Socialism and capitalism are both making gains
Opinions regarding socialism and capitalism are both making substantial gains with the American public, but the economic middle ground is shrinking fast.
The Roper/Fortune survey has polled American adults since 1942 regarding the merits of socialism and capitalism. The first poll taken shortly after the Great Depression found that 40 percent described socialism as a bad thing and 25 percent as a good thing, and 34 percent had no opinion. The most recent survey released in late May found that 51 percent described socialism as a bad thing and 43 percent as a good thing, and just 6 percent had no opinion. Capitalism made gains, but socialism has almost caught up.
Socialist gains are more apparent when adults were asked what the current economic mix of the United States is between free markets (capitalism) and government control (socialism). Roper/Fortune found 34 percent rated America as more free markets, 25 percent rated it as mixed, and 40 percent rated the U.S. as mostly government-controlled.
With many Americans unable to describe the economic differences between what socialism and capitalism, George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures suggests:
The important difference between socialism and capitalism — even more important than what each actually preaches — is that capitalism is less an intellectual or moral system than a reality born of the industrial revolution. Socialism, on the other hand, has always been an intellectual movement, crafted by intellectuals such as Saint-Simon, Fourier, Lassalle and Marx, all of whom made the moral case for socialism and imagined what such a system would look like. These intellectuals loathed inequality and despised the intellectual shallowness of the rich and sought to create a political movement that could bring their vision to life.
Freidman highlights that intellectual socialism emerged from the French Revolution and then metastasized into a global political movement in support of the dispossessed. The socialist ideology argues for a radical restructuring of society to transfer control of the means of production to the state. Once in charge, the state will ensure that investments reduce wealth inequality, serve the common good, and prevent wasteful profiteering.
But socialist movements are often commandeered by ruthless politicians such as Maximilien Robespierre and his French Reign of Terror, Vladimir Lenin and his Russian Bolshevik Red Terror, Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers'(Nazi) Party, and Mao Zedong and his Communist Party of China's Cultural Revolution.
Capitalism's first intellectual supporter was Scottish "Moral Philosopher" Adam Smith, who wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776 to describe how individual decisions, driven by self-interest, would culminate in an increase and maximization of national wealth. Smith also argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that moral principles do not derive from external theories (by which he implicitly meant socialism and religion), but rather from pragmatic and necessary solutions to problems. Smith was unconcerned with inequality, because populations become more prosperous as capitalists create new industries and services by making investment decisions based on return expectations.
Friedman perceives socialists as most angered by the capitalists' flexibility to look for opportunities without ideological considerations and then move quickly to invest. Such actions are an anathema to socialists, who demand that decisions be made by ideologically sympathetic experts that conform to rigidly inclusive bureaucratic procedures.
The Roper/Fortune survey has been polling U.S. adults for the last seventy years regarding what type of government most of the nations will have in the next 50 years. In the first poll at the start of the Cold War in 1949, 72 percent expected democratic, 14 percent socialist, 9 percent communist, and 5 percent no opinion. The most recent survey found that only 6 percent expect communist and 8 percent are undecided. But only 57 percent, down 15 percent, expect democracy to prevail; while 29 percent, up 15 percent, expect socialism to dominate in fifty years.