Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Markets but not Capitalists

A new Rasmussen poll out yesterday shows that only 35 percent of American voters find free market economies and capitalist economies to be the same thing. Rasmussen says that:

This helps explain earlier data showing that 77% prefer a free market economy over a government managed economy while just 53% prefer capitalism over socialism.

Yet the more important question is why are the two seen as so different. Assuming that their are no sample errors unique to either poll (I'd be shocked if their were), people are exhibiting different reactions to terms often thought of as synonymous. The result of the most recent free market study was supported by a March survey by the Pew Research Center that found that 70 percent of of American believe that they were better off "in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time." (HT: AEI President Arthur Brooks. Note that Brooks' article "The Real Culture War is Over Capitalism uses both "capitalism" and "free markets" to talk about is values).

A few points may make the difference:
1. Capitalist can refer to a person. In fact, a kind of person whom a Google search is likely to caricature like JP Morgan: fat, bearded, and wearing a suit that would surely have been devoured by moths decades ago.

2. Free markets are almost always the purview of international trade. Domestic "free" markets are typically pretty settled. Only in rare cases, say the need to contain invasive creatures are products not allowed across local, state, or provincial lines. It's the national borders where goods are stopped. Maybe trade gets more positive association than the actual method of production.

3. People really have no idea what a capitalist system is.

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