Democracy and the world’s dominant economic system are at loggerheads. So argues American Prospect co-founder Kuttner (Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility, 2013, etc.) in this vigorous critique.
The short answer to the titular question is…well, maybe, but probably not. By the author’s account, the great successes of postwar capitalism were precisely those that expanded the civil and human rights and material well-being of ordinary people, the post–New Deal promise that labor would have a voice and that the social contract would allow access to health, education, and other public goods, all of which he describes as “a system of political economy, whose rules were drastically different from the usual rules of capitalism.” Those “usual rules,” Hobbesian and dog-eat-dog, have generated ever more inequality even as the financial system becomes both more internationalized and less regulated. At the same time, the “equalizing mechanisms” that allow children from poorer families to participate in the social system and become adults with at least some chance of success have become vastly weaker. These are all the result of not economic but political choices, Kuttner insists; as he writes, “nothing in the structure of the late-twentieth-century economy compelled a reversion to an unregulated nineteenth-century market,” but that, effectively, is where we are. The author harbors no hope that the faux populism of Trump will yield any improvements for the 99 percent, and he suggests that even the most progressive of corporations are pleased with the deregulatory mood that reigns today, with the result that any chance of resuscitating democracy will require the involvement of “empowered citizens.” To that end, he closes with a series of prescriptions for reform, including establishing programs for “green infrastructure on a serious scale” and re-establishing regulatory boundaries on the market.
Capitalism as we know it today is anti-democratic—and not likely to relinquish power without a fight. A useful resource for setting agendas.