Economic policy forum with Mitt Romney focuses on government’s role in economy

The Harris School of Public Policy Studies hosted presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday, March 19 for a forum on economic policy, with a focus on how government should approach issues of taxes and business regulation.

Romney’s economic address was part of an ongoing series organized by the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies, titled Presidency 2012: The Purposes of Government. The non-partisan program provides an equal opportunity to all presidential candidates who wish to present their views on major policy issues and the purposes of government in the United States. The University of Chicago neither supports nor opposes this or any other candidate for public office.

In his introduction of the former Massachusetts governor, Chicago Harris professor William Howell cited a little-known link between Romney and UChicago. Romney’s namesake, a first cousin once removed named Milton “Mitt” Romney, was a Maroon football star in the 1920s, who later played quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

“I think in naming me Mitt Romney, [my parents] assumed I would inherit some of his athletic talent. I did not,” Romney joked.

In addition to his family connection to the University, Romney spoke of his intellectual ties to the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. Romney said that Friedman played “an extraordinary role in our nation,” with free-market views that Romney credited for shaping his own economic policies.

Excessive government regulation, Romney said, prevents economic growth. “When the heavy hand of government replaces the invisible hand of the market, economic freedom is the inevitable victim,” he said.

Romney also cited Harvard historian David Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, which argues that culture is a key element of national prosperity. According to Romney, a commitment to economic freedom sets the United States apart from other countries.

“Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality,” he said.

During a question-and-answer period after the speech, Romney responded to a question submitted by College student Scott Loring about what he would do to combat poverty in areas like the South Side of Chicago.

Romney suggested that state and local governments, rather than federal agencies, should take the lead on such social programs. “The money goes closer to the problem,” he said.

Stephen Sunderman, president of the University of Chicago College Republicans, met with Romney before the event, and presented him with a T-shirt emblazoned with a portrait of Friedman. Sunderman said he was impressed by Romney’s speech, which he felt “really resounded with students and younger people in the audience.”

The visit by Romney is one of many non-partisan events on policy and legal affairs that the University of Chicago hosts routinely, reflecting a diversity of perspectives. In this academic year, units of the University have hosted former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (AB’41), current Justice Antonin Scalia, Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker, former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel, JD’58, and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. As part of the Presidency 2012 program, Chicago Harris has hosted former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. Forthcoming University events include a discussion on April 10 with environmental advocate Van Jones.

In January, the University announced the creation of a non-partisan Institute of Politics to be led by presidential advisor and election strategist David Axelrod, AB’76. The institute’s launch included an election panel with columnist David Brooks, AB’83, Republican political consultant Alex Castellanos, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and political analysts Rachel Maddow and George Stephanopoulos. Programming through the Institute will begin in early 2013.