Pop Quiz time:

Question 1: How many words do the American Heritage Dictionary definitions of Democracy and Capitalism share in common?

Answer: 4

Question 2: What are those words?

Answer: and, of, a/an and the

Before I see Capitalism: A Love Story, the new film by Michael Moore, I wanted to jot down some of my own thoughts on how we define ourselves as a country. This way if we have the same ideas no one can accuse me of ripping him off, and if we have different ideas I can point out how much smarter than him I am.

Seriously though, this subject has been on my mind a lot during the health care debate. It seems to have become commonplace to discuss capitalism and democracy as if they are interchangeable. This implies that you can not have one without the other. This assumption has becoming a leading factor not just in the ‘public option’ debate, but in our foreign policy as well. And it is dead wrong.

Let me be honest up front. I am a strong believer in our constitutional democracy. I am also a strong believer in capitalism. What I am not is an absolutist. In fact it is impossible to reconcile democratic absolutism and capitalist absolutism. Elements of each are in direct opposition to elements of the other.

Let’s start with the dictionary, shall we? Without any further adieu, the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition (2009) proudly presents capitalism and democracy:

cap·i·tal·ism (kāp’ĭ-tl-ĭz’əm)
n. An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

de·moc·ra·cy (dĭ-mŏk’rə-sē)
n. pl. de·moc·ra·cies

  1. Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
  2. A political or social unit that has such a government.
  3. The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.
  4. Majority rule.
  5. The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.

So, starting at the root, we can see that we are dealing with two entirely different animals, one an economic system and the other government by the people. If you compare democracy to fascism you might say “one is a basset hound, the other is a rottweiler”. I am not sure why you would say that, but if you did it would at least be worth trying to figure out. However, to compare democracy and capitalism you might say “one is a basset hound, the other is a dishwasher”. I am not sure why you would say that either, but if you did people wouldn’t even try to figure it out. If you were at a bar, you would probably be cut off.

However, what most people would likely say is that they are both basset hounds or both rottweilers or both dishwashers. Do you see my point? If so, can you possibly explain it to me? I’m getting a little lost here.

Seriously though, the point is that you could substitute any supportive or pejorative word for the dogs and have a debate; they are after all the same animal – a system under which people are organized. Compare either of them to capitalism and the analogy falls apart. Capitalism can function in some form or other under a democratic, fascist, or even (to some degree) a communist system (see China today).

Hong Kong still has an ownership society after being returned to China. Nazi Germany remained largely capitalist. However, the utilities in Hong Kong belong to the state.

Pop Quiz #2

Question 1: How many times does the word Capitalism or a derivative thereof appear in the constitution and all of the amendments?

Answer: Zero

Question2: How about the Declaration Of Independence?

Answer: Zippo, zilch, nada

So, as we debate health care, and government bailouts and the many other things that are bound to come down the pike, let’s keep in mind that we are a Democratic Republic, not a Capitalist Democracy, by law.  Capitalism is a choice, and generally a good choice. However, anyone making the claim that regulating or incorporating elements of other economic systems into American capitalism is “unpatriotic” is showing a fundamental misunderstanding of what we are. The very concept of “government by consent of the governed” allows for fundamental change to our economic system as the will of the people evolves, as long as it does not interfere with the democratic principles of the Declaration and the laws of our land. To say anything else is, in and of itself, unpatriotic.