Thursday, May 7, 2009

Popular support for Capitalism vs Socialism

I found this stunning but unfortunately not unbelievable:

An excerpt:

"Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

There is a partisan gap as well. Republicans - by an 11-to-1 margin - favor capitalism. Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism. As for those not affiliated with either major political party, 48% say capitalism is best, and 21% opt for socialism."

There's a point to be made here about popular government and the media. As the media becomes more pervasive, it forces government officials seeking reelection to be more accountable to the populace. This is widely viewed to be a good thing, and I certainly think a government should be accountable for passing the policy that is best for its people, and elections are the best way to accomplish that.

However, the United States is not a democracy, it is a republic. The difference is that in a democracy, a government is entirely dependent on popular will for setting policy, whereas in a republic, people choose who to elect, and the elected official then decides what makes the most sense for the nation and his electorate.

For example, states and nations vote to limit civil rights all the time. Gay marriage repeatedly loses in elections outside of the northeast, even though it is the classic civil right in that it harms nobody to allow it and confers equality onto a population that had otherwise been underserved (the usual justification is barely-hidden religion, which has no place in a government whose foundations lie in a separation between church and state). Jim Crow laws had tremendous popular support in the South. Heck, this past November, the populace of Florida just voted against the repeal of a law forbidding Asians from owning land.

In other words, the people of a country should be the intended beneficiary of policy but absolutely can wield a "tyranny of the majority" (de Tocqueville's expression - everyone should absolutely read "Democracy in America") if it's given too much power over policy.

The economist in me screams at the stupidity and entitled nature of Americans who want the government to take care of all their problems (find me a socialist state and you will be showing me a state that has failed its people). However, that's only the first big takeaway from this poll. The second big takeaway needs to be a recognition of a growingly glaring flaw in the legislative portion of our government: the party system and reelections incentivize mindless public following, which means a series of badly calculated and overreactionary steps designed for political approval.

I have a proposal for a fix coming up.

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