“Ever heard of the USSR?” A review of Fox Business’ Capitalism vs. Socialism week

“Ever heard of the USSR?” A review of Fox Business’ Capitalism vs. Socialism week

››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & MILES LE

Fox Business devoted an entire week to debating the merits of capitalism and socialism, dominated by billionaires lecturing about the supposed evil of combating income inequality.

From May 13-17, several shows on Fox Business joined in a week-long theme of “Capitalism vs. Socialism,” purporting to debate the merits and pitfalls of each economic system, which included a town hall on Thursday afternoon. Commentary during the themed segments was dominated by wealthy people arguing against strawman representations of socialism, condescendingly giving advice to the young socialists, defending income inequality as a good thing, tokenizing the suffering of Venezuela, and downplaying the economic struggles of poor Americans.

The week-long coverage came at a time when the American public is confused about what “socialism” is, in part because of decades of demonization of the term. And Fox Business didn’t do much to set the record straight.

Misunderstanding socialism

Fox Business’ themed week was predominantly devoted to attacking socialism, despite a constantly changing definition of what commentators meant by “socialism.” Throughout the week, Fox figures and guests misleadingly characterized socialism as “participation trophies,” worker-run grifts, and a demand for identical salaries regardless of job or position.

  • Actor Dean Cain described socialism as asking someone, “‘What do you want to do for a living?’ and if they give you an answer, tell them, ‘No, you’re going to be this instead.’ That’s what socialism is.”

  • Cain also bragged that his son “is a true, true capitalist” who “didn’t want to get a participation trophy, he wanted to get a championship,” which is “what you get with capitalism.” Cain added that “capitalism breeds hard work,” whereas “socialism, you get what you demand and how much can I take, how much can I fleece the system.” Cain commented at the end of his appearance that "being politically connected ... doesn't work well in capitalism."

  • Fox host Dagen McDowell cited “problems in public housing with children getting asthma here in New York or the Flint water crisis” as “problems created by government,” asking, “So how does more government fix those?” Progressive activist and author Nomiki Konst responded that “what you saw [in those two instances] was a conservative government create austerity,” which left residents with substandard public services in order to make wealthy people wealthier.

  • Host Stuart Varney claimed, “You give power to the workers … and you starve investment capital because it will not go to investment; it will always go to the workers. And that way, you run down the subway system.” Varney offered no basis for arguing that laborers would hoard profits instead of investing in their work. In fact, an ongoing analysis from the National Center for Employee Ownership shows that stocks from companies at least partially owned by employees are consistently outperforming the S&P 500: “In its first year, the [Employee Ownership Index] had a 30.3 percent return as compared to the S&P’s 15.5 percent return. As of mid-January 2019, the relative return is 28 percent to 12 percent.”

  • Varney bizarrely claimed, “Socialists always deprive companies of any kind of capital. All the money has to go to the workers, not to reinvestment in capital equipment. … So they don’t innovate; they don’t move forward. I think that’s the way it is.” Fox’s Jackie DeAngelis concurred, saying that “I think we answered the question” of whether or not the U.S. can “afford socialism.”

  • DeAngelis suggested that socialism was to blame for Brexit, because the Eurozone debt crisis had “the weaker countries in the system … pulling down the stronger countries.” She did not explain the comment further, although on-screen graphics compared the national debts of France and Italy.

  • Host Maria Bartiromo said to her guest Konst, “You just said a minute ago that it’s 1/10th of a percent at the top making all the money. So you must agree that everybody should make the same salary then.” Bartiromo also incorrectly insisted that Konst was “confusing capitalism and socialism” because she believes that every person should be “able to start their own business.”

  • Retired billionaire Foster Friess used a $100 bill as a prop to explain how socialism in health care would mean that his money goes to the government and “I lose complete control of my medical care. So, that medical care is probably the most important thing to people.” The $100 bill served no actual purpose other than to give Friess something to hold while he made his comment.

  • Bartiromo and Friess spent three minutes berating a socialist guest for supposedly believing that everyone should be paid the same regardless of their job, even though he repeatedly said that is not what he believes.

