Hickenlooper in WSJ: ‘I’m running to save capitalism’

Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper acknowledged that he sees serious flaws in capitalism, but contended that the system is worth saving. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote in The Wall Street Journal Sunday that he is “running to save capitalism,” lobbing criticism at politicians at either end of the political spectrum who he said pose dire threats to the nation’s economic success.

The 2020 presidential hopeful dinged his fellow Democratic primary contenders, some of whom have embraced policies labeled by some as socialism. But the former small business owner-turned-governor whacked conservatives as well for pushing deregulatory policies, headlining his Journal op-ed piece with a declaration that “I’m running to save capitalism.”

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Hickenlooper blamed growing income inequality for voters’ willingness to back politicians threatening to uproot traditional capitalism, but argued that both Democrats and Republicans were approaching the issue incorrectly. He offered a firm defense of an economic system that has mostly been hammered on the 2020 Democratic campaign trail.

“Capitalism is the only economic system that can support a strong middle class, a growing economy, and innovative entrepreneurs leading global technological advancements,” he wrote. “Yet for too many Americans, capitalism simply isn’t working.”

Hickenlooper is among the handful of presidential candidates tacking to the relative center of a sprawling Democratic field that has shifted dramatically leftward. Still, while many of his competitors have called for a growing role for the government and have sought to harness populism as a driving force of their campaigns, many on the campaign trail have agreed that capitalism works — it just needs work.

Hickenlooper, who has often touted his experience as an businessman stemming from the brewpub he helped start in the 1980s, acknowledged in his editorial that he sees serious flaws in capitalism, issues he contended he could fix if elected president.

“To revitalize capitalism, the government has to ensure that hard work pays,” he argued.

Hickenlooper outlined a number of policies where he believed he could reinvigorate capitalism, including stronger antitrust enforcement, increasing the minimum wage, expanding “fair trade” and capital gains tax reform, priorities also championed by his competitors.

While he dismissed turning health care “entirely over to the government,” as several of his opponents have proposed via Medicare for all-type programs, he also argued for easier access to higher education and career training through a free community college program for those who need it.

“The 2020 election will decide if capitalism flourishes in America. I am a small-business man — and, yes, a capitalist,” he wrote. “But today American capitalism is broken. We have to fix it before it’s too late.”

While Hickenlooper has embraced the capitalist label of late, he was reluctant to take it on in his campaign’s early days, when he pointedly refused to call himself a capitalist during an exchange with MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough. The former governor later staked out his own capitalist positions with a lengthy online statement and told NBC late night host Seth Myers that being called a capitalist to someone calling him a “nerd” in high school.

“Like, it’s maybe not the first label I’d choose,” he joked, “but it would be hard to argue with.”