They’re working:

A new Insider Advantage poll in South Carolina shows Mitt Romney with a small lead over his GOP rivals at 23%, followed by Newt Gingrich at 21%, Rick Santorum at 14%, Ron Paul at 13%, Jon Huntsman at 7% and Rick Perry at 5%.

And that is just the beginning, evidently. I don’t know how much harm will result from this, but if Romney actually loses South Carolina this thing will get long and ugly. I can only hope!

Politics aside, I think what we’re seeing is a hint of Americans’ unresolved feelings about capitalism. My perspective has always been that there is no “pure” or right form of capitalism, laissez-faire is really just one choice among many other valid choices, and it’s not a particularly good one in my opinion. But the simple fact is that, regardless of what form you use, you’ll find people like Mitt Romney, who improve efficiency in part by cutting jobs. Like Jon Chait, I don’t particularly think that’s a bad thing in and of itself. Better a few lose them than all. What makes it bad, though, is that Romney is running in part on redistributing the tax burden downward and chopping hunks off of the safety net. That’s what makes him an asshole–he’s running to make ordinary people more vulnerable to people like him, instead of trying to seek a balance. And it could actually resonate more among people like Republican primary voters, who tend to take a more laissez-faire outlook on economics. In their system, after all, getting laid off means you get nothing. This is a contradiction so heightened that it could play center for the Sacramento Kings, and South Carolinians (and later, the entire country) have to puzzle through it.

People like Mitt Romney make the economy more efficient, but they also make it that much more important that we have a strong safety net that’s paid by people who lucked into success by being born to the right parents, and/or who have enjoyed prosperity far beyond their ability to enjoy. Romney rejects this notion, preferring to arrogantly dismiss the problem and try to get people to view part of one aspect of his story in isolation. But, really, this is a nuanced and difficult conversation, and Romney is in many ways heightening the contradictions in how Americans see capitalism. It’s not a magical machine that increases peoples’ living conditions automatically and requires no work to do so–it’s a constructed system with a number of tradeoffs built into it. If you’re going to accept Bain Capital, then you better accept a safety net too, otherwise life really sucks when you lose your job. It’s about time people figured that out, which is why Republicans are afraid of them.

  1. Metavirus says:

    i’m actually pretty surprised that any republican in the race is talking about the difference between capitalism and what i like to can “fiancializationism” (yeah, i’m working on a better word). this gingrich quote gets at a part of it:

    Look, I’m for capitalism. I’m for people who go in to save a company. I’m for people who take real risk. I’m for people who grow jobs, and I understand sometimes you fail. I’ve run four small businesses in the last decade. It gets tough out there. It doesn’t always work. I get that. But if somebody comes in, takes all the money out of your company and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions, that’s not traditional capitalism.

    the distinction of course lies in the difference between businesses that create value through providing goods or services (which is what dominated our economy through most of our history) and the ever-growing cabal of financial institutions that repackage and resell real value into complex financial transactions that drive booms and busts as ephemeral fake value is “created” and later destroyed.

    people like gingrich suddenly getting religion about how dangerous financializationism is when it suits their political prospects is pretty rich, considering how important the republican deregulation/tax-cutting jihad has been over the last 50 years in making dubious financial transactions such a “too big to fail” part of our economy.

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