"Defend capitalism!"—that's the advice Mitt Romney is now receiving from all and sundry.
Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute offers a particularly forceful statement this morning on NRO:
But for some reason, on this issue as on so many others, Romney has been unwilling to make a full-throated defense of capitalism. Over the weekend, Romney and his surrogates were repeatedly asked whether outsourcing was a legitimate businessstrategy. They declined to answer. Worse, Romney has indulged in his own demagoguery, attacking the president for being “the real outsourcer-in-chief.”
The "for some reason" is an especially nice touch. Can Tanner truly not know what the reason is? OK, here goes:
For 20 years now, the GOP has been giving away the votes of professionals, upper-income non-whites, college-educated women, and other comparatively economically successful groups.
The party has rebased itself on the votes of whites without a college degree. Mitt Romney must gain almost two-thirds of their vote in 2012 to have any realistic hope of winning the White House.
Non-college whites are the most alienated and pessimistic group in the electorate and also the most nationalist. They may resent the "foreigner" Barack Obama, but there is one thing they hate even more: outsourcing—and those who do it.
Tanner is right that free trade, including outsourcing, raises national income in the aggregate. But it does not raise the incomes of each and every one of us individually. Trade creates losers as well as winners. John Stuart Mill proposed a solution to this conundrum more than 150 years ago: trade freely, then tax the winners to compensate the losers. That solution is not congruent with the Cato Institute philosophy. Result: losers and prospective losers—and they know who they are!—fear outsourcing. The losers and prospective losers also happen to provide the GOP with much (or most) of its voting muscle.
You want to change that dynamic? You'll have to reorient the party to a new voting base—one that does not thrill to the music that the Romney campaign has been playing all this week.