[I]t does strike me that a compelling moral argument on behalf of conservative economics specifically, and capitalism more broadly, has been sorely missing from the public debate.
Well, you could start with the moral case put forward by Deirdre McCloskey in her Bourgeois Cycle. She says, more or less, that the difference between our modern middle-class society and the previous oppressive regimes is the revaluation of the things that bourgeois, middle-class persons do.
Under the old regime we had an "elite of Brahmins and warriors [living] by the dignified collection of rents and taxes imposed on the lower classes."
So now in the liberal welfare state we have liberal Brahmins and tenured class warriors living on the dignified proceeds of the progressive tax and regulatory system.
What is needed, in McCloskey's terms, is a reevaluation of the worth of liberal activities: taxing, spending, regulating, dividing, blaming, subsidizing when compared with bourgeois activities like innovating, producing, serving, building, anticipating, trusting, cooperating, competing.
It seems, against all odds, as though this is actually happening. That is why the Democrats are sitting around in a state of shock. Because, against all odds, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 has resulted not in a frightened populace eager to be led to safety but an angry Tea Party pointing the finger at bailouts and handouts to favored Democratic political constituencies.
The heart of McCloskey's argument is that it was not thrift, or a Puritan ethic, or the transport revolution, or the piling up of capital, or coal, or the slave trade, or imperialism that created the freedom of the past two centuries. That's not what created the economic Hockey Stick of the last two hundred years that has built an economy where the average American spends $120 per day instead of $3 per day, and can live a life of greater scope and moral depth than under the old daiy necessity of getting food.
The difference was that, for the first time, the bourgeois code of innovating and inventing and adjusting was valued and appreciated rather than considered low and dishonorable. It is not surprising that the central idea in left-wing rhetoric from Marx to the Fabians to today's "progressives" is to damn the middle class, the higgling of the market, and the people that bury us in goods and services, the evil corporations. The whole point of the class warfare strategy is to marginalize the people that respond to market changes, that anticipate the needs of the consumer and make a lot of money out of it.
The net-neutrality push by liberal foundations is a prime example of this. God forbid that internet providers should start charging a premium to people downloading movies and videos. People have rights!
A central argument of McCloskey is that we are what we think. We got the society of freedom and the economy of innovation because people got out there and said freedom is good, innovation is good. Liberals are going around saying regulation is good, free stuff from the government paid for by the rich is good.
The moral case against Obamanomics centers around the moral case for freedom and the right of people to order their lives without getting permission first from the government.
This shouldn't be that hard. Government screws up everything it does, and the policy of force that is buried in every government program always leads to tears. If we conservatives and libertarians can't convince the American people of the moral and practical worth of our ideas for each individual American, then we deserve a generation of Obamas and their big government delusions.