Charles Murray had a terrific piece in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, titled, “Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem.” There are many factors, of course, but I can’t help thinking the primary reasons for this bad PR image are more to do with leadership and communications than with any of the other, more technical, factors cites.
For example, when was the last time you heard a mainstream political leader explain it as clearly as Murray does here?
From the dawn of history until the 18th century, every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on top. Then came capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere that capitalism subsequently took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn’t take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.
Thatcher’s maxim, that, “first you win the argument, then you win the vote,” is indeed true. But not since Ronald Reagan has America had a leader making this argument to the general public in an eloquent manner. We shouldn’t be surprised that Americans don’t naturally understand the connection between capitalism and prosperity. We’re not teaching it. (Note: As important as it is to persuade opinion leaders, I don’t count a Wall Street Journal column as outreach to the masses.)
This is one of the reasons the arrival of Sen. Marco Rubio on the political scene is such a salutary development. Nobody makes case for free markets and the American dream better — or more eloquently. Rep. Paul Ryan and Gov. Bobby Jindal, two other rising Republican stars, are perhaps better-suited to getting in the weeds and talking to policy wonks, but Rubio’s visionary argument in favor of capitalism is unmatched since Reagan.
Ultimately, a lot of the failure of conservatism can be blamed on a lack of leaders willing, or able, to teach and communicate the moral case for capitalism. Leadership isn’t just about ramming through good policies, it’s about persuading the public to buy into them.