedom of the free market is freedom to provide for my family, freedom to create and build, freedom to make and achieve and become something meaningful.  There are “fat cats” and there are stories of the disadvantaged and the left-out.  Those are important, and we should hear those stories and act accordingly.  No system is perfect.

But for every “fat cat” there are thousands of men and women who just want purposeful work that provides for their families.  When the government becomes too intrusive, when its footprint upon the marketplace becomes too large, then incentives turn awry, people are rewarded for ill and punished for good, and inevitably we feed into the mentality that it’s better to receive than to achieve.  This is not the way to human flourishing.  The best way to lift the most people out of poverty is to increase opportunity, and the best way to personal satisfaction is to expand the free market for earned achievement.

Enjoy the video:

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  • Again, there is a difference between an unregulated market and an efficient market (in theory, an unregulated market can be efficient, but it is not guaranteed).

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Of course. Some regulations may make the market more efficient, some less.

  • John Haas

    “To be clear: everyone in the current debate accepts the need for safety nets and some regulations, as well as the need for certain measures to improve equality of opportunity.”

    That’s not entirely certain. It’s hard to do that without some measure of redistribution, which Obama has endorsed.

    Here’s Romney: “”I disagree,” Romney said. “I think a society based upon a government-centered nation, where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that’s the wrong course for America.””

  • Craig

    Mr. Dalrymple, pause a minute to let this fact sink in: both men are in favor of a market-based economy that is not entirely “free”, and both candidates–including Romney, when he’s honest–endorse limited redistribution.

    What then exactly are the “very different visions of the society” that you think are at stake? The answer is not free-markets vs. redistribution. It is also not capitalism vs. socialism.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      It’s not a fact I have to let sink in. I’ve made the same point myself. But just because neither advocates the extreme does not mean that they have the same vision for society.

      We’re not talking about two people at the extremes of the spectrum, but we *are* talking about two people on different halves of the spectrum. Obama would favor a much more aggressive redistribution regime and Romney would favor a much lighter government footprint in the private sector.

      • Craig

        Tim, it’s one thing to concede the fact; it’s quite another thing to let the fact sink in. I’m recommending that you to do the latter. Once you let the fact sink in, you’ll stop characterizing the differences in terms of “capitalism”, “redistribution,” and “free-markets.” You’ll instead find yourself trying to do something more honest, but much harder: trying to make a moral case favoring Romney for the specific policies that differentiate (or would likely differentiate) Romney from Obama.

        To your question why Romney isn’t already doing this: the moral arguments for Romney’s specific policy differences just aren’t very plausible.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Romney has actually made the moral case for capitalism, for instance, when he spoke at Liberty.

          And no, I have not “conceded” the fact. I have made the point. Advanced that point against people who argue otherwise. Please stop pretending to know my psychology.

  • I’m sorry to be cynical about the GOP in general and Mitt Romney in particular but given that establishment Republicans virtually anointed Romney to be the nominee and given that at his core Romney is nothing more than a pragmatic politician who will say almost anything to get in the WH, I don’t have much hope of ever seeing him making anything close to a moral argument for free enterprise or conservatism. The only candidate that was capable of doing it was Ron Paul. It is in his DNA. He has never flip-flopped or pandered. His campaign speeches were carefully reasoned teaching sessions in which he educated a generation about what the moral argument for liberty really is. And he attracted larger crowds than any of his opponents when he was in the race. The Romney campaign is incapable of making any kind of moral argument for anything as demonstrated by its immoral and conniving tactics to dismiss the Ron Paul campaign and delegates.

  • Jerry Lynch

    “We are made for fruitful labor”–and what cost and what is the fruit? The objective of Bain was profit at any cost to labor. The objective of free enterprise is bigger bank accounts, larger and more houses, toys of all varieties, and incidentally and only maybe stimulate economic growth for the country.
    Romney represents the very worst of what we have become and most appear blind to that fact. His record, if looked at with a truly open mind, would appall the sensibilities of the devout and only titillate the likes of J.P. Morgan. He is a craven opportunist, which many will find admirable, the American Way. If one believes in social darwinism, he’s your guy.

    I grew up hearing about “rugged individualism” and “Manifest Destiny” as if this was the only path to take, the signature character of American exceptionalism. Read every book by Ayn Rand and loved her work. Then I started reading the Bible with growing interest and became completely disillusioned with that philosophy.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’m not a Randian either, at least in most respects. But I do believe — in fact I think the evidence is overwhelming — that free enterprise has brought more people out of poverty than any other system of economic organization. Giving people the freedom to create meaningful work and meaningful products, giving them the freedom to provide for their families, giving them the freedom to express their own gifts and passions, is a good thing. When Romney first worked for Bain, it was about management consulting. When he launched Bain Capital, it was about finding companies with great prospects and giving them the resources to succeed. When those companies succeed, they provide jobs for their employees and products and services for their customers. When they do not succeed, you recoup as much of the resources as possible and redirect them to another company that can survive and grow. It’s not a mystery. You say “profit at any cost to labor.” In most instances, labor is well served by profit. Profitable companies expand and employ more people and provide more compensation and benefits. Continuing to fund a sinking company is an inefficient use of capital, and does not serve the labor market well overall.

