Free Markets, Free People


“Conservatives” attacking capitalism [update]

Whether you like Mitt Romney or not, Jay Nordlinger at NRO is right about one thing that has disturbed me: we’ve been treated to a spectacle, through these often destructive debates, of so-called “conservatives” attacking capitalism in an effort to gain votes.  And yes, I meant to put the word in scare quotes because such attacks, by supposedly real conservatives (just ask them, each will tell you he’s the only “real” conservative in the race), should be unthinkable.

Nordlinger offers a litany of examples from two elections cycles, starting with:

Last time around, Mike Huckabee said Romney “looks like the guy who laid you off.”Conservatives reacted like this was the greatest mot since Voltaire or something. To me, Romney looked like someone who could create a business and hire the sadly unentrepreneurial like me.

Others said, “He looks like a car salesman,” or, worse, “a used-car salesman.” Ho ho ho! Commerce, gross, icky, yuck. Better Romney looked like an anthropology professor.

Or a law professor and community organizer, which is what we got.  Frankly, I’ll take a used car salesman any day over what we have now.

But Nordlinger’s point is true.  In their quest to tear down the bona fides of the candidate most threatening to their run for the roses, “conservatives” have been reduced to taking pot shots at capitalism even while they claim to be its champion.

Over and over, Romney defends and explains capitalism. And he’s supposed to be the RINO and squish in the race? That’s what I read in the conservative blogosphere, every day. What do you have to do to be a “real conservative”? Speak bad English and belch?

In the Saturday debate, Santorum knocked Romney for being just a “manager,” just a “CEO,” not fit to be president and commander-in-chief. This was odd for a couple of reasons: First, Romney did have a term as governor of Massachusetts (meaning he has executive political experience, unlike Santorum). And second: Since when do conservative Republicans denigrate private-sector experience?

Indeed, the Santorum remark hit me as the remark of someone who has no idea what a “manager” or “CEO” does.  But as Nordlinger points out,  Romney’s also been an executive position, something Santorum hasn’t. Naturally he left that out.

The disturbing aspect of the Santorum remark is the apparent poor regard in which he holds business managers and CEOs in a capitalist system and believes you should too.  This is just the “conservative” version of the Democrats class warfare shtick.

More Nordlinger:

Now Romney has said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say, ‘You know, I’m going to get someone else to provide that service to me.’” Simple, elementary competition. Capitalism 101. And conservatives go, “Eek, a mouse!”

I could go on: the $10,000 bet, the pink slips, conservatives wetting their pants, over and over. They have no appetite to defend capitalism, to persuade people, to encourage them not to fall for the old socialist and populist crap. I fled the Democratic party many years ago. And one of the reasons was, I couldn’t stand the class resentment, the envy, the hostility to wealth, the cries of “Richie Rich!” And I hear them from conservatives, at least when Romney is running.

So again, whether or not you’re a Romney fan (and I’m not), Nordlinger’s point is well taken.  The problem for politicians is it is hard to explain the benefits of capitalism.  But it is even harder to refrain from making assaults on another candidate when you think such an assault might be popular and gain votes.  After all, the capital of elections is votes.   In effect,  however, these “conservatives” unknowingly (or uncaringly) back the class warfare message of the left and the OWS crowd.  They are engaged in attacking and denigrating the very system they supposedly fervently support and see as the way out of the morass we find ourselves in.

And of course, at some point, depending on how this all turns out during the primary run, one of these “conservatives” may prevail and want to wrap himself in the mantle of “champion of capitalism” to solidify his base.  I have to wonder about his reaction when his intemperate words of today are turned on him by his opponent in the race.

