By Tim Montgomerie
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The Financial Times has been running an interesting series on the future of American conservatism. I've spotted five contributions so far: Senator Olympia Snowe on how the Republican Party can win again; Glenn Hubbard on a long-term growth agenda; Governor Jon Huntsman of the need for true conservatives to "despise crony capitalism"; Congressman Paul Ryan on why Republicans must return to free market principles; and from Francis Fukuyama on learning to love the state again.
I identified at least four big ideas from reading the series and those four ideas seem relevant to conservative parties across the world…
EMBRACE STRONG GOVERNMENT (NOT BIG GOVERNMENT)
Olympia Snowe took on the anti-government mentality of some Republicans (a theme of John Key's recent big speech). We need, she wrote, "a government that’s more efficient and effective rather than one that’s simply eviscerated… there is a legitimate role for government to help maximise individual initiative and potential… our message to Americans must not be “you’re on your own” – but that government should foster an environment in which personal opportunity can flourish."
Fukuyama took this further, warning that many US Republicans were failing to distinguish between "limited government" and "weak government":
"The model for a future American conservatism has been out there for some time: a renewal of the tradition of Alexander Hamilton and Theodore Roosevelt that sees the necessity of a strong if limited state, and that uses state power for the purposes of national revival. The principles it would seek to promote are private property and a competitive market economy; fiscal responsibility; identity and foreign policy based on nation and national interest rather than some global cosmopolitan ideal. But it would see the state as a facilitator rather than an enemy of these objectives."
THE LITTLE GUY AGAINST VESTED INTERESTS
A common theme in all of the articles was the idea of standing up to vested interests in government and in the private sector. "We must," argued Huntsman, "campaign on structural reforms focused on reigniting the marketplace for jobs and innovation. This is the challenge facing conservatives: how to roll back the political power of incumbent business and political interests in order to protect the dynamism that has always been the cornerstone of America’s success." He continued:
"At the heart of the problem is the “revolving door” through which the overseers and the overseen morph into one another. Wall Street and government have become almost interchangeable. Weapons producers and the Pentagon have become look alikes. Congressional tax committees start to resemble the “Gucci Gulch”* of K Street in Washington."
Paul Ryan agrees with Huntsman's attack on "crony capitalism" and urges Republicans to become the party of "the consumer, the taxpayer and the entrepreneur".
The big theme of Mr Hubbard's essay was long-termism. Voters know we have big problems that aren't going to be fixed quickly. Hubbard rejects Obama's 'stimulus first' policy and calls for addressing structural issues (eg " the tax bias against business investment and misallocation of capital to housing"); long-term debt reduction and tax reform; and general policy certainty. In another context I've advocated long-termist growth policies as part of a 'Great Britain Growth Plan'.
A fourth theme is related to the last and particularly evident in Paul Ryan's article. Only by restructuring the 20th-century entitlement state, he writes, can important programmes succeed well into the 21st century. US Democrats have thrown many scare stories at Ryan but his reply is that the really frightening course is for politicians to carry on making unaffordable promises.
* For a definition of "Gucci Gulch" go here.