Friday, November 25, 2011

Is there a tension between capitalism and democracy?

Columnist Harold Meyerson penned an opinion piece in The Washington Post entitled "The growing tension between capitalism and democracy" in which he ponders the questions of "Do capitalism and democracy conflict?" and "Does each weaken the other?" He concludes by suggesting that "Conflicts between capitalism and democracy are breaking out all over. And Europeans — and even Americans — may soon have to face a question they have not contemplated in a very long time, if ever: Which side are they on?" I'm not fully persuaded by his arguments. He has most of his facts right, but his reasoning is a different story and more along the lines of a socio-political "narrative" than analytic reasoning.
To be clear, our political system and our economic system are separate and distinct but joined at the hip. We have a representational democracy, which by definition is not a "pure" democracy. We also have campaign donors, lobbyists, and private ownership of stock in businesses by politicians, making our political system even a bit more less than purely democratic. Our system has always been that way. There is nothing new about any of that.
Our economic system is basically capitalism, but not a pure, unregulated open market. A fair number of people and many billions of dollars of investment are due to government spending at all levels of government, including spending for regulation of the economy, so we are even less of a pure capitalist system than many critics speak of America as being.
With unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, the postal service, FDIC, and a variety of social services, we clearly have a hybrid political/economic system that certainly does have elements of socialism. That is the "joined at the hip" quality of our system.
Tension? Sure. Absolutely. But we've always had it. We've always had those lobbyists and special interest groups and politicians having an interest in businesses. Our political and economic systems are far from pure and hardly free from tension, but that makes the system stronger and is not the weakness that critics claim. Sure, they would like a more pure democratic political system, but they never have a clearly articulated vision and well-thought out plan for the economic system, maybe because they are closet socialists.
But if they think that capitalist economics skews our political system, don't they realize how socialist economics would almost completely dominate the political system? That's why socialism basically won't work, because it perverts the political system by so thoroughly dominating it in a much deeper sense than even our current capitalist system.


At 1:45 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

This is cool!


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