One cause of government growth is confusion, on behalf of pro-free-market people, of policies that free up the market and policies that subsidize Big Business. Many conservatives fall into the trap of thinking that if liberals hate Big Business or lobbyists, then Big Business and lobbyists must be good.
Yesterday we got a great example of this from conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt.
Kevin Williamson of National Review wrote an excellent essay on Wall Street, and how the big banks use their political connections to make profits without adding value to society. Williamson also suggested that Wall Street's generosity to the campaign of Mitt Romney ought to make us suspicious of Romney, because these Wall Street guys are neither economically free-market nor culturally conservative.
Williamson went on Hewitt's show, and made the case very eloquently:
there is a great misconception that Wall Street is politically conservative, or even that big business, high finance in general is politically conservative. It’s not. If you look at the kinds of issues that most American conservatives really care about, where they are culturally, where they are morally, where they are religiously, these guys aren’t there. And not only are they not there, they’re actively opposed to it. I mean, these are guys making five, six, seven hundred thousand dollars a year who live in Manhattan and getting manicures and sending their kids to Choate and places like that. They’re not showing up at parent’s day in a Sarah Palin T-shirt. That’s just not who they are, not what they believe. But the one thing that they really are good at is using the rhetoric of being pro-business and being pro-free enterprise to kind of buffalo us conservatives, and get us to agree to all sorts of favors and subsidies and handouts for them.
Hewitt, an unblinking Romney backer, tagged these Williamson arguments as "very anti-free market," and "Bildebergerish." Here are the two passages that I think capture Hewitt's basic misconception about the relationship of finance, the government, and the market:
HH: Wait, but that’s a diversion. Isn’t your argument, didn’t I just distill it correctly? We should be suspicious of Romney because Wall Street supports him?
KW: I think we should ask ourselves what they’re hoping to get by supporting him, yes.
HH: And so, in doing that, you are telling Republicans, it’s sort of a Ron Paul critique, and I find it very anti-free market. And I’m actually kind of stunned that a conservative would find, would launch a polemic against finance. Finance is what makes the world…
And earlier in the show, this one:
HH: Now you know, what I found most interesting in your piece is I don’t live in Manhattan, I don’t run with these people very much, and I’m just a Californian, and I’m out here being a traditional small government conservative who’s pro-life. And when I read what Chad quoted you saying, here’s what Wall Street doesn’t want. It doesn’t want to hear from Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann or even Newt Gingrich, or suffer any sort of Tea Party populism. It wants you rubes to shut up about Jesus, and please pay your mortgages. It doesn’t want to hear from traditional Republican constituencies such as Christian conservatives, moral traditionalists, pro-lifers or friends of the 2nd Amendment. It doesn’t even want to hear much from the Chamber of Commerce crowd, because they guys are used car dealers and grocery store owners, and for the most part, strictly from Hicksville, so far as Wall Street is concerned. Wall Street wants an administration and a Congress and a country that believes what is good for Wall Street is good for America, whether that is true or isn’t. Wall Street doesn’t want free markets. It wants friends, favors and fealty. Now Kevin, A) I just don’t think that’s true. I think…but then, you link it to being anti-Romney, and so I thought to myself, what is going on here? When has Republicanism ever been anti-Wall Street?
So Williamson grounded his essay in specifics: campaign contributions, revolving-door bankers, bailouts.... Hewitt responds with an a-priori and anecdotal blanket statement: GOP and Wall Street go together -- always have and always should.
I think Hewitt is trying to say that Republicans shouldn't try to clamp down on the business of finance -- on buying, selling, lending, borrowing, and securitizing. He's right. But in defense of what he calls "pure finance," Hewitt won't allow any criticism of Wall Street as it really is -- which is very impure. I run into this argument a lot -- that I am giving fodder to the Left by pointing out the evils done in the name of capitalism. This is exactly the sort of cover that the bailout barons of Wall Street want, and which Williamson wrote of. And it's one of the biggest enemies of free enterprise.