The GOP's Magical, Mystical Relationship With Business

So, the debate last night.  Political impressions: Mitt Romney and (gulp) Michelle Bachmann gave the strongest performances.  That's not a good sign for the GOP, since I don't see a realistic path for either of them in the general election.  Romney is going to have a hard time running against "Obomneycare" and Bachmann will frighten off anyone to the left of her tea party supporters, which includes the whole country.

For deeper political analysis, read elsewhere; I was focused on their economics and business platform..  Herman Cain's entire campaign might be said to be a "business platform"--he promises to treat the presidency like an extended business meeting at Godfather's Pizza.  None of the anchors had the sense to ask how he was going to deploy all this forceful business wisdom with a multi-million person workforce that can't be fired, and a 535-member Board of Directors that writes 95% of corporate policies.

The rest of the GOP candidates weren't quite so explicit, but I think it's safe to say that in this election cycle, business acumen will be the Ginseng of the Republican party--a sort of broad spectrum snake oil that cures all possible ills.  No matter what the problem, lower taxes and deregulation can fix it by unleashing the healing powers of business upon the land.  We can grow at 5%--or more, if we elect Ron Paul--if only we'll just let business do its job.

I am second to none in my admiration for business.  And in fact I share the GOP view that there is far too much regulation in this country.  I would also like to cut taxes, if only we were willing to also cut spending.

But this is not an economic plan, except insofar as a six year old plans to deal with the terrors of first grade by riding off into the sunset on a purple unicorn.  No matter how little we tax or regulate business, it is very unlikely that we are going to see consistent 5% year-on-year growth in a mature economy with an aging population.    We cannot bail out our budget by pretending that growth is going to come along and rescue us from the very expensive promises we have made.

Not, mind you that I expected better, or that I think the Democrats will deliver anything more plausible; they have their own unrealistic expectations of policy projects, like infrastructure investment and green jobs.  But this is what I do during campaign season: politicians say remarkably silly things, and I point out just how remarkably silly they are.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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