  • DeAngelis suggested that the Affordable Care Act was proof that socialism doesn’t work. DeAngelis claimed that the conservative-rooted ACA was “the closest that we’ve even come to having the conversation, implementing the reforms” of socialism, but after the ACA passed, “people actually didn’t get what they wanted. They ended up paying more.”

  • Bartiromo accused Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) of “taking advantage of people who really don’t understand” socialism.

  • Mattie Duppler of the National Taxpayers Union bizarrely claimed, “Socialism at its core ... enriches politicians, which is why we hear politicians talk a lot about socialism.” For comparison, in 2015, more than 50% of all members of Congress in the capitalist United States were millionaires. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “It would take the combined wealth of more than 18 American households to equal the value of a single federal lawmaker’s household.”

  • Former Clinton adviser Mark Penn claimed that 18-29 year olds are “falling prey to socialist rhetoric” because of their “different lifestyle where they go from college to roommates, and they don’t have full responsibility for 10 or 12 years.”

  • Fox’s Lisa Kennedy Montgomery presented a false binary choice between capitalism and “people in extreme poverty” to make the case “that things have gotten better” under capitalism. When New York City Democratic Socialists of America co-chair Bianca Cunningham replied that strong markets are “not translating to people’s actual material conditions,” Kennedy mocked her for using the term “living wage” and supporting a $15 minimum wage.

  • Failed Federal Reserve Board nominee Herman Cain incorrectly claimed the USSR stood for “United Soviet Socialist Republic.” USSR actually stood for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Claiming record income inequality is normal, even good

Fox Business hosts and guests readily argued that massive income inequality, rather than being an indictment of our economic system, is actually proof that capitalism works because the income gap is driven by the success of talented people. However, the income gap is driven by skyrocketing executive salaries regardless of ability, while workers’ real wages have essentially flatlined since 1978.

  • Economist Alan Greenspan: “The basic problem of inequality is the fact that people are born that way. We’re all born differently.” While Greenspan acknowledged that income inequality is “unfortunate for the stability of the system,” he also said, “It’s very difficult to do all that much [to remedy it] because you’re fighting a fundamental issue, which is human nature. We are doing the best we can.”

  • Friess: “We say we have a problem because of income inequality. If that’s the problem, then the American dream is a problem.”

  • Friess: “We talk about these ‘cronies on top.’ Yeah, friends of ours, Barbara and Craig Barrett, have given millions of dollars” to schools. Friess insisted that critics needed to “look at the $413 billion of philanthropy from these ‘bad guys.’”

  • PwC partner Mitch Roschelle claimed, “If we make the marginal tax rate 90%, we’re going to create more income inequality and not less.”

  • Fox’s Charles Payne called what his guest termed “the pitfalls of capitalism” an example of “rich people problems to a degree, right, because … even the poorest Americans live so much better” than people in other countries.

Wealthy people lecturing the less fortunate

From downplaying homelessness to suggesting that popular support for socialism is a false flag, multiple wealthy commentators on Fox Business’ “Capitalism vs. Socialism” week inadvertently revealed their own ignorance and cognitive dissonance regarding the magnitude of the problems poor and working-class Americans face.

  • American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks discussed the “moral case for the capitalist system” and initially said that capitalism has “a moral obligation” to end global poverty, but changed it mid-sentence to an “opportunity.”

  • Cain said that he disagreed with the argument that there are people who “don’t have food to eat and they don’t have shelter,” because “some homeless people choose not to go to” shelters and food banks. When challenged on his premise, Cain angrily replied, “I grew up taking biscuits to school for lunch with no meat. So don’t talk to me about people coming to school who don’t have food and this and that. It’s available if they go out and work for it like everybody else works for it.”

  • Billionaire John Catsimatidis suggested that the popular support for socialism is a false flag. Catsimatidis claimed, “Somebody is stirring the pot in our country and making these things happen. And we have to depend on the FBI or whoever to find out who is stirring this pot.” He also asked “who really funded” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and “how did they get into a position where they could be such large spokespeople for people that, who know if they really exist or don't exist.”

