Luigi Zingales’s Call for Romney to Run as a Pro-Market Populist
City Journal has a very nice short essay by Luigi Zingales, author of A Capitalism for the People. The Italian-born Zingales frets that southern European-style crony capitalism is threatening to choke off growth and prosperity in his adopted country, and so he argues that Mitt Romney should build his campaign around attacking growth-strangling, anti-competitive collusion between big business and big government. But why Romney?
First, only someone very confident of his pro-market credentials can take the risk involved in challenging the power of big business. As it took a Richard Nixon to go to China, it might take a Mitt Romney to rein in excessive corporate political power. Second, Romney’s experience at Bain Capital makes him potentially more attuned to the market’s needs than to the interests of large corporations. His work involved investing in start-ups and established companies to help them grow. So he should know first-hand the obstacles that ordinary businesspeople face in their daily work, and he should understand that many of these obstacles stem from large companies’ political power. Third, his wealth puts him beyond the need to cater to big corporations for a future job or donations to his presidential library.
For all of these reasons, Romney is eminently qualified to make the pro-market case. But his campaign, at least up to now, has lacked vision and followed in George W. Bush’s footsteps. Romney’s pragmatic, technocratic approach reassures people but fails to excite them. The Republican base is thus far uninspired, and independent voters fear a Bush repeat. Romney must differentiate himself from both Bush and Obama, rallying the Republican base while also attracting independents. Pledging a better future for America by defending the American free-market system against a Southern European–style crony capitalism is the perfect way to do it. It’s time for Romney to pick up this flag.
One obvious question is how this would translate into policy proposals. The Romney campaign has tried to draw attention to the Obama administration’s various industrial policy efforts, for example, yet this has failed to crystallize as part of a broader agenda. Fortunately, Zingales’s book is full of proposals.