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Free Markets, Not Anti-Business

John Avalon, in an interesting interview piece with Newt Gingrich, writes:

One feature of the GOP resistance to the stimulus bill is a renewed conservative populism—it is anti-big business as well as anti-big government. To some it’s an ill fit, but Gingrich welcomes what he sees as a return to Reaganism and small government. Reagan “represented grassroots America reforming Washington; he did not represent the elites telling the American people what to do,” he says. “Over the last eight years the Republican Party became the right wing of the party of big government, and forgot that its grassroots was with the American people. I’m delighted that they’re going back. There are simple tests: is it better or worse for small business? Is it better or worse for the self-employed, for entrepreneurial start-ups, for your local synagogue, for your local community? If in fact it’s terrific for Citibank and GM, but bad for small business, then it’s an elite bill—it’s not a populist bill.”

It is hard to parse whether the “anti-big business” is Avalon’s take or Gingrich, but I think it deserves greater scrutiny. Republicans have been the party of individual freedom and liberty, meaning free markets at home and abroad. They run the risk of undercutting their own message by “attacking” big — or small — business for the sake of some populist appeal. If big business is seeking corporate welfare or the restriction of markets, then by all means Republicans should oppose those efforts. But it does them no good to join the chorus railing at “Wall Street greed.” The natural corollary to that is government regulation and a less robust economy. And good luck trying to lower the corporate tax, which could lure investors and jobs to this country, after painting big companies as villians.

Now Republicans have never, nor would I suggest they start, opposing all manner of regulation. But I think it is foolhardy to draw a distinction between “big” and “little” business. Once they do that, they are playing on the Democrats side of the field and sacrificing free market principles to score cheap political points.


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