Former vice-president Al Gore recently spoke at the Washington Ideas Forum, an event hosted by The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute. During his segment, he discussed two things that demand attention: democracy and capitalism.
“There is an ideological hegemon in the world today of democratic capitalism. Both halves of the compound ideology are under siege. Democracy has been hacked. Capitalism is in need of reform – serious reform. The short-termism that has been bemoaned by some of the leaders of the bigger firms in global markets is really hampering the success of capitalism in building value and reaching its goals.”
The repeat and increasingly frequent crises now radiate globally and much more frequently because of the emergence of the earth and really an interconnected global economy. The ignoring of central factors like failure to measure the negative externalities – like pollution and the depletion of natural resources. Positive externalities like investment in public goods, inequality of wealth and incomes.”
So now we see these financial reports that say, ‘Great, GDP has gone up three and a half percent.’ And then you look closer and median income has gone down three and a half percent. Pollution has gone way up. Depletion of resources has gone way up and inequality has gotten out of control and there is a dearth of investment in public goods like education and healthcare and environmental protection.”
And this is true everywhere the dominant version of democratic capitalism is being pursued – that needs to be changed and in the capitalism part of that, it’s really important to adopt the kinds of reforms that more and more people are seeing are greatly needed.”
This isn’t the first time Gore used the line about democracy being hacked. It’s kind of his stump speech these days. During a recent appearance on MSNBC, he told Chris Hayes, “American democracy has been hacked — it no longer is operating the way it was intended to operate.”
He continued, “The principle reason for the degradation of the process is the influence of big money.”
“And yet, the many proposals for campaign finance reform have been inadequate to solve this problem because the main underlying reason for the bigger role of money is that we know longer have the way of communicating with one another that existed when our Founders wrote the Constitution. The printing press created a public forum in which individuals could freely enter and participate, but the dominance of television since the last third of the 20th century put up barriers to individuals participating. Gatekeepers charge a lot of money for the kind of regular communication that comes in the campaign television commercials.”
That’s astonishing. For him to say we can no longer communicate the way we used to back in the days of the printing press, and for Hayes to just nod along, is incredible. We have a greater capacity to communicate with one another than ever before. You could send that last sentence directly to Gore’s phone via Twitter. (Really. Click here to do exactly that.)
The assertion our inability to communicate is the problem is so ridiculous, it’s laughable. But that’s not what needs the most attention. What merits highlighting is the premise that our American democracy has been hacked. That’s wrong, for one very simple reason.
There’s no such thing as an American democracy. Never has been, hopefully never will be.
The Founding Fathers understood, as many do today, that democracy is a dangerous form of government. From Federalist 10, James Madison wrote, “Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths …”
Thomas Jefferson said, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
America is a constitutional republic, not a democracy. For Gore to repeatedly assert that “democracy has been hacked” shows either an ignorance of our form of government or a willingness to use inaccurate information to promote his agenda.
Now, regarding the other half of his premise, that capitalism needs “reform – serious reform,” the question that needs answered is, “Where is this capitalism he speaks of?”
It certainly isn’t in America, where the government at the federal, state and local level apply a liberal use of force upon businesses to operate in a manner they dictate. This is a mixed economy, not a capitalist one.
Need evidence that we are not capitalist?
Try to get a ride on UberX in St. Louis. You can’t because the protectionist St. Louis Taxicab Commission won’t permit it to operate. In a capitalist economy, there would be no such entity and Uber’s existence would be dictated by the people.
(It’s ironic that real democracy can be found in a free market, but those calling for real democracy often despise free markets.)
The fact so much money being spent by big corporations to get their person in office is evidence of the power of government on our economy. Were this a free market, there’d be no reason for a corporation to donate to a candidate other than to support one that would keep the government out of the business of business.
Government exists to protect the rights of the people. If a business pollutes a river, that’s damaging someone’s property. That’s a violation of their rights. The government exists to help that person get compensation and justice. It’s the threat of monetary loss (not just in compensatory damages in court but in overall revenue lost due to a lowered public opinion) and possible jail time motivates businesses to be good members of society.
We have a government that imposes rule after rule, regulation after regulation and mandate after mandate on every part of the business world. So, of course, businesses feel the need to spend money on politics.
That isn’t capitalism by any stretch of the imagination.
When he calls for reforms in democratic capitalism because it’s been “hacked,” Gore either isn’t being honest, or he’s confused about what capitalism really means.