Capitalism And Democracy

Is Democracy up to the challenges of this century? Is Capitalism? We’ll look at two great pillars, and the questions now around them.

An Occupy Wall Street protester holds a sign as he marches in Times Square in New York, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011. Earlier in the day dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested as they attempted to enter an Episcopal church-owned lot in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood. (AP)

An Occupy Wall Street protester holds a sign as he marches in Times Square in New York, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011. Earlier in the day dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested as they attempted to enter an Episcopal church-owned lot in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood. (AP)

At the end of the Cold War, revelers danced on the Berlin Wall and political philosophers announced the end of history.  Capitalist democracy had won.  Forever.  Flash forward a couple of decades and the big capitalist, democratic beacons hardly look like superheroes.

Europe in trouble.  Japan in trouble.  And the United States – the onetime paragon – is struggling to make its system work and work for all.  New challengers have different ways.  Is the future theirs?

This hour, On Point:  Are American democracy and capitalism up to the challenges of this century?

-Tom Ashbrook


Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs. He is a former National Security Council official in the Clinton administration.

Charles Kupchan, Whitney Shepardson senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University.


A decade ago, in the aftermath of the Cold War, pundits and strategic thinkers alike were far more certainty that Liberal Democracy would triumph as a world system. “It’s too soon to tell if we’re going through a rough patch or an inflection point,” said Charles Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University.

Now, rival systems, including State Capitalism in China, Political Islam in the Middle East, are offering alternatives, Kupchan noted. “Most surprisingly, we see the industrialized West, the countries at the cutting edge of history – the U.S., Europe, Japan – all stumbling,” he said. He said growing wealth gaps, struggling middle classes, and political dysfunction are key culprits in that stumbling, he said. “Is this a passing moment or is something deeper going on here?” Kupchan asked.

“I am less gloomy,” said Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs. He said the post-war reconciliation of capitalism and liberal democracy had adapted to challenges in the past and would do so again.

“The reality is that capitalism, while good in the aggregate and in the long term, tends to volatile, unequal, and very divisive in the short-term for different parts of society,” Rose said. The brutal realities of raw capitalism have led to the welfare state, social security and other treads that make up social safety net. Future compromises between the left and the right over the scope of such protections are inevitable.

“The real question is not ‘should we regulate the economy’ or ‘should we have a welfare state’…. The question is: can you do it efficiently, can you do it without killing the goose that gives the golden eggs?” Rose said.

Both Rose and Kupchan agreed that political paralysis was making things worse. “We have a real set of challenges, but we have a political debate and a political culture, that operates on an entirely different level – so that you can’t honestly discuss things,” said Rose

From Tom’s Reading List

You can read Kupchan’s latest article in Foreign Affairs: “A crisis of governability has engulfed the world’s most advanced democracies. It is no accident that the United States, Europe, and Japan are simultaneously experiencing political breakdown; globalization is producing a widening gap between what electorates are asking of their governments and what those governments are able to deliver.”

Here is Rose’s article in the same issue of Foreign Affairs: “In historical perspective, however, the true narrative of the era is actually the reverse — not ideological upheaval but stability. Today’s troubles are real enough, but they relate more to policies than to principles.”

Project Syndicate “Is democratic time too slow to respond to crises, and too short to plan for the long term? At a time of deepening economic and social crisis in many of the world’s rich democracies, that question is highly relevant.”

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