John Hickenlooper: "Capitalism is the only economic system that can support a strong middle class"

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate hopes to save American capitalism from both sides of the political aisle

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 6, 2019 3:18PM (EDT)

Democratic president candidate and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (AP/John Locher)
Democratic president candidate and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (AP/John Locher)

Decrying "the far left" for its "calls for massive government growth and even socialism," former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is running for president as a Democrat in 2020, published an editorial Sunday in The Wall Street Journal discussing his hopes to save American capitalism.

"American capitalism is at risk," Hickenlooper writes in the introduction of his editorial. "Dramatic income inequality has driven voters to support influential leaders in both political parties who advocate changes to our economic system that would ultimately destroy capitalism. Some on the right argue for an increasingly deregulated market, while the far left calls for massive government growth and even socialism."

He added, "Neither approach recognizes the realities of our situation. Capitalism is the only economic system that can support a strong middle class, a growing economy and innovative entrepreneurs leading global technological advancements. Yet for too many Americans, capitalism simply isn’t working. Even with recent employment gains, the real average wage will only buy you about as much as it did in the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, the cost of living has continued to rise, leading more Americans to take on credit card debt. Forty percent of Americans in 2017 didn’t have enough savings to cover a $400 medical emergency or car repair, according to the Federal Reserve."

From there, Hickenlooper proposes a number of economic reforms, which he contextualizes within the spirit of former Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. These include making community college free for those who cannot afford it, expanding access to apprenticeships and skills training programs, expanding and extending the existing earned-income tax credit, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour with automatic increases to account for the rise of the costs of living, strengthening antitrust regulations, providing universal health care coverage at reduced costs, taxing capital gains and expanding trade.

Hickenlooper's position on health care reform was particularly notable in that he did not embrace the socialized health care platform of one of the Democratic frontrunners, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sanders, for his part, identifies as a democratic socialist. Hickenlooper explained:

I reject the idea we can improve health care by turning it entirely over to the government. More than 150 million Americans have private coverage through their employers, and the majority of people are satisfied with the coverage they have. It would be a fierce and needless battle to take that away from them. Under my plan, if you want to keep your private coverage, you can; but if you don’t have coverage, or if you desire coverage from a public option, we’ll make that available and affordable by allowing you to buy into a plan like Medicare.

"The Democratic party has always been a big tent, but the one thing all Democrats can agree on is that American capitalism isn't working for most Americans right now," Lauren Hitt, communications director for John Hickenlooper, told Salon by email. "Where they differ is on how they would address that. The governor's op-ed and the full policy plan he released in St. Anselm's on Friday outlines his plan to rescue and reboot American capitalism."

Hitt also referred Salon to Hickenlooper's full plan as published on Medium. In an interview with Salon published in March, Hickenlooper discussed the perceived divide between the liberal and moderate wings of the Democratic Party.

"I’m not sure that those divisions are universal. I share the values of the liberal side in terms of . . . Again, you go down to almost every one of these issues . . . I mean, we’re the purple states where we actually got universal background checks passed. We limited the size of magazines," Hickenlooper told Salon at the time. "This session, I think that our general assembly will get the red flag law passed; but we did it in a more incremental way than many of the, what you call, more liberal side, than what they advocate."

He added, "I think, probably, more people look at me as closer to the Beto O’Rourke/Joe Biden side of things of 'let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater,' but let’s take firm steps and as we approve things, make sure we’re doing so in such a way that it’ll be permanent."

Hickenlooper also described Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who like Sanders calls herself a democratic socialist, as "a strong voice for people that have been left behind. I think that perspective of trying to speak up for the disenfranchised, speak up for the people that tend to be marginalized, I think that’s admirable."

"I don’t agree with everything that she says," he continued. "But I think that we share the vast majority of perspectives on a lot of . . . We share a majority of perspectives."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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