UPDATE: Speaking of full on attacks by “conservatives” on Romney, based in twisting his past into an anti-capitalist assault, Newt Gingrich has committed to just that.  Even the left, in the person of Jonathan Chait, seems to understand that’s what is happening.  As Chait says, the attacks by Gingrich are not substantially different than those from

The political effect of these ads is to turn Romney’s chief selling point into a liability – his private-sector experience becomes an indicator not that he will fix the economy but that he will help the already-rich. It’s a smash-you-over-the-head blunt message, with ominous music and storybook dialogue. At one point, the narrator says of  Bain’s executives, “their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits.” (Aren’t “greed” and “willingness to do anything to make millions in profits” synonymous terms? Isn’t this like saying “his height was matched only by like lack of shortness”?)

The substantive merits of the attack are, obviously, a lot murkier. Romney’s job at Bain was a classic piece of creative destruction. The proper working of a free market system relies on ruthlessly identifying and closing down non-competitive business concerns. Gingrich’s assault relies on drawing a distinction between real capitalism and the “looting” undertaken by Bain Capital. “If somebody comes in takes all the money out of your company, and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions,” he argues, “that’s not traditional capitalism.” The distinction is utterly ephemeral. It’s a way of saying you’d like all the nice aspects of capitalism without the nasty ones – creating new firms and products without liquidating old ones. For once I agree with inequality-denier and supply-side maven James Pethokoukis, who praises Romney’s work at Bain.

Trust me, when Chait agrees with James Pethokoukis, the reason for such agreement must pretty obvious – the attacks are a load of nonsense that even a leftist like Chait can’t ethically bring himself to accept.   Instead, Chait is reduced to emotionalism to at least find a way to take a shot at Romney’s record.

But the point is you have “conservatives” leading the charge and doing the opposition research and framing the attack on one of their own.  As an aside, I’ve been telling Newt fans that they’ll eventually see “bad Newt” show up, especially when he starts losing.  Well, here he is, in full and living color.


Twitter: @McQandO

Former SEIU boss: We should emulate Chinese economic model

You can wade through all the trash he throws up there as a preface to his central point, but I’ll save you the trouble.  Writing in the WSJ, Andy Stern says:

The conservative-preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only model—so successful in the 20th century—is being thrown onto the trash heap of history in the 21st century. In an era when countries need to become economic teams, Team USA’s results—a jobless decade, 30 years of flat median wages, a trade deficit, a shrinking middle class and phenomenal gains in wealth but only for the top 1%—are pathetic.

This should motivate leaders to rethink, rather than double down on an empirically failing free-market extremism. As painful and humbling as it may be, America needs to do what a once-dominant business or sports team would do when the tide turns: study the ingredients of its competitors’ success.

No poisoning the well there, huh?  The “conservative-preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only" model?  Really?  Where? 

And why was it “so successful in the 20th century” and why is it having problems now?  Well that’s a fairly easy question to answer.   What happened increasingly in the 20th century that is at an all time high now?

Answer?  Government.  It has increased dramatically in both size and intrusiveness.  We don’t have a “free-market” system anymore.  Haven’t for quite some time.   It’s a convenient shibboleth used by opponents of free markets such as Stern.  We have a government that has, in the century cited, turned it into crony capitalism.  Any resemblance here in the 21st century to a “free market” model is purely coincidental.  And we now have a debt drag imposed by out of control government spending that has finally topped our total yearly GDP.

As usual, with those who think China has figured out how to build the socialist dream, they never figure in the damage done to the model that was “so successful in the 20th century” because doing so kills their entire premise.   Government is their vehicle to both wealth and social justice.   They have no concept of how markets work so are gullible enough to still believe that central planning, properly done, can work.  And they take the fact that China has risen economically as proof of their premise.

What they don’t do is look behind the curtain.   Stern talks about his trip there, “a trip organized by the China-United States Exchange Foundation and the Center for American Progress—with high-ranking Chinese government officials, both past and present.”

Yes indeed, very likely to see the underside of the economy is a show tour aren’t you?

