Inequality in an Election Year

In 1754, Jean-Jacques Rousseau published his Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men. In this work, Rousseau identified capitalism as the ultimate basis of all inequality, and so set the stage for centuries of attacks on the capitalist system.

Rousseau's earnest discourse was followed a century later by Karl Marx's Capital, that vastly influential (though unreadable) fantasy of a post-capitalist utopia.  Ever since, Marxists have been asserting their demand for the equality of earnings and the abolition of the capitalist system.

Paradoxically, those cries for universal equality seem to have increased since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.  There was a bow to Marx in Pope Francis's recent remarks on the exploitation of illegal immigrants.  Certainly, Francis was correct in calling for an end to the violence and exploitation of human trafficking, but he followed this point up with the pronouncement that "[t]he flow of capital cannot decide the flow and life of people."

That was an odd remark, since for thousands of years capital in its various forms has done just that.  The reality is that the flow of capital does decide much of people's lives, and it is good that it does.  In the absence of the capitalist system, the world would be cast back into the darkness of a static economy of subsistence farming.  There would be no shelter except hovels of mud or sticks, no clothing except for the most primitive hides and home-woven cloth, no food except for what one could produce for oneself and the little that one could store for winter.  There would also be no security against one's enemies except for the arms one could fashion from stone and wood.

This seems to be the world that some of the more radical anti-capitalists wish to return to.  Even Bernie Sanders, with his socialist platform of much higher taxes and greater equality, would restrain capitalism to such an extent that growth would slow.  The cost of Sen. Sanders's proposals, estimated at $18 trillion, would put the economy into a permanent state of stagnation resembling what prevails in much of democratic socialist Europe.

Youth unemployment in Italy now stands at 46%.  The major difference between Italy and the U.S., other than a preponderance of scooters and a cadre of bronzed designers such as Giorgio Armani, is America's commitment to capitalism.  Democratic socialism would turn America into another Italy (absent the Vespas and high-end designers).

The Sanders campaign appeals to the perennial idealism of the young, which can be forgiven, but also to their ignorance, which cannot.  Bernie's support among millennials suggests that the young have little understanding of economic systems and even less knowledge of the past.  They seem entirely unaware of horrific record of communism in Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Cambodia, and dozens of other countries.  Hundreds of millions of people died violently under these regimes, and billions of others suffered poverty and hunger.  To ignore this history is not merely naïve; it is callous.  None of those human beings who suffered under communism should ever be forgotten.

Hillary Clinton's attacks on Wall Street and "big corporations" are another matter.  With the Clintons' estimated net worth of $111 million, Hillary's bemoaning income inequality seems fraudulent and calculated.  The idea that "dead broke" Hillary is "fighting for us," as she everywhere proclaims, is like Nero saying he was the firefighter's best friend.  Before it's over, Hillary will be offering more than $18 trillion in free benefits, just to top her Democratic rival.  Yet of the two candidates, Hillary is the less dangerous.  One feels that she will do and say anything to get elected and re-elected but that she has no radical attachment to Marxism or any other set of values.  Opportunism does not count.

What Hillary lacks is a positive appreciation for the crucial role of capitalism in American life.  She is much closer to Sanders and to Pope Francis than she is to the ideal of rugged individualism that built our great country.  Her platform is a watered down, less costly, but still ruinous version of Sanders socialism.  Like Francis, she seems to believe that "the flow of capital cannot decide the flow and life of people."  But with a total of nearly $200 million raised for her campaign, it's not likely she will go very far to restrain that flow of capital if elected.  She'll just see that more of it flows into her re-election campaign.

What Francis, Sanders, and Clinton all lack is an appreciation for the greatness of capitalism and an understanding of just how destructive socialism has been everywhere it has been tried.  Even as Pope Francis was delivering his remarks near the U.S.-Mexico border, the Mexican people were continuing to benefit from the flow of capital – much of it from the U.S. to Mexico in the form of business investment.  Since 1969, Mexican per capita income has risen from $3,300 in 1961 to $8,626 in 2014 (in 2014 dollars).  The flow of capital has made this possible.  Absent this investment of capital, Mexico would still be a virtual slave empire, its economy controlled by a handful of wealthy landowners, as it was in the 19th century.

Sanders, Clinton, and Francis, each in his or her own way, continue to argue against capitalism and for an egalitarian system that resembles the socialist tyranny of the past.  When America's largest demographic cohort identifies overwhelmingly with a self-described socialist, our future as a capitalist republic is at risk.  One can only hope that the current mania for income equality will fade and the world will get back down to the serious business of investing, producing, and reaping the rewards of capitalism.    

