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To win, Republicans need to promote a kinder, gentler capitalism

9:45 AM EST, November 13, 2012

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In the wake of Mitt Romney's loss to President Barack Obama, many in the Republican Party are soul-searching, to determine where their man went wrong in his attempt to attract a majority of voters. Was it because he was stiff and un-relatable or because he seemed willing to take any position to get elected? Or that he should not have attempted to coast over the finish line after a strong first debate performance?

One key area being examined is why Republicans nominated a candidate from big business as the nation was trying to recover from a recession that many think was brought on largely by the excesses of big business (i.e. irresponsible lending by big banks). As Newt Gingrich said famously, why would the party nominate someone who looks like the guy who fired you?

On a deeper level, there were question about the capitalist system. Much of the debate focused on the government bailouts for Wall Street and the auto industry, as well as attacks on Mr. Romney's Bain Capital experience, JP Morgan's $2 billion trading loss and even who knew what during Facebook's IPO. These issues focused the Americans on what is right and wrong with American capitalism.

When Americans see the companies that employ them stripped bare and their jobs shipped overseas they feel something is wrong a the system that not only allows that to happen but that celebrates it as "efficient." Most Americans don't want socialism, but they clearly want a better form of capitalism that they feel doesn't harm them.

What America needs is capitalism with a moral compass; insatiable greed is not good, regardless of the fictional Gordon Gekko's opinion on the matter. Americans experienced this form of morally unhinged capitalism firsthand in the 1880s, when the nation's robber barons plundered its people.

Unfettered capitalism led to sweat shops, unsafe working conditions, child labor, corporate monopolies and company towns that held people in servitude indefinitely. Then after a public outcry, the pendulum swung the other way and government began to respond with regulations on business. This cycle has continued down to today.

What about a return to capitalism as practiced by men like Andrew Carnegie, who followed the Judaic economic principles expressed in the Book of Ruth? In ancient Israel, farm owners were required not to harvest the corners of their fields but to leave some crops (gleanings) for the poor to reap. That form of capitalism promotes an ownership society that doesn't neglect its less fortunate citizens, and thus reduces government's propensity to intervene and redistribute wealth.

The alternative appears to be what has happened over and again throughout American history. When citizens believe that capitalism has gone too far, and people begin to get hurt in large enough numbers — as in the recent mortgage meltdown and foreclosure crisis — then elected officials feel compelled to have government step in to force an "ethical response" that often leads to over-regulation, too much government control and the inevitable corporate search for loopholes.

I believe the best form of capitalism one that is self-disciplined and informed by a moral ethos or worldview that establishes a proper balance among the means of production, the needs of consumers and the well-being of employees. This form of capitalism leaves some "gleanings" around the edges for the lower-middle class and the underprivileged. It could lead to a revival of once popular corporate practices such as profit sharing, equity opportunities for employees and corporate loyalty to the communities they serve.

The wealthy industrialist and American's first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, is reputed to have responded to a question about how much money is enough by saying: "Just a little bit more." Now more than ever, we need a form of capitalism that knows when enough is enough.

Paul W. Comfort, Queen Anne