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2020 Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg says this is 'the biggest problem with capitalism right now'

Key Points
  • Buttigieg is one of the latest candidates to embrace capitalism in a Democratic primary race that is increasingly welcoming the concept of socialism.
  • However, Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said the U.S. system of capitalism needs to be changed in order to "improve our democracy."
  • He said the "ever-expanding" growth of big businesses needs to be stopped from "basically taking over our government."
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and 2020 presidential candidate, pauses during the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Callaghan O'Hare | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg is one of the latest Democratic candidates to eschew socialism, declaring Tuesday on MSNBC that he is a capitalist.

However, Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said the U.S. system of capitalism needs to be changed in order to "improve our democracy."

Buttigieg, 37, is the youngest candidate in the race for the 2020 nomination. He said "the biggest problem with capitalism right now is the way it's become intertwined with power and is eroding our democracy."

He recommended removing money from politics, saying the "ever-expanding" growth of big businesses needs to be stopped from "basically taking over our government."

Buttigieg is one of the latest candidates to embrace capitalism in a Democratic primary race that is increasingly welcoming the concept of socialism. Fellow candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and former congressman Beto O'Rourke have also voiced their support for capitalism.

When asked why Buttigieg declared himself a capitalist instead of a socialist, Buttigieg's office directed CNBC to previous comments he's made.

In a February interview with MSNBC, Buttigieg said that "American capitalism is the most productive economic force known to man."

However, he didn't condemn other Democrats who have been labeled socialists. Buttigieg said he believes socialism is "a word in American politics that has basically lost all meaning" and that it is used as a "kill switch" to prevent certain policies from passing.

Like other candidates, Buttigieg sees dangers in unbridled capitalism. In his recent interview with MSNBC, he used Russia as an example of what capitalism looks like without democracy. He said it can quickly evolve into crony capitalism and then an oligarchy — a government controlled by a small group of wealthy business leaders and officials.

To prevent money from influencing American politics, Buttigieg suggested a possible constitutional amendment "so that we can move past whether Citizens United was decided correctly."

In 2010, the Supreme Court voted in the Citizens United v. FEC case to change long-standing restrictions on political fundraising and spending. The ruling allowed businesses, nonprofits and unions unlimited spending power.

"It's one of the reasons why we need to establish a more consistent rule of law," Buttigieg said. "Capitalism doesn't even work for the business community properly when you don't have the rule of law as well."

He added that the next president needs to "immediately get to work" on making these changes.

Buttigieg, a Rhodes Scholar and Afghanistan War veteran, was elected mayor of South Bend in 2011 at 29 years old, making him the country's youngest mayor of a city that size at the time.

If he wins the Democratic nomination, he will be the first openly gay presidential nominee by a major party.

But he has a long way to go. He is polling with less than 1 percent of the vote, falling behind fellow candidates Harris, Warren, O'Rourke and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not declared whether he will run for president, leads the field at 28 percent.