      There are certainly villains to be found in the private sector. Crony capitalists. Crooked execs. I have reservations about some forms of hedge funds and money manipulators, and I have concerns about some forms of executive compensation. But Romney has always treated his employees well, used his resources to help others, and shown integrity in his business deals. Seriously, your view of Romney is completely divorced from reality.

      • matt

        Given that social mobility is much greater in European nations like Germany (or the UK) than in the US, and given that these nations have much larger and more extensive social safety nets (or aggressive “redistribution regimes” to use your, ahem, colorful, phrase) how does that square with your belief that Romney’s vision is the more “moral” one?
        And how can you look at his career at Bain as being a good indicator of his morality? Bain destroyed people’s lives; there is simply no way to refute that idea. If a company that they acquired would bring them more profit by its destruction, then they liquidated it without hesitation and without consideration of the people they were throwing into the streets. If they felt that it would be better to keep intact, then they did (as with Staples). Moral considerations never factored into it. Bain existed for the express purpose of making money. I think that the Bible might have something to say about that.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          I was talking about the moral case for capitalism, not the moral case for Bain. The two are related but not identical. But since you raise the issue of Bain…

          How do you know that moral considerations never factored into the decision? Were you in the board room? Could you see into the minds of the men and women making the decisions — or are you just assuming, on the basis of your encyclopedic knowledge of the psychology of business-people? Or are you assuming, instead, on the basis of your preconceived nation of businessmen? Do you know for certain that they never decided to keep a failing business around a little longer to give people an opportunity to keep working and try to turn it around? Do you know all the things they did to help those who were losing their jobs? Do you know all the things that Mitt specifically has done to help people who are losing jobs or otherwise in need?

          Capital companies are about finding where capital will lead to growth. In most cases, they acquire a stake in a company, put capital in, and aim for growth. Most of the time, it worked out. Bain had a track record that was legendary. Some of the time, it didn’t. When businesses fail, people lose jobs. Or if you see a business that’s failing, but you can purchase it for a lower price and then sell the pieces for a higher price, then you take that capital and put it into another company. Then it’s the new company’s turn to hire, and, hopefully, to thrive. There are job losses in one place and job gains in another.

          To view this as intrinsically immoral because people lost jobs is just simplistic.

  • Craig

    Tim, for the sake of honesty, stop characterizing the differences between Romney and Obama in terms of “capitalism”, “redistribution,” and “free enterprise.” Try instead to make a moral case Romney for the specific policies that differentiate (or would likely differentiate) Romney from Obama. Good luck.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      As I said, it’s a spectrum. If you have more regulation and more redistribution at once end, and less regulation and less redistribution at the other, neither Romney nor Obama is at an extreme, but they are on different halves of the spectrum. They have a different sense of how much regulation and how much redistribution (among other things) is too much — how much is helpful, how much is unhelpful, how much is counter-productive. That leads them to draw the line at different places, and to decide that *this* policy places too onerous a regulatory burden or *that* policy is a necessary redistributive mechanism.

      This is just one spectrum or polarity amongst many others, but I think I’ve been pretty clear that Romney is for safety nets and Obama is not seeking to impose a centrally-planned economy.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    Of course no individual policy can be settled, on its moral merits, by a determination of whether it’s more or less regulative or distributive. That wasn’t the point. I was describing the spectrum because you challenged me on whether their visions for America were genuinely different, given that Obama does not deny the need for a (relatively) free market and Romney does not deny the need for a (relatively) robust social safety net.

    I believe Romney needs to make a moral case for capitalism because I believe Americans presently do not understand capitalism well or its moral underpinnings. This is not to say that Romney ought not also to extend that case, or make a specific moral case, to particular policy proposals. I also believe that if Americans possessed a better understanding of the moral case for capitalism, they would be better able to assess the moral merits or demerits of particular policy proposals.

    Now, please stop making insults or insinuations about my character or my motives. It gets old. Let’s focus on the arguments.

  • John Haas

    Perhaps not the best time for the deregulation/government’s-the-source-of-all-our-problems crowd to be crowing about the moral superiority of the Gilded Age:

    “The rising toll — 7 dead, 57 ill and thousands potentially exposed — has cast a harsh light on the loose regulations that legal experts say allowed a company to sell 17,676 vials of an unsafe drug to pain clinics in 23 states. Federal health officials said Friday that all patients injected with the steroid drug made by that company, the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., which has a troubled history, needed to be tracked down immediately and informed of the danger.

    ““The Food and Drug Administration has more regulatory authority over a drug factory in China than over a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts,” said Kevin Outterson, an associate professor of law at Boston University.”

    • Bobby B.

      The point being . . .

  • M Torres

    I don’t think the video succeeds in making a moral case, at least not one that’s consistent with the Gospel of Grace. The moral values it seems to uphold are works based happiness, works based fairness and care for the poor. The 3rd value is a gospel value. But points 1 and 2 seem to be at odds with the good news: 1) happiness comes from undeserved grace, not earned success 2) in Christ we receive mercy, not fairness (God’s only fair response to our lives is eternal punishment). Can you draw a line for me from the Gospel to republican financial policy? I would like to understand what many brothers and sisters see that I don’t. Many thanks!