by Betsy Dorminey, Capitalist League Vermont state director

In a recent op-ed Rep. Kevin Hern (R. Okla) calls out his colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for her relentless and ill-informed assault on capitalism.

Three cheers for Rep. Hern! Let’s send him a medal, and a membership in The Capitalist League, for championing the singular effectiveness of private industry to end poverty, and the disastrous effect of socialism to propagate and perpetuate it.

The parallels between the two reps are striking. Both worked in the food service industry, the lady in a bar and the gent with franchise burgers. It’s the proverbial case of the glass half empty or half full. Where she saw exploitation, he saw opportunity. (And I’m betting the Queensborough Restaurant wasn’t owned by the government, or even a collective, but by an entrepreneur trying to make a buck.)
Hern writes:

"The beauty of America is that anything is possible. No matter what economic class you are born into, there is an opportunity to turn yourself into anything, if you are willing to work for it. There’s no limit to what you can achieve with a big idea and a strong work ethic."

Hern notes that a number of his fellow congresspersons came from disadvantaged backgrounds, though they don’t all trumpet the fact because “we believe that capitalism is what pulled us out of poverty and we want to maintain that system for future Americans:

"For many years of my childhood, we didn’t have electricity or running water, because my mom and stepdad couldn’t afford to pay the bill.

"I remember coming home from elementary school not knowing if we’d have food for dinner most nights. I was mocked by my classmates for my worn-out clothes. I was looked down on for receiving free lunches at school. We were constantly moving from house to house because my stepdad never made the rent.
That didn’t stop me from dreaming. In fact, it motivated me. It inspired me to work so hard that my future family would never live like that."

And he didn’t succeed at the first go. Hern trained to be an engineer, only to see that career literally go up in smoke when the Space Shuttle challenger exploded over Florida. He could have felt sorry for himself because he wasn’t able to use his degree as he planned, but instead he took a job flipping burgers: far beneath his former pay grade, but it paid.

We forget sometimes that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Countless professionals displaced by wars from Europe to Asia have washed up on our shores, their former lives gone with the wind like Scarlett O’Hara’s, and found themselves driving cabs or working in sewing shops or chicken plants. Foreign doctors, accountants, and engineers whose professional qualifications aren’t recognized in the U.S. have gone to work at the lowest rungs in hospitals and factories until their industry pulls them up. Maybe they have to wait a generation to see their children climb the socio-economic ladder. Even Scarlett had to reinvent herself. Bred a belle, the plucky fictional heroine dug potatoes and then retooled herself as an entrepreneur in postwar Atlanta.

I think of my own parents. My father contracted polio (pandemic!) shortly after meeting his bride-to-be, and was tossed out of grad school where he’d hoped to prepare for a career teaching German. They honeymooned at Warm Springs, the polio rehabilitation center Franklin Roosevelt made famous. No one would hire a cripple back then so it fell to my mom to support them. Then she became ill with cancer: the doctor who ran the little hospital where she worked did her surgery, at no charge. When they moved to Atlanta my dad had three shirts. My mom got Federal rehab funds to finish her nursing degree and then a masters. They both worked steadily right up to retirement age. They were never rich but they managed, and felt lucky.

Government programs can and should help people out when they are in need. A rich society can afford to do that, and should, but that’s palliative care. It’s a stage to go through, not remain in. Government programs don’t end poverty. Capitalism does. Only when productive power is in private hands does a nation generate wealth on a scale sufficient to cure poverty.

Rep. Hern gets this. So did my parents. AOC doesn’t.


Betsy Dorminey is an attorney in Georgia and an entrepreneur in Vermont. Her columns have appeared in the the Vermont Digger, American Spectator, Western Journal, Townhall, and The Hill. She is the Vermont State director of The Capitalist League.