A caller to Rush Limbaugh who spends a lot of time in China lays out the reality there:

CALLER: Because once you get outside of the main cities, there are still people plowing fields behind cows and oxen, still hand harvesting corn, grains, rice. I mean, it’s still very much a Third World economy once you get outside of the main cities.

RUSH: With a First World military.

CALLER: Yeah, that’s true.

RUSH: That’s where much of their spending goes. Their infrastructure is built on the cheap, too. Doesn’t take much wind to bring down some of their so-called powerful infrastructure. But, you’re right, and this is what President Bush was telling me, that the big challenge is keeping those peasants behind the oxen. Don’t [let] them into the city. The cities can’t handle them. The cities are teeming with people already. But it’s always been the case that there is this romance — the left has romance — with the romantic attachments to all these tyrannical communist regimes, and now they’re looking at China and you’ve got this Andy Stern guy and other people telling us, "This is what we need to be. We need to emulate the ChiComs. The ChiComs are doing it right."

This is simply the usual nonsense wrapped up in a little different packaging.  It is the leftist dream – a strong central government planning the economy in which it ensures social justice as its highest priority (btw, China is an environmental disaster area, but you won’t hear that from the likes of Stern).  And that doesn’t mean market capitalism, even if the Andy Sterns of the world want you to believe that.  

While he avoids the obvious problem of government intrusion and its disastrous effect on the economy, he does touch on the political problem we still endure.   We have politicians who prefer being Santa Claus to the Grinch and whose whole political horizon never goes beyond the next election.

But the central problem we have isn’t needing a new economic model.  Instead we need to go back to the old one before it was corrupted and distorted by government.   Instead of more government, as Andy Stern wishes, we need precisely the opposite – much less government.

If we want to regain our economic footing and dominance, what government needs to do is get the hell out of the way, get spending under control and pay down the debt (which should become its primary focus over the coming decades) to eliminate the debt drag it has created.

Other than that, it’s job is to be the night watchman, not Santa Claus.  Our problem isn’t economic models.  Our problem is exactly what Stern wants more of.

Obviously economics wasn’t his strong subject in whatever schooling he received and history was apparently completely skipped.  How else to explain the utter nonsense he pushes in his article?


Twitter: @McQandO

Should Liberal’s support Occupy Wall Street?

That’s the question the editorial staff asks and answers in an editorial written for the publication’s November 3rd edition.

The answer they give is a qualified “no”.  Qualified in that while they sympathize with some of the points raised (which they note ironically are similar to those raised by the Tea Party), they find the movement mostly too radical. 

Why?  Well here’s the reasoning that struck me as interesting:

One of the core differences between liberals and radicals is that liberals are capitalists. They believe in a capitalism that is democratically regulated—that seeks to level an unfair economic playing field so that all citizens have the freedom to make what they want of their lives. But these are not the principles we are hearing from the protesters. Instead, we are hearing calls for the upending of capitalism entirely.

Okay.  Liberals are capitalists.   Let that sink in.  How does one seek to “level an unfair economic playing field” and claim to be a capitalist, where an unleveled playing field is almost a prerequisite to its economic success.  That may sound odd, but it is capitalists who fund capitalism and they’re usually far and away richer than most of those who end up benefitting from the economic system.

The very people OWS is protesting.

Venture capitalists are usually found in the 1% the protesters are decrying.   While I agree that under law, the playing field should be equal, crony capitalism (which isn’t capitalism at all) should be ruthlessly discouraged and government intrusion in markets dialed back to zero.  I see neither of those latter two items on the liberal agenda.  And remember – capitalism doesn’t claim to have a “level playing field”, but what it does promise is to be like a rising tide and lift all boats to a different and higher economic level of prosperity.   Its record backs that claim.

So make what you will of the editorial’s claim about the liberal version of capitalism, however they are seeking to distance themselves from the OWS crowd because it seems to mostly represent those who anti-capitalist.  However flawed the liberal idea of what constitutes capitalism, they at least acknowledge its worth and the fact that it is the basis of our success.

