The GOP's cult of the businessman

It’s debatable whether a top economist would make a better treasury secretary or Federal Reserve chair than a Wall Street banker. But saying economists have little to offer policymakers — or at least much, much less than businesspeople — because they’re not super-wealthy is intellectually unserious. Should the worth of someone adding to the stock of human knowledge be gauged by their personal wealth? The mere suggestion is nonsensical. Plus, many top businesses employ lots and lots of economists. Google has a chief economist. Many of the fastest-growing technology firms have been scooping up economists left and right. That would seem a pretty important market test of economist value!

Some of Trump’s CEOs could do with a little more economic expertise. Ross, for instance, seems to misunderstand some very basic, non-controversial concepts regarding international trade. But more importantly, what’s good for big business isn’t necessarily what’s best for America. Tax breaks and regulations may help incumbent companies by giving them an unfair advantage over startups and other new competitors. But consider that approach nationwide: It’s obviously bad for innovation and economic growth.

Rather than being pro-business — which smells of crony capitalism subsidies and bailouts — Republicans should be pro-market and support a competitive, dynamic economy where businesses of all sorts must constantly innovate to survive. Likewise, a belief in the importance of the private sector and the power of free enterprise shouldn’t mean automatically approving everything that happens in the business world or ignoring misdeeds like Wall Street’s role in the financial crisis. Republicans shouldn’t counter the Cult of Government with their own Cult of Business.