“What I asked you about, professor, was what you thought about the Equalization of Opportunity Bill.”
“Oh that?” said Dr. Pritchett. “But I believe I made it clear that I am in favor of it, because I am in favor of a free economy. A free economy cannot exist without competition. Therefore, men must be forced to compete. Therefore, we must control men in order to force them to be free.”
“But look … isn’t that a sort of contradiction?”
Actually, the above quote is beyond a contradiction. It’s utter nonsense. Ayn Rand used the ridiculous Dr. Pritchett to emphasize the fallacy of a government-run economy. In her epic novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s producers of jobs and creators of wealth get so fed up with being demonized by the public and over-regulated by the government they go on strike, en masse, bringing America to a halt.
I think of “Atlas Shrugged” every time I hear Mitt Romney’s fellow contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, and President Barack Obama, criticize Romney for his successful career as a businessman at Bain Capital; for his accumulation of wealth, for the tax rate he paid. (The capital gains tax rate is 15 percent. His earnings were capital gains. There is no scandal here.) Rand, who died in 1982, would be apoplectic were she alive to see her adopted America marching toward a fettered economy where success is vilified — characteristics of the Soviet Union she fled at age 21.
While Romney is the target of this ascendant anti-capitalism, the issue is much larger than him and whether he wins the Republican nomination for president (though heaven help us if our choice boils down to Newt Gingrich versus four more years of the Obama administration.) No, far more worrisome is the assault on free-market capitalism, which is the very basis of American freedom and our way of life.
Capitalism is not without faults. Indeed, it’s the worst economic system ever invented — except for all the others, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous saying. There are big winners and big losers in a free-market economy. The powerful and well-connected usually wind up wealthy. (Though that applies to government as well as business: Does anyone of either party ever leave Congress poorer than when they entered? Nope.)
Some of the bonuses pulled down by CEOs of publicly traded companies do seem obscene: the head of Disney rakes in more than $30 million a year. Still, even that’s not as offensive as government trying to pick business winners and losers but really just playing politics with our tax dollars (read: Solyndra and the Keystone pipeline.) At least Disney provides a desirable product.
Though Wall Street gets the media attention, our American capitalist economy is actually fueled by small businesses like this newspaper. Small businesses employ people, generate taxes and provide goods or services that the community needs. And if the owner of a successful business, large or small, is successful and has wealth to show for it, that’s something to be admired and emulated, not vilified or confiscated.
Which brings us back to the attacks on Romney. He certainly seems guilty of occasional insensitivity, such as his remark that his several hundred thousand dollars from speaking fees “wasn’t much.” People may not like his views on immigration or abortion or the fact that those views have changed over time. Those issues are legitimate. But the attacks on his success at Bain Capital, an institution with a history of buying companies and making them stronger and more profitable in the long run — and which has created thousands of jobs along the way — is nothing but contemptible class-warfare rhetoric.
Romney needs to stand tall, channel his inner Ronald Reagan and say to those who demonize his business record: “I will not apologize for being successful at Bain or for living out the American dream. Indeed, my top priority as president will be pursuing pro-business policies that increase freedom and economic opportunity for everyone.”
I personally would add: “… so even the smelly kids in the tents can pack up, take a bath and get a job.”
The writer is managing partner at the Alexandria Times and an Old Town resident.