Thursday, April 9, 2009

What Kind of Capitalism?

This poll that Marc Ambinder points to is a little misleading. He says Americans are "split" on whether they prefer socialism or capitalism, but the breakdown goes more like this:
53 percent of Americans prefer capitalism, 20 percent prefer socialism, and 27 percent say they're not sure.
That doesn't sound very divided to me. True supporters of "free market" are down from 70 percent last year, but it's still a decided majority that favor a kind of capitalism. Americans obviously love the kind of economy that gave them iPods and, but it's also the same economy that got them sub-prime mortgages.

Still, it's important to remember that there isn't exactly a total "free market" and there isn't really "socialism." The differences were talking about are a matter of degrees. Americans like to throw around socialism as a smear but probably wouldn't turn down a lot of the benefits found in social democratic countries like high-quality government-subsidized child care and lengthy paid maternity and paternity leave.

By posing this question as free market v. socialism, it's missing the point. No economy today is totally unregulated. You need to have some kind of regulation to make it function. Likewise, no economy today is totally socialist. The differences we're talking about are how much and what kind. Probably if you tweaked the questions to ask more in-depth questions about what the economy should actually look like, you'd get a very different picture than asking Americans to set up camp in one or another kind of political rhetoric. Until we're really willing to ask real questions about in what ways we want our economy regulated and what kinds of socialized institutions we want, polls like this are useless.

1 comment:

Rob Pitingolo said...

The Gallup poll from a few weeks ago which asked if people were OK with government “nationalizing” banks vs. “taking over” banks is a good demonstration of how subtle differences in wording can have major impacts on the result of the survey. I agree that words like “socialism” and “capitalism” have a meaning to people that don’t necessarily reflect the nature of the current economy.

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