THE OVERDUE DEBATE WE PROBABLY AREN'T REALLY ABOUT TO HAVE
E.J. Dionne makes a hopeful prediction:
Thanks to Mitt Romney and such well-known socialist intellectuals as Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, the United States is about to have the big debate on the nature of modern capitalism that should have started back in 2008.
Gosh, I'd sure like to believe that, but I'm not sure it's true. And even if it is true, it's rather disheartening to see where the debate is going to start if even a liberal like Dionne frames it this way:
What if a certain class of capitalist makes scads of money not by building up companies but by tearing them down? What if there is a distinction between the capitalist we typically honor who comes up with a good product and hires people to make and market it; and another kind who takes over a company, pulls out all the cash he can, and then abandons it to die?
Yeah, what if? That would be really horrible, in the almost unimaginable event that it were true. Could that possibly be the case? Is it actually conceivable that some capitalism is evil?
That really would be the starting point for any debate we have in America on the nature of capitalism: whether it's an absolutely wonderful kind of fairy dust that heals whatever it touches 100% of the time ... or somewhat less than 100% of the time. Because this is America, and, as Gallup has pointed out recently, fear of big business has gone down during this endless recession. And as that new Pew poll notes, Americans increasingly see conflict between the rich and the poor, but their own distrust of the wealthy hasn't gone up one bit:
A narrow plurality (46%) believes the rich are wealthy because they were born into money or "know the right people." But nearly as many (43%) say the rich got that way because of their own "hard work, ambition or education."
The latest result is virtually identical to the findings of a 2008 Pew survey. It found that 46% of the public believed that riches are mostly the result of having the right connections or being born into the right family, while 42% say hard work and individual characteristics are the main reason the rich are wealthy.
And are we really sure we're going to have a Bain-fueled debate about capitalism at all? Here's Mitt Romney about to use big bucks to turn the general perception of his work at Bain to "opinions differ":
Campaign advisers are polishing new messaging, tailored to rebut Republican and Democratic attacks separately. They’re cueing up new commercials.
And they're rolling out a more aggressive approach from the candidate himself....
They'll start with advertisements featuring employees of companies started and rescued by Bain telling their stories -- a direct response to the documentary released by the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC that features employees of four companies closed by Bain that brutally slams Romney as a job killer....
Romney adviser Kevin Madden said they’re confident they’ll quash those attacks with their new rebuttal.
"For every scare story that they try to present related to the governor's experience in the private sector and free enterprise," Madden said, "we can point to a whole host of successful enterprises that have resulted in job creation and wealth and prosperity."
I'm afraid that we're going to wind up where we always seem to wind up -- with critics of capitalism on the defensive, and with any criticism of any capitalist enterprise successfully redefined as advocacy of full-blown socialism. And the only "big debate" we'll have is a rehash of the usual one: about whether government spending is the economic equivalent of the Ebola virus (utterly lethal and difficult to treat) or the HIV virus (more treatable but also extremely lethal). We never seem to tire of that one.