What McCain Should Say (Update: Should Have Said)
The guiding principle of sound governmental and economic policy is to maximize freedom. That’s it. Very simple. Government exists to protect freedom, not restrict it.
This is not only right in principle, but it also works better — when people are left free to make their own choices, greater prosperity results (and I don’t mean this simply in economic terms). When people are left free, their initiative and creativity and diligence are free to create and innovate and produce. When people are restricted by government policies and excess taxation, the incredible potential of the people is also restricted.
I’m not saying that the Republicans have done a good job of living up to this in the last eight years, but when it comes to the two candidates before us McCain is much more in line with this thinking than Obama. Yet he has not been able to make an effective case for his economic principles, and has not done a good job of countering the standard charge of “favoring the rich.”
What we need is a candidate — whether McCain now or someone else later — that simply explains these principles clearly. It’s not hard. I think that a candidate that could do this, and stay on this note, would win every time. McCain simply needs to say something like this:
I am not for keeping taxes low because I am looking out for the wealthy. I am for keeping taxes low precisely because I am looking out for the little guy.
When businesses are able to keep more of the money they earn, it gets invested in jobs and other productive endeavors. The result is that there are more jobs and a growing economy–things which benefit the middle class and the poor.
But if we increase taxes on business and higher income brackets, they do not have that money available to create jobs. Instead, it gets shifted to the government, which then uses it to create ineffective government programs to compensate for the fact that the economy is not producing enough jobs.
Politicians are really good at “coming to the rescue” when all they are really doing is solving problems of their own making. Let’s stop creating more problems, and stay out of the way. This country is great because of its people and the principle of liberty upon which it was founded. Let’s trust our people, stop interfering with their liberty, and let them live their lives. This is both the right thing to do and what is best for this nation’s economy. The American people will do far more good with their money than government ever can. Let them keep it.
He could even go on further and overcome some objections:
Sometimes these ideas have wrongly been accused of being “trickle-down economics.” But that is a straw man. As economist Thomas Sowell has argued, no economist in the history of the world has held to a notion of “trickle down” economics (see Sowell’s Basic Economics, pages 388-389 in the second edition). Instead, it is “trickle up,” because the business or entrepreneur investing in the economy and job creation is the last to get paid.
For example, a small business decides to add a position to their company. They incur expense to find the right person, train them, and have them continue the ropes for several weeks or months on the job. During this time, the business is incurring significant expense and not yet experiencing a return. When the position does start to become profitable, it remains the case that the employees are paid first, along with expenses such as rent, utilities, supplies, and production costs. Finally, the business receives as profit whatever is left at the end, after paying all of these things. This is not trickle-down; if anything, it is trickle-up. The business and entrepreneurs get paid last. What the business has done is in fact admirable and, as Michael Novak argues in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, in some sense heroic. This is a good thing. We should not penalize the ability to do this through our tax code.
McCain could also go on to point out that this is not about materialism or greed:
Very often, people misrepresent the free market and capitalism as being about “greed” or “materialism.” I join you in saying greed is evil and materialism is empty. No thank you. But capitalism is not driven by greed. Sure, some people are, and capitalism forces their greed to be funneled to the good of society, because in order to make any profit at all, you have to think first about how to serve your customer. So capitalism is actually a very powerful check on greed, forcing it to serve the benefit of the common good.
But most people are not so thoughtlessly driven by greed, and capitalism is not about greed and it does not depend upon greed to work. Capitalism is about freedom, which means enabling people to pursue projects of interest to them; endeavors and initiatives which are of their own choosing. Capitalism is about being able to undertake what you choose, not what the government tells you to do, and to do it for whatever reason you want.
For most people, their aim is not selfish gain, but to serve their families and make their communities better. In capitalism you might choose to earn all the money you can for selfish reasons. But just as many people — in fact, more — are simply seeking to make an honest living, serve their families, and give some of what they earn to do good for the world.
In fact, capitalism doesn’t have to be about making money at all. You can choose to start a non-profit to fight AIDS in Africa, or a soup kitchen to fight hunger in your city, or an innovative new organization like Kiva. The whole point of capitalism is freedom: let people do what they choose. And multiple, numerous, incredibly creative initiatives will result that are good for society on all fronts, both economically and non-economically.
McCain could then tie it all together by closing something like this:
My campaign exists to make this vision of freedom thrive. These are the ideals that have enabled our people to prosper and serve over the last two hundred years and, yes, even grow in virtue. We don’t want to go through four years under a regime whose ideology distrusts your freedom and thinks that it is centrally planned government policies that make our nation great rather than the people themselves. Economic freedom and political freedom go hand in hand. If you are not economically free, you are not politically free. Vote for someone that will keep you free.