In April 2016, Harvard University released a poll stating that 51 percent of young people between the ages of 18-29 no longer support the system of capitalism.
During CNN’s town hall event, NYU student Trevor Hill revisited this poll when he asked House minority leader Nancy Pelosi whether the Democratic Party would be open to adopting a farther left populist stance on economic issues in comparison to right-wing economics. Hill’s question couldn’t have been more appropriate, but was met with an answer that was just as unnerving as the election results.
“We are capitalists, that’s just the way it is,” Pelosi said, “However, we do think that capitalism is not necessarily meeting the needs with income inequality that we have in our country.”
At a time when the Democratic Party is facing backlash, especially in regards to economic policies, Pelosi’s response does nothing to assuage the growing concerns among working class voters trapped by a two-party system with no substantial alternatives. Sympathizing with prevailing sentiments around inequality, Pelosi acknowledged the disproportionate relationship between capital and labor by recounting the steady rise of shareholder capitalism, a system through which rich shareholders get richer at the expense of workers’ incomes.
What’s disconcerting is not how absolute Pelosi’s resolve for American capitalism is, but the calculated unwillingness with which she and so many like-minded Washington colleagues evade conversations with the majority populace about fundamental economic issues that impact their livelihood.
“That’s just the way it is” is not a conversation. It’s a dangerous acceptance of how capitalism is presumed to work. Capitalism relies on competitive market places. When several of our industries are dominated by only a few companies it’s an oligopoly, not capitalism.
For instance, 90 percent of our media is controlled by only six major corporations. Lobbied by big business and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the Telecommunications Act released the kraken of mega corporations to monopolize the media landscape with limited FCC regulation. The byproduct of a few conglomerates controlling media content is the standardization of subject matter into a box of accepted opinions, dismissing any opposition to the sidelines.
It’s “the uniformity of imposed public opinion through the corporate media,” describes political theorist Sheldon Wolin, that allows the subjugation of dissent and subsequent maintenance of corporate control. So when we lament over the media’s lack of diversity and partisanship it’s precisely because there are no substantial alternatives that can withstand the “competition.”
In the months preceding November 7th, the election coverage had, as poet Dorothy Parker might say, the gamut of opinion running from A to B. Mainstream media that opposed Trump’s candidacy made him a caricature for entertainment, again relegating Trump’s support outside the box of accepted opinion. Such coverage builds ideological confidence through reinforced repetition of specific viewpoints. However, the associated risk is excluding other valid concerns outside one’s ideological milieu, partly contributing to the shock amongst liberal communities of Trump’s election. Democratic voters who shifted allegiances in battleground states did not do so to favor bigotry, but instead in desperation and the wildcard allure of tangible economic progress.
In response to this growing population of hesitant voters, Ohio Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan challenged Nancy Pelosi’s leadership seat in an attempt to rattle the Democratic Party with new blood who are more tuned to the populace’s concerns around labor and fundamental economic reform.
Current capitalist structure clearly isn’t working for everyone, but solving working class economic problems is rigged by complex duos that have been waltzing for decades. Money and politics. Capital and labor. Do you brand the party around the interests of the donor class or address the average worker? How do you build a political platform that appeases the concerns of working individuals while also appealing to big money?
By adopting principles from both political extremes into a tenuous middle ground, the triangulation between party and opposing interests becomes the best way to insulate party platforms against conflicting pressures. Thus Democratic triangulation appeases liberals on social issues while simultaneously courting business on economic issues. Economic inequality again goes unscathed.
If the history of economic inequality has anything to prove, it’s the reckoning of unchecked inequality and resilience of activism, be it the fall of the Roman Republic or protests resulting in the New Deal. While solutions are complex, the greatest road-block to bridging wealth inequality will be an overwhelming lack of political activism. The pervading political economy thrives on political apathy that does not challenge the status quo through organizing, protesting, and pressuring new legislation. It’s necessary for people like Trevor Hill to ask politicians to serve the interests of people rather than a corporate state.