Why do Americans love capitalism

US Democrats: Left goes, but not against capitalism


Read on one side

Donald Trump poses a dire threat to any minority community in the United States, widening the gap between rich and poor and causing serious damage to democratic institutions. So it is of the utmost moral urgency that someone - anyone - prevent Trump from winning the US presidential election a second time.

But many of the problems the country suffers from arose before Trump was elected. And they will likely continue to exist after he leaves the White House. Trump's unpopularity and growing support for left-wing political content seems like a rare opportunity for progressive forces to win a mandate for real change. This is why it is so important whoever competes against Trump: He or she needs the determination to tackle the country's deeply rooted problems.

More open to radical programs

The apparent tension between these two narratives explains why the primary election of Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination is becoming increasingly angry. For moderate candidates like Joe Biden, the ideological purism of the left appears as irresponsible self-centeredness. On the other hand, leftists like Elizabeth Warren believe that only a radical program that turns American capitalism on its head can meet the demands of the historic moment.

Yascha Mounk

The political scientist, born and raised in Germany, teaches international relations at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Both sides are half right. Democrats can only bring about real change if they embrace the many progressive concepts that are extremely popular. But if they want to prevent Trump from winning a second election, they must also get better at distancing themselves from the content and slogans that are deeply unpopular.

Many Americans are now open to a radical program that is reshaping the country's economy. A recent survey by the Voter Study Group confirmed this: A clear majority supports tax breaks for low-wage earners, paid parental leave, an increase in the minimum wage and higher taxes for the rich. A majority are also in favor of breaking up large banks and making it easier for workers to organize.

In addition, according to recent polls, most Americans now believe that the government has a moral obligation to make health care possible for all citizens. A full 70 percent support a variant that would allow all Americans to get state health insurance. This would finally give all Americans access to high quality medical care and a huge transfer of wealth from rich to poor.

"I applaud your hatred"

These insights have encouraged the progressives in the party. They can now claim that they will not be punished by voters for adopting concepts - or labels - that a decade ago would have been well outside the American mainstream. Bernie Sanders, for example, said in a recent speech on socialism that Republican presidential candidates have always tried to scare voters by portraying their democratic opponents as socialists. "I applaud their hatred," he quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt as saying. Candidates closer to the mainstream, such as Pete Buttigieg, make similar statements. "If we have an extreme left agenda, they will say we are a bunch of crazy socialists," he said recently. "If we have a conservative agenda, (...) they will say we are a bunch of crazy socialists."

As seductive as this argument may be, it contradicts the clear evidence of the kind of radicalism American voters are willing to tolerate. The Americans, for example, are far from rejecting capitalism as clearly as the party's progressives like to claim. The same poll by the Voter Study Group that found strong support for breaking big banks also found that a majority of Americans reject the idea that the government should reduce income inequality and advocate less regulation.

Other polls make it clear that socialism remains a charged term in the United States, far more so than in much of Western Europe. According to the most comprehensive study in the field, undertaken by the Pew Research Center, only 17 percent of Americans have a positive view of socialism while also viewing capitalism negatively.