Hyphenated capitalism is no capitalism at all. The better name for it is socialism lite.
— Nikki Haley
WASHINGTON — A sound heard recently on Pennsylvania Avenue was a gauntlet being thrown down by a woman spoiling for a fight. Nikki Haley went on offense in defense of America’s economic system, which she correctly says is inextricably woven into the nation’s system of liberty. Some Democratic presidential aspirants and a portion of the public have been flirting with socialism, and some conspicuous Republicans might as well be while they are promoting “hyphenated capitalism.”
Speaking in a manner bracingly unusual in this city, Haley minced no words: “The American system is capitalism.” Although “the Founders never used the word, they gave us capitalism in all but the name,” because capitalism is “another word for freedom. And it springs from America’s most cherished ideals.” The Founders understood something the Supreme Court has forgotten for eight decades: Economic freedom is, like freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, a fundamental right. Capitalism has “lifted up more people, unlocked more progress, and unleashed more prosperity” than any other system, yet “many people avoid saying that word, including some conservatives and business leaders.”
Haley said the Business Roundtable, which represents major corporations, wants companies to “focus not on business, but on some vague notion of helping ‘stakeholders,’” meaning customers, employees and communities. “This,” Haley said astringently, “is puzzling.” Companies that do not serve their customers, reward their workers and serve their communities will fail — unless abusive or incompetent companies are saved by misguided government policies. Such business-government entanglement breeds cronyism, self-dealing and bailouts from taxpayers.
“Some conservatives,” Haley said, “have turned against the market system. They tell us America needs a ... different kind of capitalism. A hyphenated capitalism. Yet while these critics keep the word capitalism, they lose its meaning. They want to give government more power to make more decisions for businesses and workers. They differ from the socialists only in degree.”
She did not need to specify Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s aspiration for “common-good capitalism,” or Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley’s even vaguer capitalism that does not encourage “Pelagianism” and the “Promethean self.” Really. Such conservatives inevitably advocate, in effect, government “industrial policy,” socialism’s essential ingredient.
“Only in a prosperous country like America,” Haley said, “can people be so flippant about capitalism and so naive about socialism.” She has stood on the Simon Bolivar Bridge connecting Venezuela and Colombia:
“I watched thousands of Venezuelans go by. Entire families walking in the blazing heat for hours to get to Colombia where they would have the only meal they would eat that day. The average Venezuelan lost 24 pounds in 2017 alone. Four million have fled their homeland. ... it was the richest country in Latin America when it was capitalist. It also had free and fair elections. Now Venezuelans are digging in trash cans and killing zoo animals for food.”
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley was ambassador to the United Nations in the feisty manner of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick. Before that she was a resoundingly successful two-term governor of South Carolina. And before that she was a businesswoman in Bamberg, S.C. (population then: 2,500). If a businesswoman can be 12.
Haley’s mother did what so many immigrants do: She started a business, a retail clothing and gift store. There came a time when her bookkeeper, who was leaving without having found a replacement, asked what she could do. Haley remembers:
“I happened to be walking past at that exact moment. My mom grabbed my arm and said, ‘Train her. She can do it.’ By the time I was 13 I was doing taxes, keeping the ledger, and balancing the expenses and bank account. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that wasn’t normal.”
Normal is overrated. Haley is not.
The $20 billion in new capital investment she attracted to South Carolina as governor included five international tire companies, and Mercedes, Volvo and BMW plants. The world’s largest BMW plant is one reason why South Carolina builds more cars for export than any other state. Haley is one reason South Carolina has changed more, and more for the better, than any state in the previous 50 years.
Haley spoke at the Hudson Institute, which is at 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. It is about 900 yards from 1600. Anyone’s path to that place is long and circuitous, but one way to begin is by picking a worthy fight.
George F. Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Washington Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977.
George Will’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.