From the Left



Capitalism seems to flourish better under authoritarianism than democracy

Luis Martinez-Fernandez on

I closed a previous column saying that a vote for President Donald Trump is not a vote against communism. Likewise, voting for the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket does not mean support for socialism, let alone communism.

Not even Obamacare, the Republican Party's primary target regarding the "socialist" label, comes close to socialized medicine. The besieged health care legislation does not even offer a public option in which government-run plans compete with private insurance companies.

That I or anyone else must spend time making such clarifications is testimony to widespread ignorance surrounding those and related terms, and worse yet, the increasing susceptibility of the American public to demagoguery and manipulation.

"The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all," said former President John F. Kennedy. Six months later, his own martyrdom proved that the hatred of one gunman could impair the entire democratic system. Think of the potential lethality of millions of ignorant, manipulated, armed-to-their-teeth Americans.

Ignorance, not communism, is the greatest threat to democracy; and democracy, despite Republican Sen. Mike Lee's recent hair-raising tweets, is a foundational objective of this nation. Perhaps counting on our ignorance, the senior senator from Utah supported his claim that "democracy" does not even appear in the U.S. Constitution. For that matter, neither does the word "prospefity" ("prosperity"), which he touts among the Founding Fathers' three primary objectives. And by the same unlogic, hugging people without wearing a mask at a so-called superspreader event does not appear in the Bill of Rights. Do we need to read any further than "We the people ..." to understand what the founders meant?

Polarized political environments like the one in which we live generate polarized language, black-and-white categories in which economic systems and governments are either/or -- capitalist or socialist, democratic or authoritarian -- and in which individuals are classified as patriots or traitors. This is not new. Eleanor Roosevelt criticized "having everyone who is a liberal called communist, or everyone who is conservative called fascist."

Different nations and individuals define democracy differently. Sometimes the word means the opposite. Before the reunification of Germany in 1990, dictatorial East Germany was called the German Democratic Republic. At present, out of 193 U.N. member nations, several include the word "democratic" in their official names, yet some of them are anything but that. The Economist's 2019 Democracy Index ranks North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, least democratic, preceded by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In case you are wondering how the United States fares, we are not ranked in the top, 22-nation "full democracy" category headed by three democratic socialist nations, Norway, Iceland and Sweden. We stand at No. 25, near the top of the next category, "flawed democracy." The first such index, in 2006, however, ranked the U.S. 17th, solidly within the "full democracy" category.


Reasonable, informed individuals generally agree on the definition of modern democracy: that power stems from the people who, through free and competitive elections, select their representatives and leaders; that government must protect the dignity and individual rights of the entire population; that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law; and that nobody is above the law.

And what about the relationship between capitalism and democracy, and between that economic system and authoritarian rule?

Although it thawed into oblivion over 30 years ago, the Cold War's legacy is eminently present in the way we look at the world and even in the vocabulary of geopolitics and political economy. Because international power politics were played out for so long along a spectrum with a democratic, capitalist United States and its Western allies at one pole, and the communist Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc at the other pole, we hold on to the idea that capitalism and democracy go together.

Worldwide, the connection between democracy and capitalism began to erode sharply during the 1960s and 1970s when, for example, some of Latin America's most modern capitalist nations took a turn toward dictatorship: Brazil, Argentina, Chile and even Uruguay (theretofore considered the Switzerland of South America). Authoritarian capitalism has also flourished in Asian countries like Taiwan, Singapore, the Third Republic of South Korea and, more recently, the People's Republic of China.

If anything, under the currently dominant form of capitalism, whether we call it "super capitalism," "illiberal capitalism," "crony capitalism" or "oligarchic capitalism," prosperity, to use Sen. Lee's term, seems to flourish better under authoritarianism than democracy.


Readers can reach Luis Martinez-Fernandez at To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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