Republicans should listen to Hillary Clinton when she talks about the economy.
Her diagnosis of America's economic maladies is largely correct and politically powerful. The Republican who acknowledges the problems she notes — such as the stagnation of middle class wages despite a booming stock market — will benefit.
Even better for the Republican who accepts some of Hillary's criticisms of the U.S. economy: her solutions are dead wrong and easy to pick apart.
Clinton delivered her economic address July 13, and said the U.S. economy "is stacked for those at the top."
She's right. In many ways, the game is rigged today, making it harder for people to get ahead. Clinton points out that "corporate profits are at near record highs," and the stock market is rallying. But at the same time, wages are flat. New business formation continues to slump near all-time lows. College loans are crippling young people, and the average American's prospects for retirement are dimming.
Things are coming apart, Clinton charges. She's basically right. Conservatives can dispute some of the finer points — liberals often exaggerate the increase in inequality since relative economic mobility, it appears, is flat, not falling — but there's a lot of truth to Clinton's diagnosis.
The problems she articulates, though, demand answers that are the opposite of the policies she proposes.
High corporate profits and slow business formation are the fruits of overregulation, overtaxation, too much complexity, and too many favors for the big guys. In her speech, Clinton gave lip service to tax simplification and regulatory reform, but her more concrete policy proposals cut in the opposite direction.
She proposed cracking down on Uber, an amazing innovation for allowing people to work flexible hours — perfect for a stay-at-home mom or a second job. Her tax proposals never touch on the payroll tax or the self-employment taxes. Her proposals for equal pay mandates and a higher minimum wage add to the costs and litigation worries of anyone considering hiring employees.
Clinton, like all Democrats, assails Republican policies as "trickle down" economics. "Republicans have argued that if we give more wealth to those at top by cutting their taxes and letting big corporations write their own rules, it will trickle down, it will trickle down to everyone else." This is a lazy attack that probably applies more to Hillary than to any Republican presidential candidate.
Hillary Clinton explicitly advocates giving "more wealth to those at the top," on many occasions. While Clinton, in her Hobbesian way, considers money not taxed to be a giveaway, she literally wants to use the government to give money to big business.
She supported the Wall Street bailout, voting for it twice. That was the height of trickle-down economics. She touted the bailout of corporate giants General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler in her July 14 speech. This was giving taxpayer money to corporations — mostly to their creditors and shareholders — in the promise of helping the working man.
And Hillary has proudly separated herself from the GOP field and her liberal challenger Bernie Sanders by unapologetically supporting the Export-Import Bank, the federal agency — now in liquidation — that used to subsidize U.S. exporters and their lenders. Her argument: using taxpayer credit to subsidize the likes of Boeing and JP Morgan will spur job creation at Boeing and its suppliers.
This is bad economics, clearly. But even more clearly, it is trickle-down economics.
Conservatives and libertarians, while dismantling her proposed solutions, must resist the temptation to deny the problems she addresses. Inequality is growing, and that reflects and causes some problems.
When Hillary says "I want to see our economy work for the struggling, the striving and the successful," she is tapping into a sense that most voters share: we shouldn't hold anyone back, but we also shouldn't leave anyone behind.
Clinton also aptly pointed to problems with "quarterly capitalism." Publicly-traded corporations have too many incentives to pursue short-term profitability at the expense of long-term strengths. Her own proposals for these problems will likely be counterproductive overreaches, but a thoughtful conservative could seek out government policies that are promoting such short-termism and put an end to them.
If the debate in 2016 is between Hillary saying that the playing field is tilted, and Republicans saying that everything is fair, fine and level, Hillary will win.
Instead, when Hillary says the game is rigged, the correct answer is, "Yes, the game is rigged. And big government is doing the rigging, to the detriment of ordinary people and to the benefit of insiders. And you, Madame Secretary, know something about insiders getting rich."
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.