What Republicans Stand For
June 1, 1995
Editor’s Note: In an effort to promote serious discussion, ON PRINCIPLE encourages its readers to submit articles outlining what they think are the fundamental principles for which the Republican Party ought to stand. The following article by R.J. Saulnier represents what I hope will be the first contribution to this continuing dialogue.
As in any political party, there is room under the Republican tent for differences on tactical questions, and even at times on matters of strategy, but on basic questions of principle Republicans stand together. What follows is an attempt to state briefly what I believe are the most important of those principles. Needless to say, it is entirely a personal statement.
1) What Republicans stand for derives from their adherence to individualism, the philosophy that perceives of the individual as a self-disciplined, basically self-reliant person who has rights and freedoms that it is the duty of government to respect and protect, who respects the rights and freedoms of others, and who feels an obligation to attend so far as possible to his/her own individual and family welfare. It is this embrace of individualism that sets Republicans apart from those who favor government that is big, centralized, intrusive, and increasingly paternalistic. What Republicans stand for is precisely the opposite–government that is limited, noninterventionist and decentralized.
2) In economic matters, Republicans are unequivocal and unwavering in their support of the private enterprise system, for the market as that system’s organizing and directing force, and for the institution of private property that is basic to it. They give this support in part because they see the enterprise system as, on purely technical grounds, the most efficient and equitable arrangement there is or can be for the production and distribution of goods and services; but also, and more importantly, they support the enterprise system because they believe it is the only economic system truly and lastingly compatible with political and civil liberties.
3) It fUrther distinguishes Republicans that they have a definite, unambiguous position on what it takes in government policy to make the enterprise system work. You make it work not by intervening directly in it, but by creating an environment favorable to its operation. Within such an environment, enterprise can be safely left free to produce and distribute goods and services according to what the market–ultimately, the consumer–demands.
4) Creating an environment favorable to enterprise commits Republicans unalterably to the support of competitive markets achieved through vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws (and by the avoidance of government regulation), a stable price level (achieved through noninflationary management of the money supply), and sound fiscal and financial policies. The last-named of these is achieved by maintaining a relationship between federal budget receipts and outlays such that the accounts are in balance or shows surplus whenever the economy is operating satisfactorily and certainly over the period of the business cycle.
5) Calling as they do for sound fiscal and financial policies, Republicans insist on rigorous expenditure restraint by federal, state and local governments, are constantly alert to opportunities to reduce the burden of taxation, and want taxes that are visible (not hidden) and have as little blunting effect as possible on incentives to work, save and invest. Tax measures designed to “soak the rich” are opposed as basically demagogic, punitive, and economically self-defeating.
6) Republicans support all steps taken constructively to promote high and sustainable economic growth, but they oppose setting numerical growth goals. They view the latter as having no utility in the actual achievement of growth, as potentially harmful by inviting policies that risk being inflationary, and in any case as unlikely to create self-sustaining employment.
7) Republicans hold that the proper object of government is to do for people what they need to have done but cannot do adequately for themselves, either as individuals or through private groups, and accordingly they will work assiduously to eliminate activities of government that people do not need or that can be better provided privately.
8) Paralleling this attitude toward the size of government–in matters having to do with the structure of government Republicans want wherever possible to have local problems handled locally, within a system of shared federal, state and local responsibility. They want this because it is basic with Republicans to stand for the diffusion of power, and to be opposed to its concentration.
9) In social programs, Republicans strive for a balance between what government undertakes to do and what government can afford to do: in other words, a balance between social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. Benefit programs should not be available automatically on application but should require proof of actual need, and should wherever possible be designed to promote the skills and habits of work that will make beneficiaries ultimately self-sufficient.
10) In trade policy, Republicans are internationalist and antiprotectionist, supporting multilateral agreements that look to the reduction of barriers to trade. Programs under which government would intervene in import/export markets to “manage” trade are viewed as doing nothing to alleviate whatever is at the bottom of a trade-deficit situation, even tending to perpetuate and possibly worsen trade restrictions.
11) Because Republicans believe that the first duty of citizenship is to have regard for the community as a whole, they have to be persuaded when presented with the agenda of a special-interest group that what is sought will not be harmful to a counterbalancing extent to other groups. Lacking that assurance, Republicans will oppose special-interest demands.
12) Because Republicans believe that inflation can be prevented only through monetary and fiscal restraint, they reject the use of direct wage and price controls for that purpose. Experience shows that when adequate monetary and fiscal restraint is lacking, direct controls are ineffective in preventing inflation, are counterproductive in the distortive effects they have on production and distribution, and can have a demoralizing effect on the whole community by promoting widespread evasion.
Dr. Saulnier is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Barnard College, Columbia University and was Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors throughout President Eisenhower’s second term.