To judge by the increasing volume and frequency of attacks on capitalism, it looks like the real winner of the Democratic primary campaign was the socialist senator, Bernie Sanders. Mr. Sanders has not received the presidential nomination, but his ideas are on the march.
This is surprising. The novel coronavirus pandemic is not capitalism’s fault — it is capitalism that will find the cure — but is a product of a coverup by government officials in communist China. “In the first weeks of the outbreak, local officials denied that there was a problem and punished those who tried to raise the alarm,” is the way a New York Times news article described it under the headline, “China Quiets Talk of Coronavirus Cover-Up in Wuhan.”
Likewise, the other crisis roiling America — racist police violence and the reaction to it — is primarily a problem of government agencies and public employees, not of private businesses. Given high unemployment rates and declining GDP, you’d think that the first order of business would be restoring a healthy private sector economy.
Instead, the left has leapfrogged over curing the virus and reforming the police and is advancing the longstanding pre-George Floyd, pre-Covid-19 Sanders socialist agenda of replacing free enterprise and free market capitalism with even more big government.
The president of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, recently published in the New York Times an opinion article asserting, “we conduct our daily work in a system built on unfair incentives. This system puts the interests of capital over labor, while it compounds privilege at the expense of opportunity.”
Wrote Walker, whose Foundation’s endowment is nearly $14 billion, “capitalism must be reformed if we are to save our democracy.”
What was funny were the letters to the editor the Times received in response to the Walker article. Readers thought the foundation executive was too kind to capitalism. “Modern capitalism is a direct descendant of industrial slavery,” one Times reader complained. “Capitalism failed and could not save us,” another insisted.
The logical extension of this is for the government to seize the newspapers, too—or, as significantly, the social media platforms, the largest of which are being boycotted on the grounds that they allow too wide a spectrum of opinion to exist unpoliced by reliably left-wing fact-checkers.
Not that a government-run newspaper would probably be much drearier than the Times editorial page these days. A University of California, Irvine professor’s op-ed headlined “The Neoliberal Looting of America” suggests “Federal or state agencies can provide essential services like banking, health care, internet access, transportation and housing at cost through a public option.”
On Twitter, a professor at New York University, Eric Klinenberg, cites the fact that drug companies may profit from a coronavirus vaccine as evidence that “the US health system is sick.” The University of Chicago’s Daniel Hemel responds that such a drug company, Moderna, “may soon bring a vaccine to market that will save us hundreds of thousands of lives & trillions of dollars. Why wouldn't we want it to make a profit?”
Mr. Hemel’s question is an excellent one. One answer seems to be that in the zero-sum view of the left, any profit for shareholders comes out of the pockets of other ‘stakeholders,’ such as customers, employees, suppliers, and society overall. Another answer seems to be that profits could lead to wealth, which could, in turn, lead to inequality, which the contemporary left hates even more than poverty.
The longstanding quip is that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and Federal Reserve Chairman Powell are testing that with their response to the coronavirus, which has driven the value of the dollar down to record low against gold. The risk is less running out of money than destroying the value of the dollar (which today collapsed, at less than a 1,940th of an ounce of gold, to its lowest value in history). Others argue, in defense of the Fed and the stimulus, that deflation is an even greater risk.
At the moment, hopes of stopping the virus and of rescuing the economy rest to considerable degree with drug companies. Let us hope that the “reform” of capitalism and the further diminution of the dollar are delayed long enough for the shareholders in Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Merck, Inovio, and other companies to reap the profits against which they made their bets on a coronavirus cure.. The alternative is relying on Sanders-style socialism — less profits, less innovation, and less freedom.