A little over a year ago, I was invited to lunch at a friend’s place and among the other guests were an Indian-American academic economist and his wife and mother. The discussion turned to politics (specifically the issue of net neutrality that was in the news at that time) and I found myself in disagreement with that family. At one point in the discussion, the economist said that his position was based on sound capitalist principles and he seemed to think that this clinched the argument. I replied that I was a socialist and that hence I did not have to accept the premises of his argument.
My statement went over big with his family and his mother said that I was in the wrong country, that the US was a capitalist country and if I could not accept it I should leave.
But of course, she is wrong. There is nothing in the US constitution that requires the US to be run on capitalist principles. And even if it did, there is nothing that says that you cannot seek to change it the way that the constitution can and has been be amended, though that of course would be hard to do.
Thom Hartmann had to provide a similar lesson to his readers when they took him to task for saying that business owners needed to pay their workers a living wage or do something else. They said that he was violating the basic principle that capitalism was intrinsic to the US system of government.
“Sorry … the United States is not a capitalist country. We are a constitutionally limited, representative democratic republic. And you could argue that ever since the Supreme Court has decided that they really run the show, we are a constitutional monarchy, but we are not a capitalistic country. Capitalism is one of a whole bunch of different forms of economics that exist in the United States,” Hartmann reported.
Also, capitalism and constitutionalism don’t quite go together.
“The word ‘capitalism’ appears nowhere in our founding documents, nowhere in our Constitution,” Hartmann added.
What about the commenters’ assertion that running a business is a right? Perhaps only if the business operates on the barter system alone.
“I’ll wash your car, you mow my lawn,” Hartmann said. “But what happens if, as I wash your car, I break a window? Who do you appeal to? The court? Suddenly it’s not a free system anymore. In order for an economy to work beyond just wash car/mow lawn—and even with that—you have to have stable currencies, a stable banking system, a predictable and fair court system, actual rules … transportation … infrastructure … a criminal justice system to enforce the rules … all of which is paid for by We the People,” Hartmann explained.
One of the great benefits of the Bernie Sanders run for the presidency and the huge support he has garnered is that it has put to rest this idea that the US is inherently capitalist. It is true that one can question whether the democratic socialism that Sanders espouses is truly socialism or is merely a softer version of capitalism, but that is irrelevant. His unapologetic adoption of the socialist label has put it into the mainstream.
Hartmann produced a video elaborating on his argument in response to the criticisms he received as a service to those who, like me, hear this kind of argument made by people who should know better.