Capitalism Is American as Jazz, but the System Is Completely out of Tune

If a rising tide lifts all boats, why isn't America — a nation of such wealth and resources — a more egalitarian country? Actor Wendell Pierce says we've lost the true spirit of capitalism.

Wendell Pierce: There’s so many people that don’t believe a rising tide floats all boats. They see it as socialism. That’s what the response is to Bernie Sanders. And what Bernie Sanders is saying and what many people are saying is the two can coexist. We have the ability to be capitalists. A true capitalist wants everyone to have access to great schools, to capital because the more access, the more people, the more ideas, the more competition, the better the ideas and the growth will be. So the idea of growth comes from the more people participating in it. We have gotten away from the idea of true capitalism. Now we have people who claim to be capitalists saying I want to restrict our resources.

That we have a finite amount of resources so I’ve got to make sure only my kids get opportunities at school and we’re only going to have access to capital that my tax breaks are going to be here at the expense of other folks. And that’s actually not true capitalism. We grew as a country when people say, "Hey listen. It’s important that everyone has access to a good education." It’s something of great importance because that means more people that are educated — the more ideas, the more growth we’re going to have and that’s what capitalism is based on. And I go back to art, music. That’s what jazz is all about. It’s an American aesthetic. It’s freedom within form. Yes, there’s confinement and restriction and technical proficiency, but the idea of the jazz solo as the improvisation is a finite amount of notes with an infinite amount of combinations. A finite amount of notes with an infinite amount of combinations. And so that’s what capitalism is, right. It’s ultimately an infinite amount of possibilities with this finite group of people. But the more people that are in the mix, the more ideas that are going to come about, which produces growth. That’s what jazz music is. Freedom within form. Within this confinement I still understand that I have a possibility to find my true north, my creative spirit, my infinite ideal.


Capitalism is no different than jazz in that it defines something fundamental about the American spirit. But in a nation of such wealth and resources, what explains the current level of income inequality? Actor and businessman Wendell Pierce says our economic system has lost its way, limiting the freedom and opportunity of many American citizens. But we needn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, he says. The genius of capitalism is that it creates abundance, which is meant to be distributed — that's what creates social and economic growth.

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