Reihan Salam cites Luis Zingales’s suggestion that Romney run as a “pro-market populist.” Romney could run as a businessman for greater fairness and broadly rising living standards and against entrenched business interests that have allied with the government. It is a good idea in principle, but even if Romney picks up such an argument, I doubt he will press it for very long. Just the same, I think a message of “pro-market populism” would serve the GOP (and the country) well in the medium-term.
I think that the biggest political difficulty with “pro-market populism” is that even many people who might be unhappy with the current situation still have a lot to lose. The entrenched interests seem big, but they are even bigger than they look. Many people dislike rising health care premiums. Our current method system of “health insurance” that amounts to pre-payment of medical costs, lack of price transparency, and limits to entry of new health care providers increases costs to the general public. So health care is the ideal place for some “pro-market populism” right? Not so fast. Our current system likely contributes to above market wages for those who work for entrenched medical providers. That’s a pretty big interest group and one that is pretty popular to boot. But it doesn’t stop there. Our current system might leave people unhappy about rising health care costs, but tens of millions of Americans are happy with the quality and security of care they get from their employer-provided health care plans. A pro-market populism that seems to pose a near-term threat to employer-provided care will face broad-based resistance – including among its intended beneficiaries.
This isn’t a counsel of despair, but it does give some idea of the complications and difficulties of focusing on a pro-market populism that tries to turn health care recipients into cost-conscious consumers and tries to open the door to cheaper, more productive medical providers. In 2012, the kind of candidate that would seriously pursue such a strategy would be one that really believed it was urgently good policy. Pro-market populism isn’t (yet) a political strategy of expediency. But it might become one in the near future. More tomorrow.