As Daniel Foster says – “let’s hold them to this” and make sure to remind them the next time they go on an anti-capitalist rant or write approvingly of government intrusion in the markets.

Uber liberal Oliver Willis  rejects everything the New Republic says because, he claims, they’ve been wrong about everything in the past.  I assume that passes for “critical thinking” in WillisWorld.  Willis obviously finds the OWS platform, such that it is in all its anti-capitalist glory, to be pleasing enough in some form or fashion that he implies support.

In fact, I believe what the New Republic sees for the most part is a genuine but very small core of people who began this simply out of frustration and now have the usual radical, anti-capitalist, socialist A.N.S.W.E.R. professional protesters along with labor unions like the SEIU joining in and taking over the protest sensing a chance to again push their tired and failed agendas.

Dana Milbank gives an example on who or what has shown up at the Washington DC event in, well, less than impressive numbers:

But while the Occupy movement in the capital has invigorated left-wing groups — Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, Common Dreams, Peace Action, DC Vote, Community Council for the Homeless and a score of other labor and progressive organizations are represented on Freedom Plaza — it has not ignited anything resembling a populist rebellion. To swell their ranks, protesters recruited the homeless to camp with them.

Already, there are factions. While the Freedom Plaza group, calling itself “Stop the Machine,” prepared to storm the Hart building, an AFL-CIO group was planning a conflicting event on the plaza. A few blocks away, in McPherson Square, an outgrowth of Occupy Wall Street had established an encampment of a few dozen sleeping bags.

The Occupy movement is in the midst of being co-opted by the usual suspects.  And that will bring the usual results.  Rhetoric that most Americans will find offensive coupled with childish actions that will have those who tentatively support the movement drop them like a hot rock.  Right now, of the “99%” out in flyover land, only 36% support the protests.

Anyway, Daniel Indiviglio at the Atlantic pretty much agrees with the New Republic and gives a reason that is more closely aligned with the progressive view of “capitalism” as it defines and supports it and as I’ve always understood them to believe:

The sort of anarchist-socialist radicals that can be found at the OWS protests threaten the progressive view that there are times when it is sensible and morally righteous for the government to intervene and prop up the economy, an industry, or even specific companies, if that action is thought to benefit the economy on a whole. The difference here is that the radicals think the occasional need for a bailout proves that capitalism is doomed and should be shuttered, while progressives believe that bailouts can help capitalism to work.

When you realize what is at the root cause of the problems we now are fighting to overcome, you realize the progressive version of “capitalism” is a failure.   As usual, their instrument of change is the blunt force of government where one doesn’t have to convince, persuade or sell.  Just dictate and do.  That’s the antithesis of capitalism and markets.

I don’t think the word means what they think it means.

But don’t tell them … they really, honestly think they’re capitalists. 


Twitter: @McQandO

Have you spotted the evolving narrative yet?

Today at his press conference, President Obama claimed that people may have been confused by what he did early on with the massive spending because it was an “emergency” and he had to do something quickly.  Or said another way, he rushed everything through as quickly as he could – despite his promises – because the situation demanded it.  It wasn’t because he wanted too – it was because he had too.  

You know, like the pure pork stimulus bill,  most of which was scheduled to be spent in later years.  And, of course, although many would like to lay TARP completely at Bush’s feet it should be remembered it was a Democratic Congress that passed that and Obama voted yes. 

The point this new meme, of course is to cast himself as much more of a deficit hawk who was put in the position of saving the world (and his reaction argues against any claim of being a deficit hawk, by the way) – the emergency he continued to talk about today.

Timothy Egan at the NYT employs a variation on the theme in an article hilariously entitled, “How Obama saved Capitalism and lost the midterms”.  No.  Really – that’s his claim.  Obama saved Capitalism.  Because intruding on the natural processes of capitalism and not allowing them to take their natural course actually saves capitalism from, well, I suppose capitalism. 

