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Is American Capitalism a Myth?

While right-wingers are still using red-baiting to try to scare people by calling Obama a socialist, etc., it appears that this tactic is not working. A new survey from Rasmussen shows that just 53% of American adults believe that capitalism is better than socialism.

What is even scarier is that for adults under the age of 30, only 37% prefer capitalism, while 33% prefer socialism, with 30% undecided.

But what makes this very interesting is that if asked if they prefer a “free-market economy” then 70% say yes. They deduce that many people are concerned whether capitalism — as it is practiced in the US — actually relies on free markets. Indeed, 67% believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

So people are still concerned about freedom, they aren’t sure our current economic system is really free.

This has been something I’ve been curious about since I visited places like China and VietNam. Both China and VietNam supposedly have communist governments, but in many ways their economies are more free-market than ours (in fact, most of the ways in which they are not based on free markets is due to corruption, not on how the government manages the economy).

UPDATE: has a good analysis of this survey.



  1. Sammy wrote:

    The follow-up survey, or rather the pre-survey survey, should be to see if those surveyed can actually define “capitalism”, “socialism” and “free market”.

    As general terms, especially as to how they have been so cavalierly thrown around of late, I seriously doubt most people know what the hell they’re talking about.

    As a socially liberal, mostly fiscally conservative moderate (I guess), I think a free market with reasonable checks, controls and regulation/oversight is the optimal economic system.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  2. Daniel wrote:

    As a former economist myself (and a government one too boot) I think most of it is just sloganeering. We never have had a pure capitalist market here in America and never will. The idea that first and foremost freedom means economic freedom is a moral position I reject outright. Personally, I think democracy and capitalism are incompossible systems of allocating value. The real tension is not between capitalism and socialism but between capitalism and democracy. That’s the reason I would never describe myself as a socialist, though others might. I consider myself a democrat with a small “d” and my goal is always to defend democracy against all other competing systems of value allocation.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink
  3. Daniel wrote:

    “Indeed, 67% believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.”

    I just wanted to add that I agree with this assessment. But that is not an economic problem, it is a political problem and shows the failure of our country’s political system.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink
  4. Mikeee wrote:

    The common denominator here is that all these systems are of the “managed” type.
    It doesn’t matter whether it was communism/socialism/capitalism or whatever other -ism because they are ALL managed by some higher entity.
    (“for the common benefit”, as they say, “because we in power know best how this works and you do not”. And this applies to them all.)

    The thing is, the dismal science is wildly chaotic. What governments around the world think they can and must do is more akin to trying to be a flight controller to a swarm of bees.
    A global swarm of bees the size of fists and on steroids these days.

    They try to plot the flight paths but pretty soon all those small errors start adding up.
    Economists said “smooth flying to Hawaii” and we ended up crashing at the South Pole.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
  5. Jack Vermicelli wrote:

    It would seem that most people conflate or confuse capitalism with crony corporatism, which is what “passes” for capitalism in the US. That a distinction is made between capitalism and a free-market economy shows the error.

    @Daniel: I agree with you that democracy and capitalism are poorly compatible, but I see no incompatibility between capitalism and *constitutional* democracy, with recognized rights to property and safeguards against Person A voting himself Person B’s assets.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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