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Pelosi says capitalism has not served the U.S. economy ‘as well as it should,’ needs to be improved

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/17/2021 Adela Suliman
Nancy Pelosi talking on a cell phone: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London, Sept. 17, 2021. © Frank Augstein/AP House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London, Sept. 17, 2021.

LONDON — For some, the economic philosophy of capitalism is synonymous with America.

But the concept is in urgent need of being improved and has not served the U.S. economy as well as it could have, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told an audience in London on Friday.

“In America, capitalism is our system, it is our economic system, but it has not served our economy as well as it should,” she told guests attending an event at the international affairs think tank Chatham House. “So what we want to do is not depart from that, but to improve it and to make sure that it serves us.”

Pelosi praised traditional “stakeholder capitalism” in the United States, which she said had historically allowed workers’ wages, as well as management’s, to rise alongside productivity. But she criticized the economic shift that had taken hold over the past few decades to favor “shareholder capitalism,” which she said often caused employee salaries to stagnate, “and that’s just not right,” she added.

“You cannot have a system where the success of some springs from the exploitation of the workers and springs from the exploitation of the environment and the rest, and we have to correct that,” she said.

Nonetheless, Pelosi said things were changing.

“I do think there’s a growing awareness, even in the private sector, that we have to do better,” she told the audience.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced a number of countries, not just the United States, to grapple with core issues such as rising inequality, the role of government and welfare for average citizens.

Pelosi said another glimmer of hope may be turning to a greener economy, with “environmental justice” leading to job creation in United States. Pelosi also championed the need for “new, fresh ideas” to make capitalism “work better for everyone, because we really do have to improve that, we cannot have an exploitation of our workforce.”

But she did not go as far as to use the S-word, “socialism,” often seen as the flip side of capitalism and more explicitly championed by liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — who this week made international headlines when she wore a white gown with red letters on the back reading, “TAX THE RICH” at New York’s Met Gala.

Last year, the capitalist-socialist divide was also a hot topic in the presidential election, with President Donald Trump calling then-candidate Joe Biden “a Trojan horse for socialism,” in a bid to win votes.

Pelosi’s comments come a day after President Biden heralded the return of jobs and other recent economic gains in a wide-ranging speech Thursday, where he also made a fresh push for trillions of dollars in additional spending as the pandemic simmers, advancing a long-term liberal vision of government.

“This pandemic has been god-awful for so many reasons,” Biden said. “But it does present us with an opportunity. We can build an economy that gives working people a fair shot this time. We can restore some sanity and fairness to our tax code. We can make the investments that we know are long overdue in this nation.”

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