Yeah, it’s a pretty funny in a weird sort of NYT kind of way. 

Most, except perhaps Egan, understand that capitalism isn’t something that “fails”.  It is as much a process as anything and it is built upon the trillions of private individual interactions that voluntarily happen daily.   What Egan claims Obama did isn’t at all true.  What Obama did was prop up crony capitalism by bailing out institutions that had been incentivized by government to behave badly.  End of story.  And then he went on to prop up manufacturers (car companies) that had been managed badly and were failing all on their own.  Neither action has a thing to do with capitalism per se.  Markets reward success and are brutal to failure.  Propping up failure has nothing to do with markets and thus nothing to do with market capitalism.  Had both GM and Chrysler gone under, the best parts would have emerged under some other car company.   The fact is we’d still be going cars today had they gone under, just not those cars.

Obama may not have been among those who created the incentives that created the financial problems  – although it was rather disappointing to see one of them win reelection in MA – but the fact remains that at base, Obama was using borrowed money to keep the government/private bank scam it precipitated from collapsing the whole economy as the bubble they’d created burst.  Again, that’s not a problem of capitalism.

So Egan’s premise?  Well, it’s simply nonsense. 

On the eve of the day after a “shellacking” as Obama called it during the presser, I suppose the left is looking for any silver lining it can find. Even if it is to be found in that for which they claim the president supposedly didn’t get proper credit.  Egan might have had a slight chance at credibility if he’d claimed that the “emergency” actions of the Obama administration had kept the recession from being deeper – that’s at least debatable.

But saving Capitalism?

That’s just ignorance on a stick.


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Is it the fault of multiple generations of public schooling?

Or is it the constant demonization of capitalism?

This does’t particularly shock me:

Sixty percent (60%) of U.S. adults nationwide say that capitalism is better than socialism. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 18% disagree, while 21% are not sure.

How can you not be sure?  As I see it, you can only not be sure if you really don’t know what each of  them are -seriously.  That 18% disagree isn’t a big deal.  That 21% don’t know, is a big deal.

But what’s up with this?

However, it’s important to note that just 35% believe a free market economy is the same as a capitalist economy. In fact, despite tepid support for capitalism, 77% of Americans prefer a free market economy rather than a government managed economy. That’s consistent with the 75% who say that business is better at customer service than government.

So 17% of that 21% (one assumes those with a definite positive belief in socialism (18%) would know that captalism is a free market system) like a “free market economy” but don’t know what the hell that really means?

Ye gods … They know “free market” is good and preferable, but capitalism has been so demonized by politicians, academics and activists that they don’t associate it with “free market”.


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Quote Of The Day

It’s actually from last week, but too good of a comment not to highlight, even tardily [Via Synova]:

Americans believe that the normal state of things is not-violence…

Do you suppose that’s true? That that’s why we have such absurdities as people climbing in zoo cages to cuddle the animals? It would explain a lot of things.

It would explain, for instance, why the writer of that article is able to regurgitate a century and a half of Socialist propaganda and get commenters calling it “insightful”. Two centuries of modern capitalism have resulted in such ease, such comfort, such near-total safety and security, that Americans (at least, some Americans) don’t just take it for granted but consider it the normal state of affairs, so much so that they are ready and willing to smash the structures that created it, in the confident “knowledge” that the safety and prosperity will remain because they are “normal”.

Ric’s observation stemmed from a Firedoglake post (linked above) in which capitalism is noted as the source of violence. I think Ric pretty much nailed why such thinking is so absurd. Also see Synova’s thoughts on the matter, which are also quite good.

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Podcast for 12 Apr 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale discuss the Maersk Alabama Piracy conclusion, President Bush’s Obama’s military and terrorism policies, and the poll that found only 52% of Americans beleive that Capitalism is superior to Socialism.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.


The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Podcast for 22 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about the AIG bonus Fiasco, limiting executive pay,  and the public’s tolerance for President Obama.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.


