Within political arenas, there is a distinction that is far too often overlooked: pro-market vs. pro-business. Republicans, at least the fiscal conservatives, tend to call themselves pro-market. They speak in terms of supporting the market, free-trade, competition, and business. Democrats, in turn, disparage the concept of being pro-market and criticize Republicans for really being bosom buddies with Big Business.
The difference between the two concepts is often muddled, but is in reality very simple. Being pro-market is expressing a commitment to the economic principles of a free-market and competition. It represents the support of an economic system that allows Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” to perform the majority (certainly more modern economics allow for greater government interaction) of economic production and distribution. The principles accept that truly free-markets operate best with minimal government interference and maximum individual liberty.
In contrast, being pro-business is an expression of support for one type of player with the market. The interests of these players sometimes coincide with the interests of the market and sometimes do not. Rather than supporting a principle or idea, those who are pro-business are indebted to partisan interests.
As most are aware, the majority of Democrats are neither pro-market nor pro-business. Instead, generally they correctly criticize the concept of pro-business and incorrectly, although quietly, eschew the concept of pro-market. Many Democrats chose to follow policies that fit a more socialist (in the ideological not the disparaging sense of the far right) economic model. In other words, they prefer active government management of parts of the economy in terms of both production and distribution of wealth.
In contrast, Republicans often claim to be pro-market. While often successful in this pursuit, unfortunately many Republicans devolve into the realm of pro-business. This is most clearly represented when Big Business or cronies of certain senators get market-distorting tax incentives or other perks of their position (E.g. antitrust exemptions).
In truth, it is difficult for a politician to be truly pro-market. Commitment to a principle is always complicated when faced with electoral constraints. Politicians need money and voter support and thus need to give incentives, whether in the form of providing money or perks, to their supporters. This causes elected officials, who are inclined to support an ideology, to compromise their beliefs when the electoral rewards are greatest. The most committed pro-market candidate can quickly devolve into a pro-business shill when he realizes the realities of Washington.
This is true because, aside from a few academics and bloggers, the market has no real constituency. Being pro-market means that and individual must sometimes support business, sometimes support labor, sometimes support consumers, and sometimes just sit back and do nothing. Pro-market leaders will inevitably be forced to make decisions that upset either their financial or electoral supporters – a politically unwise proposition.
Despite the obvious difficulties, the pro-market framework is truly what is best for America. Being pro-market reduces the role of government to one that simply ensures that markets operate efficiently and competitively. It means that when one player, be it government, union, or company, gains too much power it is prevented from abusing its position. In practice this means supporting policies that prevent consolidation of power (anti-union and anti-monopolization) and facilitating the free flow of information.
At the end of the day this not only minimizes the size and cost of government but allows each player within the market to pursue its self-interest in a fashion that maximizes its own and societies worth. In contrast, the pro-business mentality artificially distorts the market by giving special privileges to some members of society. While potentially difficult to implement, pro-market policies should be the foundation of the Republican platform.