Whose Capitalism?

Mitt Romney doesn’t need to defend capitalism. He needs to defend his version of capitalism. This is the essence of Newt Gingrich’s challenge to Romney in recent days.

Newt has been slapped down, once again, by establishment Republicans who believe that Newt is “hurting the party” with his latest challenge to Romney. They’re saying that Romney will have a more difficult time beating Obama in the general election if his Republican opponents don’t quit what they’re doing.

The chief problem with this silly posturing is that Newt Gingrich, unlike the Republican establishment, simply does not accept their determination to nominate Mitt Romney. Why should Newt care whether establishment Republicans are coming unglued over his effort to put more pressure on their “favorite”? He aims to win the nomination, with or without their support. He wants to demonstrate that they’ve bet their money on the wrong horse.

Time will tell whether he succeeds.

But there is a deeper problem with the Republican backlash against Gingrich. And it has a couple of important components. Fundamentally, establishment Republicans are characterizing Newt’s challenge as an attack on capitalism, and they claim to resent this because Republican candidates for the presidency are supposed to fall in line with their version of capitalism. Their attack on Gingrich is simply disingenuous; they aren’t telling half the truth.

This is because Newt is at least as committed to capitalism as Mitt is. But Newt is suspicious of Mitt’s version of capitalism, according to which it’s fair for anyone to make a buck at anyone’s expense, by whatever means and with whatever effects, as long as it’s legal. An ethically sensitive—and morally sensible—capitalist should repudiate such an attitude.

Here’s the last line in Romney’s latest defensive campaign ad:

We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial, but as The Wall Street Journal said, “Mr. Romney’s GOP opponents . . . are embarrassing themselves” by taking the Obama line.

Wouldn’t you like to know who at The Wall Street Journal that said that, what kind of column it was, and whether this is the uniform attitude of everyone at the WSJ? And who cares what the WSJ says if they’re wrong? The WSJ should welcome a debate about the character and genius of capitalism and its several varieties. Newt Gingrich wants to have that debate, and he may get it at the next Republican presidential debate before the South Carolina primary.

It’s possible that Romney’s version of capitalism is as innocent as the wind-driven snow. But let him explain it without asserting that Newt is attacking the free market.

It’s also entirely possible that if Romney’s opponents among Republican candidates don’t quit what they’re doing, Romney won’t have to worry about facing Obama because Romney won’t be the Republican nominee. Of course, if that happens, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth among Republican party fixtures.

I would be as happy to see that as I would be to witness a Lincoln-Douglas debate between Newt Gingrich and President Obama.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

One Response to Whose Capitalism?

  1. Mark says:

    I agree with all this. What makes it even more confusing to folks is that while I agree that Newt isn’t attacking capitalism in critiquing Romney and Bain, some are or come very close. So it can be difficult to know who’s attacking what, and why.

    Take for example the celebrating case of SCM, the Marion IN factory that was supposedly closed by Romney that Kennedy used to such great effect, and Obama will try as well if Romney is the nominee.

    http://devinemulvey.com/portfolio/worker-ads/

    I’m from IN and my cousin worked at that plant and is bitter to this day that it was closed. But the story of why that factory closed is sorely lacking context. SCM stands for:

    Smith – http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/smithpremier2.jpg
    Corona – http://www.vintagecalculators.com/html/the_twin_marchant.html
    Marchant – http://www.vintagecalculators.com/html/marchant.html

    The plant in IN didn’t make typewriters I don’t think; SCM had acquired a paper company and tried to transform itself into paper supplies and such (that is why they always speak of SCM as an office supplies company,) but the fact is that it was fundamentally still a mechanical typewriter and mechanical calculator company that was devastated by the electronics revolution. The world changed. And Marion IN has been a decaying shell of a rust-belt town since I was a kid, quite a bit worse than most. The woman that said “We thought it wouldn’t happen here” is delusional. I knew what was happening there since I was in grade school, as well as anyone else in not in denial from that area. It’s a long-since declining rust-belt town that used to survive on the strength of the GM plant there, whose decline (the plant in particular more so than GM generally) told you all you needed to know about where the town was headed.

    The auto industry devastated buggy manufacturers, to the delight of those who flocked to work in the growing automobile industry in the Midwest in places like Marion, IN. Then the electronics revolution displaced the businesses who thrived due to previous revolutions, though many more of us surely are thriving as a result of this latest one. I surely am. The people in that anti-Romney ad are an embarrassment to their region. It isn’t clear to me they believe in capitalism, and they have a clear sense of entitlement above all else. I have no brief for Romney, but blaming the closing of that plant on him or any other businessmen other than the managers of the company and fate is delusional. Anyway, there’s some context for those negative ads and stories.

    BTW, there is another American typewriter company that was also founded at the turn of the century that still survives. That company is called IBM. They successfully navigated such a radical shift, though few companies actually do. Just some perspective on all the noise.

    Like

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