Free enterprise needs a champion
The GOP no longer wants to advocate for American enterprise - but something should.
Enterprise is a dirty word in Washington these days. Camps in both parties talk as though they despise it. Turn on MSNBC and you might catch Senator Bernie Sanders or AOC railing against “evil corporations” who “oppress” their workers. Turn on Fox News and you’ll hear Tucker Carlson yucking it up with Senator Josh Hawley about how businesses and the “metropolitan elite” who run them are set to destroy America if the government doesn’t step in and do something.
Put simply: businesses, the people who start them, and - if we’re being honest - anyone who wears a tie or a blouse to work, have become the public boogeymen of choice for both left- and right-wing populists. And with so few spines to be found in Washington, no one is standing up to the demagogues in defense of free enterprise. It’s all embarrassingly un-American.
We’ve forgotten ourselves. We’ve forgotten that it was the successes of free Americans innovating and delivering new products in a competitive and dynamic private sector that made us a global leader and the envy of the world. We’ve forgotten how, just twenty years ago, we had to listen to $20 CDs on $80 Walkmans. We’ve forgotten how free enterprise wiped out a vast chunk of global poverty over the last two centuries. Some even seem to ignore that free enterprise just delivered not one, but multiple life-saving COVID vaccines in record time to hasten the beginning of the end of the global pandemic.
Instead of embracing this model and perfecting it for the 21st century as an engine of opportunity for all, most in Washington seem to be betting against it. A politics of victimhood that pits haves against have-nots is the new bipartisan tonic. Voices on each side think capitalism is old news and only disagree over who should count as its primary victims — uneducated whites or poor minorities.
It is a national shame, for example, that we hear so little in Washington about small businesses these days. Republicans used to be their champions - and rightly so. Our 31 million small businesses, defined by the SBA as businesses with 500 or fewer employees, are still responsible for creating almost 65% of all net new private sector jobs each year. And if anyone in Washington actually took the time to speak to the people who work for these small businesses - they wouldn’t hear talk of proletarian wars between workers and management. No. Small businesses are miniature platoons. They don’t survive unless everyone buys in - from the hostess to the proprietor. Workers, like management, are too invested in helping the business succeed to play out some Marxist fantasy against the owner. They know that if they do that, everyone goes down with the ship. Much to the chagrin of both the socialist and the populist, free enterprise is still a team sport.
Sadly, the neglect of small business isn’t just rhetorical. It has had real-world consequences. COVID and the government’s haphazard response has devastated small businesses and their workers more than perhaps any other constituency. During the worst part of the pandemic, a study found that 800 small businesses shuttered per day, thanks to government incompetence that had us battling multiple waves of cases, deaths, and lockdowns. Those enterprises were sadly the first to shutter and will the be the last to re-open as the recovery picks up steam.
And even as we emerge from the pandemic, the Republican Party continues to talk about everything but free enterprise and treats business advocates like the Chamber of Commerce as public enemies. The Party touts conspiracy theories about a stolen election in which it won Congressional seats. It takes to Twitter or goes on cable news to complain about being silenced. It will spend hours trying to convince you those weren’t actually Trump supporters storming the Capitol on January 6th. And it’s more than happy to sit with Tucker Carlson and criticize business as the singular purveyors of American societal decline.
In their pointless political theater, Republicans warn about the dangers of socialism, but don’t actually do anything to support free enterprise. Much to the detriment of our country, the current Republican Party is no longer a champion of capitalism because it doesn’t want to be one.
So a void exists - there is currently no movement in American politics that embraces and unapologetically defends American free enterprise. The growing movement that seeks to supplant today’s Republican Party would do well to fill it.