Capitalism is said to be in terrible trouble these days, with the profit motive suffering rampant badmouthing. Entrepreneurs are facing criticism, damnable criticism. And this criticism must stop.
If we don't watch what we say, some warn, the supermen who shoulder the world will soon grow tired of our taunting, will shrug off their burden and walk righteously away, leaving us lesser mortals to stew in our resentment and envy.
So far have things gone that the editors of the Washington Post, ever vigilant against deteriorating public morals, apparently decided last week that Americans required a strong dose of instruction in the basic principles of their old-time economic religion. Stephen L. Carter, the famous law professor from Yale University, took the pulpit. And from the heights of the Post's op-ed page, he instructed us to cheer whenever we discovered that someone was making money.
"High profits are excellent news," he intoned. "The only way a firm can make money is to sell people what they want at a price they are willing to pay."
Since that's the one and only way a firm can make a profit -- fraud isn't a problem, I guess, nor are subsidies or cherry-picking or price-fixing or conflicts of interest -- profit is a foolproof sign of civic uprightness.
Professor Carter's essay was supposed to be a word of caution in a dark, anti-capitalist time. But if you read your newspaper closely, it's not hard to spot glimmers of profit-taking here and there. For example, while some see the city of Washington as a stage for anti-corporate posturing, in fact it is ingeniously entrepreneurial.
Consider the "Blue Dog" Democrats, whose money-making ways were the subject of a page-one story in the Washington Post on the very day after Mr. Carter's sermon. The Blue Dogs, as the world knows, are the caucus of conservative House Democrats who have been much in the news of late for their role in weakening the Obama administration's plans for a public health insurance option.
Much of the writing about the Blue Dogs revolves around the question of why they do what they do. What makes the Dogs run? Where did they get their peculiar name? And why do they chase this car but not that one?
The Blue Dogs' official caucus website answers with rhetorical tail-chasing in which "centrism" is so exalted that it justifies any position the centrist takes by virtue of the label itself. The slightly more sophisticated explanation currently in vogue with the media -- the Dogs come from heartland districts where the culture wars are a big deal -- helps even less.
As the syndicated columnist David Sirota pointed out last week on the OpenLeft blog, having constituents who care deeply about, say, gun rights doesn't really have anything to do with the pro-corporate stands on mortgage modification and health insurance that have made the Blue Dogs famous.
Friday's page-one Post story about the Blue Dogs suggests a far simpler explanation: Entrepreneurship. In addition to everything else, the Dogs are champion fund raisers. Individual Dogs do far better than garden variety Democrats when it comes to bringing in contributions from folks with business before Congress, like the insurance industry and the medical industry. According to CQ, their political action committee is the only Democratic PAC to rival the big Republican dogs; in 2009 fund raising it has been bested only by Mitt Romney's gang.
So this is the Blue Dogs' day, with games of fetch down on K Street that had me reminiscing, as I read the Post's description, about the times when Tom DeLay and his pack did their own tricks for industry's table scraps.
My guess is that the Blue Dogs, like Jack Abramoff's Republicans before them, are more keenly attuned than their colleagues to that force of universal goodness, the profit motive. Theirs is simply a less ferocious version of what we had before, with cuddly bipartisan righteousness replacing the fierce red state righteousness of DeLay's dogs. But the master is the same as ever, and surely we can still count on the profit motive to deliver the very best in public policy.
Still, there remains the problem of the senseless moniker, "Blue Dog." In the interests of improved political nicknames, let me propose an alternative. Back in 1932, the future Illinois Sen. Paul Douglas advised progressives not to expect too much from the Democratic Party. It was, he wrote, "maintained by the business interests" as a kind of "lifeboat." Whenever the GOP ship sprung a leak -- whenever Republicans were no longer willing or able to do business's bidding -- the interests simply piled into the other party and made their escape.
The Democrats have improved considerably since those days, at least from a progressive standpoint. But there are still branches of the party willing to carry out the ancestral mission. Let's call them what they are: the lifeboat caucus.
Read more articles at the Opinion Journal:
Arthur Laffer: How to Fix the Health-Care 'Wedge'
Gordon Chang: Mr. Clinton Goes to Pyongyang