The post I wrote yesterday about Eric Hobsbawm’s article was picked-up by Tobin Harshaw writing in the New York Times Opinionator Blog which looks at the interesting issue of what socialism really is and what it means to Americans.
Harshaw quotes a Rasmussen poll that found only 53% of Americans feel that capitalism is better than socialism. This result and the results of an earlier poll perhaps indicate that more and more Americans are starting to question whether they really live in a capitalist society. The earlier poll found that 70% of Americans would prefer a “free-market economy” to “capitalism” indicating that Americans feel that the system they’re living in is not as “free” as it’s made out to be.
As the Rasmussen poll notes:
The fact that a “free-market economy” attracts substantially more support than “capitalism” may suggest some skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets. Other survey data supports that notion. Rather than seeing large corporations as committed to free markets, two-out-of-three Americans believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.
Although the telephone poll is hardly representative of the whole country, it should be no surprise that many Americans feel this way. As far back as 1996, Noam Chomsky made a speech on this subject at Harvard University on what he calls “really existing free market theory”. Chomsky points-out that time after time, the public are made to pay for the financial troubles and misadventures of corporations:
So, if Third World debt gets out of control, you socialize it. It’s not the problem of the banks that made the money. When the S&Ls collapse, you know, same thing. The public bails them out. When American investment firms get into trouble because the Mexican bubble bursts, you bail out Goldman Sachs. And — the latest Mexico bail out, and on and on. I mean, there’s case after case of this.
Of course, the latest round of high profile bailout packages passed by the Bush and Obama administrations have brought this fact into the American consciousness more than ever. If this makes them question the authenticity of real-world capitalism, then it may be at least one silver lining in the economic crisis.