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

In 1754, Jean-Jacques Rousseau published his Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men. In this work, Rousseau identified capitalism as the ultimate basis of all inequality, and so set the stage for centuries of attacks on the capitalist system.

Rousseau's earnest discourse was followed a century later by Karl Marx's Capital, that vastly influential (though unreadable) fantasy of a post-capitalist utopia.  Ever since, Marxists have been asserting their demand for the equality of earnings and the abolition of the capitalist system.

Paradoxically, those cries for universal equality seem to have increased since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.  There was a bow to Marx in Pope Francis's recent remarks on the exploitation of illegal immigrants.  Certainly, Francis was correct in calling for an end to the violence and exploitation of human trafficking, but he followed this point up with the pronouncement that "[t]he flow of capital cannot decide the flow and life of people."

That was an odd remark, since for thousands of years capital in its various forms has done just that.  The reality is that the flow of capital does decide much of people's lives, and it is good that it does.  In the absence of the capitalist system, the world would be cast back into the darkness of a static economy of subsistence farming.  There would be no shelter except hovels of mud or sticks, no clothing except for the most primitive hides and home-woven cloth, no food except for what one could produce for oneself and the little that one could store for winter.  There would also be no security against one's enemies except for the arms one could fashion from stone and wood.

This seems to be the world that some of the more radical anti-capitalists wish to return to.  Even Bernie Sanders, with his socialist platform of much higher taxes and greater equality, would restrain capitalism to such an extent that growth would slow.  The cost of Sen. Sanders's proposals, estimated at $18 trillion, would put the economy into a permanent state of stagnation resembling what prevails in much of democratic socialist Europe.

Youth unemployment in Italy now stands at 46%.  The major difference between Italy and the U.S., other than a preponderance of scooters and a cadre of bronzed designers such as Giorgio Armani, is America's commitment to capitalism.  Democratic socialism would turn America into another Italy (absent the Vespas and high-end designers).

The Sanders campaign appeals to the perennial idealism of the young, which can be forgiven, but also to their ignorance, which cannot.  Bernie's support among millennials suggests that the young have little understanding of economic systems and even less knowledge of the past.  They seem entirely unaware of horrific record of communism in Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Cambodia, and dozens of other countries.  Hundreds of millions of people died violently under these regimes, and billions of others suffered poverty and hunger.  To ignore this history is not merely naïve; it is callous.  None of those human beings who suffered under communism should ever be forgotten.

Hillary Clinton's attacks on Wall Street and "big corporations" are another matter.  With the Clintons' estimated net worth of $111 million, Hillary's bemoaning income inequality seems fraudulent and calculated.  The idea that "dead broke" Hillary is "fighting for us," as she everywhere proclaims, is like Nero saying he was the firefighter's best friend.  Before it's over, Hillary will be offering more than $18 trillion in free benefits, just to top her Democratic rival.  Yet of the two candidates, Hillary is the less dangerous.  One feels that she will do and say anything to get elected and re-elected but that she has no radical attachment to Marxism or any other set of values.  Opportunism does not count.

What Hillary lacks is a positive appreciation for the crucial role of capitalism in American life.  She is much closer to Sanders and to Pope Francis than she is to the ideal of rugged individualism that built our great country.  Her platform is a watered down, less costly, but still ruinous version of Sanders socialism.  Like Francis, she seems to believe that "the flow of capital cannot decide the flow and life of people."  But with a total of nearly $200 million raised for her campaign, it's not likely she will go very far to restrain that flow of capital if elected.  She'll just see that more of it flows into her re-election campaign.

What Francis, Sanders, and Clinton all lack is an appreciation for the greatness of capitalism and an understanding of just how destructive socialism has been everywhere it has been tried.  Even as Pope Francis was delivering his remarks near the U.S.-Mexico border, the Mexican people were continuing to benefit from the flow of capital – much of it from the U.S. to Mexico in the form of business investment.  Since 1969, Mexican per capita income has risen from $3,300 in 1961 to $8,626 in 2014 (in 2014 dollars).  The flow of capital has made this possible.  Absent this investment of capital, Mexico would still be a virtual slave empire, its economy controlled by a handful of wealthy landowners, as it was in the 19th century.

Sanders, Clinton, and Francis, each in his or her own way, continue to argue against capitalism and for an egalitarian system that resembles the socialist tyranny of the past.  When America's largest demographic cohort identifies overwhelmingly with a self-described socialist, our future as a capitalist republic is at risk.  One can only hope that the current mania for income equality will fade and the world will get back down to the serious business of investing, producing, and reaping the rewards of capitalism.    

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).