Jon Stewart’s Defense of Capitalism

Conservatives often misrepresent liberal views on economics as being opposed to the free market. This includes false claims of support for socialism, along with a general lack of understanding of liberal beliefs. Support for the free market has historically been a fundamental component of liberalism. At various times in history the stress on this has varied. At present the liberal versus conservative divide is primarily over social issues and foreign policy with liberals often being stronger supporters of the free market than Republicans. Libertarian Will Wilkinson, who is no fan of either Democratic or Republican economic policies, has pointed out that, “the great success of the GOP over the last eight years has been to destroy the reputation of free markets and limited government by deploying its rhetoric and then doing the opposite.”

The economic crisis which Barack Obama inherited from the Bush administration has led him, right or wrong, to engage in far more government action in the economy than he would have normally preferred. This has increased the false claims from the right that Obama, along with other liberals, are anti-market. They miss the point that the goal is to prevent what they see as a danger of the collapse of the free market system, not to replace it with socialism. At least socialists, if not many conservatives, understand this, even if they object to the pro-market policies of the Obama administration.

This point was also made by Wired to Care (via Andrew Sullivan) in response to the recent exchange between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer:

Some have called Jon Stewart’s argument “anti-capitalist.” We disagree. If anything, he makes an impassioned plea for an economy that functions the way we’re told capitalism ought to: a producer makes something worth purchasing, and a consumer decides to buy it. You get ahead by hard work and keen insight. If anything, Cramer’s defense of 30 percent returns that have evaporated for everyone who didn’t cash out in 2006 demonstrates that he and the financial experts he came on the show to represent have lost touch with real capitalism. They came to believe that just moving the money around for eight years and hoping the bottom wouldn’t fall out could replace the laws of supply and demand.


  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    The amusing thing is that most modern socialists are fundamentally capitalists when one speaks strictly of the economy. I can be accused of broadly socialist leanings in a wide array of public policy areas, most notably health care, but I don’t wish to dismantle the private economy. I wish to strengthen the private economy by strengthening the social safety net and freeing business of a host of burdens that have been laid on them by the government’s unwillingness to shoulder them and to regulate against abuses of the free market that are destructive to capitalism and I think genuinely progressive tax systems make sense because the wealthy benefit most from the system.

    My socialism is a fairly simple doctrine: the individual has a responsibility as a member of society and a society has a responsibility to all its members. In a very real way we enable each other’s successes and failures, and to paraphrase an overused metaphor, the economy is destroyed for rich and poor alike.

  2. 2
    Robert L. says:

    I agree with pretty much every point here about the Republicans and would add an additional observation.

    I think that Republicans in particular are having trouble distinguishing between socialism and radical egalitarianism.  Radical Egalitarianism sees income inequality as a major issue and wants to use government to correct it but there is nothing inherently socialist about it.

    I think this goes all the way back to Joe the Plumber, who called Obama’s tax policies socialist when, in fact, there was nothing socialist about them though they could be, I believe, described as based on radical egalitarianism.

    My line is: all socialists are radical egalitarians but not all radical egalitarians are socialists.

  3. 3
    nomoreGOP says:

    ok.. a couple points.. first.. Jon Stewart is the man… and as much as he is the man.. it is down right pathetic that of the options for “real” news out there (Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc..) I would rather watch the Daily Show every single time… he actually has relevant things to say and is not afraid to call people out when they are douch-bags..  AND I absolutely love when people that Jon has totally dominated during interviews “try” and write a jab piece about him, and get HAMMERED by bloggers.. great stuff

    second point.. I appreciate that you [Robert] understand that Obama is indeed NOT a socialist.. the whole idea most definitely was the fault of “not so joe the not so plumber” (another grand example of the GOP’s amazing talent scouting ability).. which is even more sad that the idea stuck so well.. sad..

    I also fully agree that “all socialists are (radical) egalitarians but not all (radical) egalitarians are socialists”  well said..

