The Atlantic

The Economic Question Voters Should Ask Themselves

Forget loaded terms such as socialist and capitalist. Focus on this: Are markets friendly?
Source: Jeenah Moon / Reuters

The 2020 presidential candidates will argue strenuously about important economic questions relevant to all Americans. These include wealth and income inequality, the design of health-care insurance, systems for financing higher education, and the relative tax burdens imposed on capital and labor. Even the Green New Deal is at bottom a proposed solution to an economic problem—that of “externalities,” where market prices do not reflect the full cost of human actions, in this case the costs of burning fossil fuels on the environment and society.

Many journalists, campaign operatives, and activists lately have framed debates around these issues as a struggle between “capitalism” and “socialism.” But these words have no meaning for most voters. We are not a nation of political theorists or economists; we are ahistorical and poorly read. We can no more discuss the views of Karl Marx and their continued relevance today than we can chat about quantum mechanics with a kangaroo.

Voters need a simple organizing principle for evaluating

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