When conservatives advocate lower taxes and less regulation, their critics often retort that conservatives are just advancing the interest of business.

That’s either a misunderstanding or a purposeful mischaracterization. I have nothing against the business sector — some of my best friends are business executives, to paraphrase the old rationalization — but what I and my colleagues are actually defending is free enterprise.

To be pro-enterprise is not necessarily the same thing as to be pro-business, particularly if the latter is defined as encompassing any policy that might benefit a specific firm or industry. As the original pro-enterpriser, Adam Smith, put it in his Wealth of Nations: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Left-leaning analysts sometimes misquote Smith’s passage as an argument for government regulation. Smith’s argument was not that the inevitable collusion of business interests required a strong central government to police. Rather, Smith observed that because there is a natural inclination for economic actors to make use of whatever means might be available to give themselves an artificial advantage in the marketplace, governments should minimize the availability of such means.

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