  • Varney admitted that he “was a socialist” at one point, until “I started to make a lot of money” and realized “I really do work for this.” Varney explained: “I was a socialist, and I was always jealous about those people who made a lot of money. And then I started to make a lot of money, and I realized, you know, I really do work for this. And my brains, drive, talent, and ability should be rewarded. And they were rewarded. And I’m damned if I’m going to take half of it and give it to socialists.”

  • Varney lectured an audience member that “my wealth, that I made by myself” benefitted his grandchildren, “and I’m not looking for anything off you.” When the audience member laughed at Varney’s commentary, he replied, “I don’t know what you’re laughing at young man, but you could learn something.”

  • Payne introduced Thomas Peterffy, “the richest man in Florida, one of the richest people on the planet,” who said he is “very, very much afraid of socialism” because of “regulation.” Peterffy said: “My fear is that economic success is getting out of the reach of people … because there is more and more federal, state, and local regulation and it is becoming very, very difficult for somebody to start a business and to grow a business. So for that reason, people I think believe that they are doomed to not being successful in their lives and therefore they turn around and look at socialism.”

  • The president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, told Varney that under socialism, “the people who’d be hurt the most are lower-income earners” because wealthy people will simply leave the country.

Socialism stifles innovation

Fox Business figures focused heavily on capitalism driving innovation but managed to almost completely miss the human point that these big tech companies’ innovation are often powered by workers facing ruthless, even lethal exploitation.

  • McDowell claimed that the reason Americans “pay much higher drug prices than the rest of the world” is because “Americans are the ones footing the bill for all the innovation.” The word “profit” was not mentioned in McDowell’s comment, even though in the third quarter of 2018, 14 top pharmaceutical companies recorded over $29 billion in profits. However, McDowell did say that the exorbitant drug prices Americans pay are “basically helping cure the rest of the world of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.”

  • DeAngelis: Socialism has “this problem with stifling innovation that doesn’t allow the ball to more forward. And that it what this is all about, right? It’s growing America.” DeAngelis did not mention who exactly does the “growing” in “growing America.”

  • Varney countered DeAngelis mentioning big technology companies as an example of pitfalls of capitalism by claiming the practices of such companies were actually “innovative [and] dynamic.” In response, DeAngelis walked back her claim. DeAngelis highlighted “anti-competitive practices” at Google and allegations that Amazon doesn’t pay its “fair share” of taxes as an example of capitalism’s excess. Varney replied that it was actually “a fine example of capitalism being innovative, dynamic, and a remarkable employer and creator of wealth,” and DeAngelis agreed, responding, “I think saying ‘capitalism gone wrong’ may be a little bit too strong.”

  • DeAngelis claimed that by “stifling competition [and] stifling innovation,” socialism prevents people “from innovating in the proper ways.” She then asked Varney to "imagine a world where there’s no Microsoft” and other companies like it that "create billions and billions of dollars in revenue [and] hundreds of thousands of jobs.” DeAngelis also raised the spectre of “state-run oil companies” and said that “pharmaceutical breakthroughs” only happen in the U.S., and not anywhere else, because of capitalism.

  • The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman: “Inequality is part of what makes capitalism work. If there’s not a reward for doing more, … you don’t get those inventions.” Bartiromo concurred and questioned “how many great innovations have we seen coming out of Europe” -- the birthplace of Spotify, ASOS, Skype, and many other successful tech companies.

Venezuela

Despite American conservatives’ tokenization of Venezuela as the latest example of socialism run amok, the extreme human tragedy there is an exception to socialist policies, not the rule: Elsewhere in South America, socialists have held power in both stable and unstable countries with both large and small economies, and ruin did not follow -- in fact, several of them have thrived, including Bolivia, which, like Venezuela, also nationalized the country’s top industry under an authoritarian president.

  • DeAngelis claimed that millennials support socialism only because they haven’t “seen it play out over time” and referenced Venezuela as one of the “extreme examples.”

  • DeAngelis: “Why do we need to speculate what socialism would look like when we can actually just look around the world at examples. … Let’s start with Venezuela.”

  • Catsimatidis: “We are fighting for the soul of America. … And to people that love socialism, you know what I said? ‘I’d buy you a one-way ticket to Venezuela. Enjoy it!’”

  • Duppler: “Venezuela’s a perfect example” of “how socialism generally plays out.”

Video by Miles Le.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.