by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Voters of all political stripes seem increasingly to think that the economy is somehow rigged against them, and to the benefit of some wealthy and powerful interests. This isn’t always true, of course, and it can easily become a convenient excuse for demanding special favors or protections. Indeed, resentment against the wealthy and powerful is frequently channeled by the Left to empower greater government intervention — ironically creating new opportunities for the wealthy and powerful to lobby and to curry favor.
But the Left’s tendency to misdirect concerns about favoritism and cronyism is not an excuse for the Right to pretend that such concerns are baseless. It is important to take those concerns seriously, both because they are in many cases valid and because cronyism badly undermines the kind of market economics that conservatives think is essential to America’s wealth and freedom. The failure to take complaints about cronyism seriously is in this sense both a political and an intellectual failure for conservatives — and the two reinforce each other.
Everybody knows that conservatives in America are champions of the market economy as an engine of prosperity. But too many Americans, including too many conservatives, seem to believe that defending the market economy means serving the interests of business. That is certainly how our government has too often approached its role as steward of the economy — advancing the priorities of established, well-connected interests, sometimes at the expense of the needs of individuals, families, communities, and the nation as a whole, and claiming to do so in the name of economic growth and freedom.
But a commitment to the goals and principles of the market economy is by no means the same thing as a commitment to the interests of the businesses that compete in that economy. On the contrary, markets require a government dedicated to open competition for the benefit of consumers and citizens — which very often means subjecting powerful incumbents to competitive pressures they would rather avoid.