It’s extremely unfortunate that most US citizens don’t actually know what capitalism is. Therefore all arguments about capitalism are worthless because they begin with a mistaken premise. Capitalism is, pace Adam Smith, simply the application of capital to increase productivity. Let me give an example: a weaver can make 1 carpet per week with a hand loom. The weaver borrows money from the bank and buys a steam-powered loom. The weaver can now make 5 carpets per week, the profits from which will repay the bank loan and lead to greater financial security for her family. This is capitalism.

What the USA has is what Adam Smith warned against: an oligarchy in which the rich and powerful buy governments in order to get legislation that unduly benefits them. Oligarchies have nothing to do with capitalism (they can exist in communist societies too, where they are called aparatchiks) and everything to do with corruption on a massive scale. Smith said the role of government is to prevent such coordinated scheming against the common man. Sadly the US political system was nearly purpose-built to ensure corruption and as Mark Twain ironically noted a century ago, “America has the best government money can buy.”

Nearly every European nation mixes capitalism (to create wealth) with social responsibility (to ensure wealth benefits society as a whole rather than a few billionaires) which is why Europeans are far less afraid and far happier than their US counterparts. I speak as a European who spent 27 years working across the USA, so I know both sides of the argument reasonably intimately. And I’m very happy to be back in Europe. There is no conflict between capitalism and social responsibility; the illusion exists only because US citizens have been fed a totally distorted concept of what capitalism is, by those who benefit from corruption. And US citizens are, in truth, among the least free of all those who live in developed economies.

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