That question is important to ask. On economic issues, Mormons have historically been both supporters of government intervention and defenders of free markets. Romney has two very different models to consider.
During the Great Depression, Mormons of both kinds played key roles on economic issues. On the intervention side, Senator Reed Smoot (R. -Utah) was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He wanted to use government to protect the beet sugar industry in Utah from cheaper imported sugar from Cuba. Thus, he crafted the horrendous Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which raised taxes, or kept them high, on thousands of imports. Passed in 1930, it was the highest tariff in U.S. history. In other words, the U.S. refused to allow imports into the U.S. unless huge taxes were paid; other countries retaliated and refused to buy American. Thus, U.S. auto sales, suffering in part from European boycotts, plummeted from more than 5 million in 1929 to about 1.8 million in 1933. In effect, Utah was able to sell its expensive sugar in the U.S., but Detroit could not sell its cheaper, more competitive Fords and Chevys abroad.
Even the citizens of Utah were aghast at the higher prices they had to pay for most products because of the high tariff, and they voted Sen. Smoot out of office at their first opportunity in 1932. Sadly, Mitt Romney is somewhat attracted to tariffs and has threatened to place tariffs on China even if it starts a trade war and forces Americans to pay more for shoes and shirts.
Utah also produced a stalwart defender of free markets in George Sutherland, technically an ex-Mormon, who was a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Sutherland’s father, a Mormon, migrated to Utah from England, but ultimately left the Mormon church. George, however, remained in Utah and won two terms in the U.S. Senate before President Warren G. Harding appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1922.
On the Supreme Court, Sutherland became an advocate for Constitutional government and an opponent of President Franklin Roosevelt’s massive government intrusion in the U.S. economy. He was part of a group of four justices called the “Four Horsemen,” because they steadfastly resisted FDR’s efforts to control American industry. For example, Sutherland helped lead the Court in striking down Roosevelt’s National Recovery Act (NRA) in 1935. The NRA permitted price-fixing in most American industries. Those who violated the law, and gave their customers discounts, sometimes went to jail. Jacob Maged, for example, an immigrant tailor, went to jail for giving a nickel discount to customers for pressing a pair of pants. Sutherland and the other justices struck down the NRA in a major Court decision. Sutherland also helped strike down FDR’s Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), which paid farmers not to produce, and fixed prices for many farm products. Again, Sutherland wanted freer markets to prevail.
Romney, at Bain Capital, wanted to buy companies, reorganize them, fix problems, and sell them at a profit in a free market. Justice Sutherland approved of that way of doing business, and Romney fits the free-market model in that way.
Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up! If at heart, you are a George Sutherland Republican, not a Reed Smoot Republican, tell us in a convincing way. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bain Capital made 77 deals, which returned $2.5 billion on $1.1 billion invested. Yes, you sometimes fired people, and sometimes companies had to be closed down. But others, like Staples and Sports Authority, made money and put thousands of people to work. That is the nature of capitalism. One hundred years ago, horse and buggy makers were fired, but Henry Ford hired these men to make the best cars in the world at that time.
Markets more efficiently allocate resources than government, and we are waiting to see if Mitt Romney wants to, or is able to, make that case to the American people.
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