This past month, I saw something I never thought I’d see: a Republican presidential candidate attacking an opponent for his participation in free-market capitalism. Newt Gingrich launched the first volley several weeks ago, going after Mitt Romney for his past work at a buyout firm, Bain Capital.
The Wall Street Journal took notice of the unusual attack, saying that “a super-PAC supporting the former House speaker plans to spend $3.4 million in TV ads in South Carolina portraying Mr. Romney as Gordon Gekko without the social conscience.”
The Journal also wryly hinted at the hypocrisy (and ultimate pointlessness) of Gingrich’s angle, saying “the financing for these ads will come from a billionaire who made his money in the casino business, which Mr. Gingrich apparently considers morally superior to investing in companies in the hope of making a profit.”
What’s going on here? Since when does a party that supposedly champions limited government, free markets and the entrepreneurial spirit succumb to this kind of rhetoric?
It’s easy to attack capitalism, because it makes some people rich and ruins others. The creative destruction caused by free market forces is painful and unpredictable. But capitalism doesn’t exist in a vacuum: It should be measured against other systems and their respective flaws.
Many years ago, talk-show host Phil Donahue hosted the Nobel Prize-winning Milton Friedman on his show. Donahue hit Friedman between the eyes with what he must have thought was a devastating query: “When you see around the globe … so few haves and so many have-nots, when you see the greed and the concentration of power, did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism?”
“The greatest achievements of civilization didn’t come from government bureaus,” Friedman said in reply. “The only cases in which the masses have escaped the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about — the only cases in recorded history — are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, it’s exactly the kinds of societies that depart from that.”
But don’t take Friedman’s word for it: Google the words “Korea at night.” You will see a satellite photograph of the Korean Peninsula, electrified and vibrant in the South, dark and destitute in the North.
Here you have similar land, similar people, similar cultural backgrounds. But the command and control, state-based, anti-capitalist economy to the north yields hunger, forced labor camps, empty highways and idle power plants. To the south, free markets have given rise to one of the world’s largest economies, a thriving culture and longer lifespans.
There’s only one critical difference between North and South Korea: government. And the consequence of that difference is compelling proof that limited government and respect for individual liberty are the greatest political innovations in the history of humanity.
It’s easy to prod and poke at the failings of the American marketplace. Don’t get me started on crony capitalism, and the coziness of the largest businesses and those who regulate them. But there’s the bathwater, and then there’s the baby.
So, Mr. Newt: if you don’t like our system of government, don’t seek the GOP nomination. This party stands for — or should stand for — limited government, free markets and individual liberties.
If it doesn’t, we’ve got a problem.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”