That recent poll suggesting 53% of Americans prefer capitalism to socialism didn’t strike me as too alarming. Polls mainly reveal that the public has few ideas so firmly fixed that they can’t be changed with a little rewording (70% had earlier said they favor the “free market”). Two things that did strike me about the numbers, though:
•Anyone (such as “liberaltarians”) hoping to make the case that Democrats are no more socialist than Republicans should take note of the fact that while Democrats were roughly evenly split in the poll between avowed capitalists, socialists, and undecideds, Republicans preferred capitalism by a whopping 11 to 1. If the country were all Republicans, we’d probably be in fairly good shape. (There’d still be that baffling 1 in 12 anti-capitalist Republican, who is either confused or a Huckabee supporter.)
•The public’s widely-held perception (more populist than leftist) of big business colluding with government is pretty accurate, I gotta say. We may need to think more about how to channel the justified anger on that front, especially now (though elected politicians of either party will be a tad resistant to rocking the corporatist-statist boat, obviously).
The contrast between the public’s reaction to “capitalism” (meh) and “free markets” (yay) almost suggests that we purported intellectuals should simply follow the public in making the same terminological distinction. (Down with bank bailouts and auto subsidies — not to mention all the thousands of other rarely-mentioned subsidies for the money-making elite that existed before the current mess. But up with property, entrepreneurs, etc.)
I’d be OK with a vast upsurge in (anti-government, anti-crony-corporate) “populism,” with all its dopey, unacademic tendencies, if it looked less like Huey Long and more like Tim Carney/Robert Novak populism — and like the Tea Party protests, such as the one I discussed on PJTV.com yesterday. We can also discuss all this at tonight’s Manhattan Project (as noted in my right margin), if you care to join us, in any sense of the words.