Thanks to Sanders, Democratic Party Just Debated Capitalism

By Sarah Lazare, staff writer | ( | – –

Presidential hopefuls broke usual parameters of discourse when they debated capitalism versus socialism Tuesday night.

Breaking the usual parameters of election season discourse, Democratic presidential hopefuls Tuesday night debated the merits of capitalism on the national stage—a development that many attribute to the candidacy of self-described socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and rising inequality and discontent.

When CNN‘s Anderson Cooper asked Sanders whether he considers himself a capitalist, the Vermont Senator replied: “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,” he continued, “not just a handful of billionaires.”

Cooper then asked the panel: “Is there anybody else on the stage who is not a capitalist?”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded with a vague defense of the capitalist system.

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“Let me follow-up on that, Anderson,” Clinton said. “When I think about capitalism, I think about all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and make a good living for themselves and their families. I don’t think we should confuse what we have to do every so often in America, which is save capitalism from itself.”

While direct criticism of capitalism in mainstream politics is not unheard of in U.S. history, it is unusual for modern times.

“From the late 1970s to fairly recently, this was certainly outside the norm as a combination of Cold War politics and Reaganomics and other dynamics made it taboo to criticize capitalism, especially on the national stage of presidential politics,” Marjorie Wood, senior economic policy associate at the Institute for Policy Studies and managing editor of, told Common Dreams.

“But if you go back further, this kind of debate isn’t all that unusual in America,” Wood added. “In fact, debating the merits of capitalism was completely the norm during the first Gilded Age of extreme inequality and abuses of the democratic system. But still, it was a remarkable moment last night that reflects the new moment of inequality we find ourselves in.”

During the debate, Sanders also offered a definition of what he means when he calls himself a democratic socialist: “And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of one percent in this country own almost 90 percent—almost—own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top one percent.”

Some critics of capitalism who do not share Sanders’ specific political vision argue that there is value in openly discussing alternatives.

“Even if it’s not the definition of socialism that I’d prefer, in this country, with its history, it still feels significant,” wrote labor reporter Sarah Jaffe in the wake of Tuesday night’s debate.

Meanwhile, there are signs that among younger people and communities of color in the U.S., capitalism is falling out of favor.

A Pew Research Center poll from 2011 found that a plurality of young people (49-43 percent) have a positive view of socialism and a negative view of capitalism (47-46 percent). For African Americans, these numbers were more dramatic, with a majority (55-36 percent) holding a positive view of socialism and negative view of capitalism (51-41 percent).


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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “(Democratic Debate) Bernie Sanders explains Democratic Socialism”

3 Responses

  1. Small business capitalism and CONTROL capitalism have nothing in common.

    Mixing the metaphors is pettyfoggery at best. But not unexpected from Candidate Clinton who knows how things actually function in the upside-down 21st Century where low consumer prices are a bad thing for example.

    Apparently, Senator Sanders thinks that voting utilizing RIGGED VOTING APPLIANCE SYSTEMS actually means something? So 20th Century and out of step with reality.

    If Senator Sanders was a BILLIONAIRE he would “get it” and march in step.

    • All private property systems tend towards wealth polarization and oligarchic tyranny. You can go through history and find farmers becoming divided between unlucky ones who must borrow to survive bad years, and lucky ones who lend to them for vast interest or even in exchange for their fundamental liberties. Polarization would continue until collapse, invaders, or a new regime of redistribution. The Greeks of the Classical era were just a bunch of olive farmers, but in hundreds of city-states wealthy oligarchies became so intolerable that they were overthrown by revolutions, whose first order of business was mandated redistribution. It worked for a few centuries, but the oligarchs grew back.

      So small business capitalism is simply a few generations away from becoming oligarchy. The redistributive mechanisms to combat this are always complex, aggravating and under threat by oligarchic propaganda.

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