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Democratic Capitalism or Capitalist Democracy

May 31, 2013

Prior to the 16th century, most of Christendom fervently believed the Earth was the center of the Solar System and that the Sun revolved around it.  It became obvious to the Renaissance scientists and pretty much all future observers (American Creationists excluded) that the empirical facts didn’t give much support to the geocentric view and it was far simpler to think of the Sun as the center around which orbited the Earth.  The Theory of Relativity tells us, though, that there’s no such thing as absolute motion and so any object in the universe can make equal claim to being considered the stationary center.  It’s therefore not empirically proven that the Earth does in fact orbit the Sun; it’s just vastly simpler and in accordance with all our physical theories to view it that way.

We see something similar, I think, in the realm of political economy.  Does Democracy revolve around Money or is it vice versa?  Which has the better claim to being the stationary center?  Is our system better considered Democratic Capitalism or Capitalist Democracy (with the second word having the implied greater importance)?

I won’t try to untangle that question here but I think it’s interesting to see how the framing of the current crisis helps in arriving at an answer.  Writing about Europe today, Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens gives us a typical example (paywall) of the orthodox perspective.

“Put a bunch of European leaders in a room and it is a fair bet that the conversation turns to the rise of populist parties across the continent.  A year or so ago, the same politicians would have been obsessed with the markets’ threat to the euro.  Now they worry about whether European democracy can survive the shock of saving the single currency.”

We have massive unemployment and suffering throughout Europe and elsewhere and the system is highly unpopular.  It’s a crisis for sure, but what type?  Is it a crisis of the socio-economic system that’s enforcing this misery, i.e. Capitalism?  Or is it a crisis of the people’s supposed sovereign right to change it, i.e. Democracy?

Except for a brief instant at the very beginning of the crisis when it appeared the entire financial system was about to go supernovae, we hardly ever see the crisis reported as one of capitalism.  It’s almost universally framed as a crisis of democracy.  I think that’s pretty interesting.

The standard framing of articles like Stephens’s should leave us in no doubt that the most basic socio-economic theory of our human universe, as concocted by those in true power, firmly places Democracy in orbit around that brightest and most glorious of stars, Money.  We know this to be true because if Democracy were truly considered the center, then we’d be told we’re living in a crisis of Capitalism.  And the very idea of that; that Democracy could really truly be at the center of it all is, to our elites, laughable, “populist” lunacy; as ridiculously absurd as that old silly dogma of the medieval geocentrists.

From → Wealth & Poverty

  1. Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wished to mention that I’ve truly loved surfing around your blog posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing for your rss feed and I am hoping you write once more very soon!

  2. Much appreciated Francois. My hope is that you will also have a chance to read the preface and introduction to my book under the Capitalism as Oligarchy tab. I believe the book offers a somewhat different and important perspective on the essential logic of our socioeconomic system.

    All the best,


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