by Noam Chomsky
The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks.
The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book “Digital Disconnect.”
“Capitalism” is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support – both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.
Some might even use the term “capitalism” to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America’s leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Dewey called for workers to be “masters of their own industrial fate” and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”
The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority “down below” has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.
There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.