Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century moved the policy conversation onto a battleground that has traditionally favored the Left—inequality. Advocates of free enterprise were expected to object to Piketty’s premises and prescriptions, and they have: Why focus on relative outcomes rather than actual increases in living conditions for society’s less fortunate?
But perhaps the Left didn’t expect that Utah Senator Mike Lee and others would seize on the same populist impulse that’s fueled interest in Piketty and take aim at the privileged and the powerful from a different direction. Instead of Piketty’s redistributionist agenda, these reformers are calling for an end to crony capitalism and more limits on a spendthrift government.
Commentators on the Left are circling their wagons. How else do we read Jonathan Cohn’s New Republic piece that charges in its title, "The Conservative Crusade Against Crony Capitalism Turns Out to Be Another Crusade Against the Safety Net"?
Cohn doesn’t object to the crusade against crony capitalism, per se. What defender of the little guy would support the taxpayer-backed loan guarantees that Lee attacks in the battle over reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank? Shouldn’t we all rally around transparency efforts like OpenTheBooks.com, a new project of American Transparency that revealed that 99 of the Fortune 100 companies are receiving some form of corporate welfare?
I’d ask, in turn, for his compelling evidence that we ought to continue fighting the War on Poverty with the same recipe used over the last five decades. Who really benefitted from the $16 trillion spent during that time period?
The biggest beneficiaries are surely those who have positioned themselves as political champions of the working class—while giving the working class incentive-destroying transfer payments rather than opportunities to prosper.
True advocates for the poor should welcome conversations about reforming safety nets that can no longer support the expansive promises made by a profiteering political class. True foes of privilege should welcome advocates of limited government who are fighting against the cronyism that thrives when power is concentrated in Washington.