Michael Kazin: Why ‘Crony Capitalism’ is as American as Apple Pie

Roundup: Historians' Take

Michael Kazin’s most recent book is American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is co-editor of Dissent.

Conservatives are supposed to cherish tradition, to draw on customs and policies which worked well in the past to guide what office-holders ought to do in the future. So it is ironic, if not hypocritical, that they constantly peddle a notion about the separation of business and government that has no basis in American history. “The voters,” asserted Mitt Romney, after his victory in the Washington caucuses, “want a conservative businessman who understands the private sector and knows how to get the federal government out of the way, so that the economy can once again grow vigorously.”

In fact, the Republican nominee-to-be is distorting a long and bipartisan tradition of government support for big business in America. Conservatives now object to “crony capitalism,” but for much of U.S. history, businessmen have been hungry for it. Since the early nineteenth century, the government has helped fuel economic growth and corporate profit-making, and savvy businessmen and, recently, businesswomen have lobbied hard to keep those benefits coming....

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