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Morning Jay: Mitt Romney and Modern Conservatism

6:00 AM, Oct 19, 2012 • By JAY COST
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This kind of emphasis on growth, prosperity, income, and jobs is reminiscent of the economic conservatism exemplified by McKinley-Coolidge-Reagan, but so also was the way Romney tied pro-business economic policies to mass prosperity.

Consider this, one of Romney’s best lines of the night:

[W]hy do I want to bring rates down and at the same time lower exemptions and deductions, particularly for people at the high end?  Because if you bring rates down, it makes it easier for small business to keep more of their capital and hire people. And for me, this is about jobs.  I want to get America's economy going again.  Fifty-four percent of America's workers work in businesses that are taxed as individuals.  So when you bring those rates down, those small businesses are able to keep more money and hire more people.

This is such a succinct summary of modern economic conservatism even Calvin Coolidge would be impressed. Helping businesses grow creates jobs, raises income, and spreads prosperity for all citizens.

Not only that, but Romney was careful not to fall into the trap of cronyism. He made an important distinction:

Our party has been focused on big business too long.  I came through small business.  I understand how hard it is to start a small business.  That's why everything I’ll do is designed to help small businesses grow and add jobs.  I want to keep their taxes down on small business.  I want regulators to see their job as encouraging small enterprise, not crushing it.

And the thing I find most troubling about Obamacare -- well, it’s a long list -- but one of the things I find most troubling is that when you go out and talk to small businesses and ask them what they think about it, they tell you it keeps them from hiring more people.

My priority is jobs.  I know how to make that happen.

In this day and age, big business is in Washington, D.C. looking for access. It is small businesses that stand to be helped the most by true economic conservatism, not the rent-seeking big guys, who have proven themselves to be well satisfied with Democratic or Republican governments.

Following the lead of the early modern Republicans, Romney even issued a stark warning to China:

The place where we’ve seen manufacturing go has been China.  China is now the largest manufacturer in the world -- used to be the United States of America.  A lot of good people have lost jobs…

Now, we're going to have to make sure that as we trade with other nations that they play by the rules, and China hasn't.  One of the reasons -- or one of the ways they don't play by the rules is artificially holding down the value of their currency.  Because if they put their currency down low, that means their prices on their goods are low, and that makes them advantageous in the marketplace.  We lose sales and manufacturers here in the U.S. making the same products can't compete.

The switch happened so long ago that most people alive today really have no personal memory of it, but economic conservatives used to favor tariffs strongly. That was back when American industries needed protection from more advanced competitors, especially in Great Britain. After the World Wars of the first half of the 20th century, America arose as the unparalleled world economic might, free trade advanced businesses more than protectionism, and hence conservatives changed their views.

But China’s systematic cheating – and the price American workers have paid for it – requires a response from economic conservatives. And Romney delivers it right here.

As the above chart illustrates, Romney connects this philosophy again and again to jobs. That is the core economic argument of conservative Republicanism, one that the left has never understood. It is not elitist; it is an inherently republican philosophy: the belief that smart pro-business policies generate growth, and therefore jobs, and therefore prosperity for Americans all across the country.

William McKinley was the first modern Republican to articulate this idea, and we saw Mitt Romney do it again this week – in a way that should make any conservative proud.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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