Do conservatives really want to defend Mitt Romney’s finance capitalism? Bill Kristol gets the Mitt & Bain game right

by Ryan Streeter on January 10, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Bill Kristol’s short piece on the whole controversy over Mitt Romney’s Bain record is about the best statement on the matter.

As Kristol point out, the critiques from Newt, Perry and Huntsman “have been unfair, over the top, and, for that matter, all over the place.”

But just like the 60s radicals who quoted Sartre and Camus ad nauseum but never read them, a number of conservative commentators have pulled out the Joseph Schumpeter they love to quote but have never read and have rushed to Romney’s defense. Of these folks Kristol writes:

Criticism of any behavior by a private firm? Outrage! An Assault on Capitalism! Haven’t they read Schumpeter? Don’t they know the glories of Creative Destruction? And, of course, all such destruction must be assumed to be creative! Yikes. If this is where some in the conservative movement and the Republican party are inclined to go—four cheers for finance capitalism!—good luck. Indeed, it’s useful to flush out this tendency now, and subject it to debate. Because it’s a recipe for political disaster—and intellectual sterility.

Good words.

The problem with Romney’s defenders isn’t that they’re wrong about the value Bain created. Bain did a lot of good, I’m sure, through its Schumpeterian dynamism. The problem with Romney’s defenders is that their view of capitalism is too narrow, just as Romney’s is. Finance capitalism works well for the financiers, but by itself, it’s not necessarily pro-opportunity or upward mobility. Romney, like some of his defenders, has little to say on this topic. His tax plan tries to show he’s a middle class guy by its treatment of rates and capital gains – but that’s nothing, really.  He has yet to show he understands how the ladder of opportunity works in America.

And defending Bain as evidence on this front just makes him and his defenders look silly.