In Pete Buttigieg, Democratic Capitalist, Reason’s Zuri Davis writes “The good news: Capitalism is working its way back to the Democratic mainstream. The bad news: This capitalism comes with a whole lot of government.” Davis is referring to Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is running under the label Democratic Capitalism:
Buttigieg told CNN it's generally assumed that those who support capitalism also support democracy. In his view, though, democracy and capitalism are "coming into contention" with one another.
"It was very alarming to hear recently one of the president's economic advisers said that between capitalism and democracy, he would choose capitalism," said the South Bend mayor. "I would say the reverse ought to be true, that at the end of the day we prioritize democracy. And, you know, having that framework of a rule of law, fairness, is actually what takes markets to work."
But capitalism has always been in “contention” with democracy, with good reason. They are opposites. The first is based on freedom based on individual rights, with people governing their own lives. The second is majoritarianism--that is, top-down government control by elected political elites.
Davis takes heart that a Democratic candidate is introducing the capitalist label into the Democrats’ politics in a positive way. But pro-capitalists shouldn’t take heart. Granted, the term “democracy” is so vaguely understood that it’s hard to know precisely what Buttigieg means by the term. But he is running for president, so I’m taking at his word that by “democracy,” he means democracy. That being the case, Buttigieg’s democratic capitalism it’s just a trojan horse for democratic socialism--which means, socialism.
Another Reason columnist, Brittany Hunter, has a better grasp of what’s at stake. In What Should We Make of Peter Buttigieg’s “Democratic Capitalism”?, Hunter observes:
[Buttigieg’s] views are not all that different than those of other candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. A true believer in individual rights and private property would never sacrifice the free market to the will of the majority. [my emphasis]
Do not confuse democracy with the democratic process in a constitutional republic. If by “democracy” we mean the limited electoral authority in a constitutional republic, there is no conflict between capitalism and democracy, since the freedom of the individual is not at risk. However, capitalism is incompatible with genuine democracy, which places no constraints on the government’s force over individuals. In any conflict between force and voluntarism, force will win--which means, in any conflict between democracy and capitalism, democracy wins, making capitalism nonfunctional.
Freedom is not the right to vote. Freedom is the right to live your life regardless of anyone else’s vote, so long as you respect the same rights of others. In the proper understanding of the terms, democracy can exist without capitalism, but not the other way around. Capitalism, the system of inalienable individual liberty, cannot survive genuine democracy, the system of majority rule.
Recommended for further study: on democracy and freedom, see Timothy Sandefur, The Conscience of the Constitution, especially Chapter One, “Democracy and Freedom”; on capitalism and freedom, see Andrew Bernstein, Capitalism Unbound: The Incontestable Moral Case for Individual Rights; and on the connection between rights and politics, see Tara Smith, “Moral Rights and Political Freedom.”