Bruce Bartlett

One of the biggest beefs that liberals have against conservatives is that the latter are reflexively pro-business. That is, whatever the business community wants, conservatives will bend over backward to give them. This is untrue for principled conservatives. But, sadly, the Bush administration and the Republican Congress keep giving liberals ample reason to believe that the stereotype is fact.

Principled conservatives believe in the free market. While this may seem to equate with a pro-business viewpoint, in fact it often does not. The last thing most businessmen want is a free market, where they must compete, slash prices, continuously innovate, suffer narrow profit margins and live constantly on the edge of bankruptcy. They would much rather have assured profits, monopoly positions, price supports, trade protection and the other trappings of a corporate welfare state.

The great economist Milton Friedman explains that the dichotomy results from the fact that the business community necessarily is made up of existing businesses. By definition, therefore, it does not include those that have yet to be formed. Moreover, the business community is comprised of large businesses with significant political clout and many times more small businesses that individually have no political influence whatsoever.

Big businesses are much more inclined to support governmental solutions to the problems they face because they have the muscle to get them. Government bailouts and trade protection are seldom, if ever, granted to small businesses, only to big ones with high profiles and many employees. It is doubtful that the Bush administration would impose tariffs, as it did for the steel industry, on an industry comprised of many small firms instead of a few large ones.

Consequently, those who expect big businesses to support the free market are constantly betrayed. Big businesses are even known to support tax and regulatory policies that harm their own industries -- provided that they could get some loophole for themselves so that their competitors are hurt worse. That gives them a relative advantage, which allows them to increase their market share.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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