The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Brooks On Capitalism

David Brooks had started down the road to Damascus when he was called back into the fold by Dear Leader. His Op-Ed in today’s NYT is the result.

Most of Brooks’ offering is a rather transparent attempt to shame congressional Republicans into supporting Pres. Obama’s agenda:

The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.

The G.O.P. leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals while all the Republicans can say is “no.” They’ve apparently decided that it’s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.

There are myriad problems with Brooks’ line of reasoning, including many in just to two foregoing paragraphs (e.g. How much input did Republicans have into the recent legislation? By “adopted a posture” is he referring to “not having control of either the House or the Senate”?), but I wanted to focus in on a couple of points in particular.

After some platitudinous admonitions, Brooks launches into his prescription for Republicans to save capitalism:

Third, Republicans could offer the public a realistic appraisal of the health of capitalism. Global capitalism is an innovative force, they could argue, but we have been reminded of its shortcomings. When exogenous forces like the rise of China and a flood of easy money hit the global marketplace, they can throw the entire system of out of whack, leading to a cascade of imbalances: higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.

I really don’t know what point Brooks thought he was making, but he failed miserably on any score. First of all, “exogenous forces” cannot be “weaknesses” and/or “shortcomings” with capitalism since, by definition, they come from outside that system. At best, examining such forces can be used to understand better ways of protecting capitalism from them. In the context of the entire Op-Ed piece, however, it appears that Brooks is pitching the tired line that capitalism must be reigned in so that people don’t get hurt. That’s like diagnosing the problem with house, finding termites, and then thinking of ways to protect the termites from the house.

Furthermore, Brooks cites a “flood of easy money” (which, of course, is caused by government) as an example of an exogenous force, and then lists the following “shortcomings” of capitalism: “higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.” What do any of those things have to do with capitalism? If anything, these are once again a failure of government skewing incentives.

In fact, when the government does its darnedest to make the cost of borrowing money historically low, people would be really stupid not to take advantage of that. We all know that rates fluctuate, and that the cost of money will be more expensive when they go back up. Logically therefore, it only makes sense to borrow when the Fed turns the money spigot on and then to find some sort of an asset to grow that money in. That, of course, is what leads to bubbles as everyone has barrels of money but not as many clear ideas of what makes a good investment. Instead of taking the time to really investigate what opportunities are available, and which ones fit a particular person’s portfolio, the herd mentality takes over and we all tend to keep up with the Jones and Smiths whether that means buying tulip bulbs or a run-down house we intend to flip.

The bottom line, however, is that these sorts of scenarios start with government intervention into the market place. In addition to turning on the money spigot, the federal government was also encouraging lenders to make high-risk loans, and for the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to buy them up, securitize them and sell them into the derivatives market. Again, that’s all fine and dandy (until it it all goes to hell), but it has nothing to do with “weaknesses” and “shortcomings” of capitalism, and everything to do with government sticking its big fat honker where it doesn’t belong.

More Brooks:

If the free market party doesn’t offer the public an honest appraisal of capitalism’s weaknesses, the public will never trust it to address them.

The “free market party”? Who does he think he’s kidding here? The Republicans haven’t acted like a free market party since … well … it’s been so long I can’t remember.

Moreover, I simply can’t fathom how Brooks thinks a “free market party” would ever be able to reconcile itself to joining hands with Obama on his completely anti-capitalist agenda.

Power will inevitably slide over to those who believe this crisis is a repudiation of global capitalism as a whole.

Earth to Brooks: that’s already happened. Look who the president is for crying out loud, or take the time to read your own newspaper. Each and every day we hear about how the excesses of capitalism caused this crisis, and how the “libertarian” policies of Bush (HA!) have landed us in this awful spot. Capitalism didn’t get a trial, Mr. Brooks, it was rounded up, convicted and summarily shot as soon as the latest grand experiment in government do-goodism failed (again).