    BUT, (mind you it has been awhile since college) I don’t think one can go as far as to liken Obamas tax plan (which is basically only reversing Bushes ridiculous tax cuts for the very very tippy top of the tax bracket) to a “radical egalitarian” type plan.. its not as if the billionaires of today are all of sudden going to be living in middle class track homes.. there isnt going to be some crazy redistribution of wealth over night..

    I think that the whole point Obama is trying to make with his tax plan is that if the lower and middle classes start, at the very least, taking home a higher percent of their actual take home pay.. and the standard of living raises for them.. it really will help EVERYONE.. the poor get “not-so-poor” (just being realistic) and the rich.. yup.. you guess it.. they get to stay rich..

    (well hopefully not ALL of them.. I wouldnt mind seeing some of the stolen money get back into the treasury.. or back into my 401(k) .. and some of these Executives in Federal Prison..  but I am not going to hold my breath)

    lets be honest.. we have tried the so-called “trickle down” economics a few times now… and guess what.. thats all it is.. a “trickle”.. the bits and scraps of the super rich might randomly fall to the poor and  meager.. whopti do..

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Calling Obama’s plans radical egalitarian is certainly ridiculous considering how small the tax changes advocated by Obama really are. It is just amazing how little understanding conservatives have of both how the tax system works and of historical tax rates. If you want to call Obama an egalitarian with his changes in the tax code, conservative egalitarian would in a sense be more accurate than radical egalitarian.

  5. 5
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Obama’s tax plans aren’t really a question of ‘egalitarianism’. If it was about ‘egalitarianism’ we’d see the kind of heavily gradated progressive scale of the Eisenhower-Carter years before the Reagan income tax cuts of the 1980s. Let’s not forget during the ‘great years of American prosperity’ in the 1950s, the marginal tax rate was 90% and CEOs made low six figure salaries… under a Republican president that liberal historians accuse of pandering to conservatives on a host of issues. We remember the 1950s as a ‘conservative’ era, swept away by the radical social change of the 1960s.

    Before Fritz or Robert makes comment on the above statement: no, I do not believe 90% marginal tax rates and low CEO pay are why America was so economically successful in the 1950s. However, the tax rate clearly did not destroy the economy either.

    President Obama’s tax plan, from what I can observe, is based on realistic capitalism. The realities of capitalism are as follows: the working class provides the labor that powers the economy and the middle class provides the capital  and entrepreneurship that drives the economy. Both the working and middle class, together, pay for the bulk of the produce of the economy. The rich enjoy the benefits of the economy and provide management. All three classes need each other: there need to be working class and middle class Americans in order for there to be rich Americans and there will always be rich Americans as long as there is an economy.

    Middle and working class tax cuts prevent the wasting of dollars that would go back into the economy to pay for goods, services, and education. Cutting taxes for the middle and working classes puts money in the coffers of business and the pockets of the rich, ultimately, that would have otherwise been claimed by the government.

    Business and the rich actually profit more, in the long run, from middle class and working class tax cuts than from marginal tax cuts. That’s where their money comes from: the middle and working classes.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    Of course he is not really egalitarian–which is what I was getting at in calling him a conservative egalitarian if someone wanted to try to call him an egalitarian.

    The last paragraph is certainly true. From a business point of view I am far better off when the  middle class has more in their pockets and can afford to spend money. My greater income when the working class has money to spend is far more significant to my bottom line than slight changes in my tax rate.  While nobody likes to pay taxes, many conservatives dwell far too much on things like the top marginal tax rate while ignoring the big picture.

  7. 7
    Eclectic Radical says:

    This is the second time, now, I have failed to make it clear to whom I was addressing a comment. I confess Robert had me up on my high horse a touch.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    I realized you were primarily responding other comments. I added this to connect our responses to Robert.

  9. 9
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Heh. Clearly, this is not my best day. 🙂

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