What else Bernie could have said about capitalism

In Chester County, in Pennsylvania and the whole country, we’re all capitalists. Even those who live in their log cabin on a remote western mountain are capitalists, because they own, or think they own, their house and land, and any intruder would find that out in a hurry.

Bernie Sanders is not a socialist; he is a capitalist. But see how he answered in the first Democratic presidential debate:

Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.

And also:

I think everybody is in agreement that we are a great entrepreneurial nation. We have got to encourage that. Of course, we have to support small and medium-sized businesses. But you can have all of the growth that you want and it doesn’t mean anything if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. So what we need to do is support small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of our economy, but we have to make sure that every family in this country gets a fair shake.

I agree and I’d like to add a little more historical perspective.

A lot of ink has spilled over capitalism ever since Karl Marx published volume I of Das Kapital in 1867. But he didn’t invent capitalism. Capitalism flourished in ancient Rome, in the medieval European city states and merchant leagues, in the Renaissance duchies.

But capitalism, like greed and strife, goes back even farther; it is really part of the human condition. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society” (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, 1755)

The Robber Baron era must be in the back of Sanders’s and Clinton’s minds. The term “Robber Baron” has more history than I was aware of, per Wikipedia:

A robber baron or robber knight is a historical term and title of disdain that was applied to the behavior and practices of a group of unscrupulous and despotic landowners (nobles) of the medieval period in Europe….

In modern U.S. parlance, the term since the mid-nineteenth century had also come to be used to describe unscrupulous industrialists … and stock speculators, who like the Germanic robber barons enriched their own pockets without adding to the common good by adding value.

Some of the traditional big names in American business and politics came to prominence through “Robber Baron” ancestors: Astor, Carnegie, Frick, Harriman, Mellon, Morgan, Rockefeller, Schwab, Vanderbilt, from the list in Wikipedia, also source of this image, whose caption there is:


“The protectors of our industries”. Cartoon showing Cyrus Field, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Russell Sage, seated on bags of “millions”, on large raft, and being carried by workers of various professions.

Our country urgently needs to cut down on the exploitation, the taking of others’ labor without fair compensation, the radical discrepancies in enforcement of basic rights, and the suppression of people’s legitimate aspirations for their children and themselves.

Capitalism, the freedom to make money off others’ labor and at others’ expense, has always been hedged around by rules and limits, but those have weakened here since the 1970’s. We need to strengthen the rules and limits.

Companies have always hoped to fulfill the old capitalist dream of “cornering the market” in areas like gold, silver, railroads, and more recently computer operating systems and life-saving pharmaceutical products. Without regulation, the free market would no longer function. As Karl Marx predicted, capitalism tends toward self-destruction.

Bernie would like to restore the needed equilibrium by leavenino the capitalist system with some “democratic socialism,” as this country did in the middle part of the 20th century and as most of Europe did and retained. Or maybe he really means “democratic socialist capitalism” or “social democracy”? In any case, he wants “social” values in the capitalist mix, and so, as members of that society, should we.

As Hillary Clinton aptly said in the debate:

…what we have to do every so often in America … is save capitalism from itself…. And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities we’re seeing in our economic system….

And that means scaling back the inequality, the unfairness, the disparities in education and opportunity, that will tear our society apart if we don’t take strong measures now.

About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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