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Oren Cass, Marco Rubio, and Josh Hawley are Not Friends of Free Markets

Here’s a letter to the editor of American Greatness:


Rachel Bovard writes that “No one on the Right rejects the free market. Or capitalism. In fact, the three individuals largely responsible for provoking this debate—Oren Cass, whose new project American Compass seeks to “restore an economic orthodoxy that emphasizes the importance of family, community, and industry to the nation’s liberty and prosperity,” and Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), both of whom raise social criticisms of government policies that they claim prioritize corporate profits over the needs and humanity of the individual, their families, and communities – have all taken pains to emphasize that capitalism is essential to achieving the American dream. They just think the American dream has more inputs to it than a surging stock market” (“Capitalism, Corporatism, and the Free Market,” March 6).

She’s wrong on many counts. Here are three.

First, Ms. Bovard is deeply mistaken, later in her essay, to suggest that Adam Smith would sympathize with her case.

Second, no serious proponent of free markets – not Ludwig von Mises, not F.A. Hayek, not Milton Friedman, not James Buchanan, not Vernon Smith, not Thomas Sowell, not Deirdre McCloskey, not Robert Higgs, not anyone at the Cato Institute, at the Mercatus Center, or in George Mason University’s Department of Economics – has ever come within an intellectual light-year of embracing the absurd notion that the sole “input” to the American dream is a surging stock market. The fact that Ms. Bovard follows Oren Cass in suggesting otherwise reveals only her unfamiliarity with the case for free markets.

Third, proclaiming that leg-irons and muzzles forced on golden-egg-laying geese are consistent with the geese’s freedom is Orwellian newspeak.

The protectionism and industrial policy endorsed by Cass, Rubio, and Hawley are policies through which government officials replace patterns of resource allocation that arise in free markets with patterns that are consciously chosen by those officials. Cass, Rubio, and Hawley – and Ms. Bovard – might sincerely believe that these consciously chosen patterns of resource allocation would be an improvement over the patterns that arise in free markets. And they might even be correct in this belief (although I’d bet my pension against it). But insofar as the state imposes any pattern of resource allocation, the free market is necessarily rejected and replaced with government planning of economic outcomes.

Given the sorry historical record of such government efforts to override free markets, it’s understandable that Cass, Rubio, and Hawley wish to camouflage their interventionist schemes by describing them as being consistent with free markets. But such camouflage is really a sheep costume worn by a ravenous wolf.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030