Not Quite the Road to Serfdom

Conservative blogs are freaking out about a new Rasmussen poll that shows only 53% of the country prefers "capitalism" over "socialism." I don't love the poll result ether, but I also don't really know what else to expect: we're in the middle of a financial crisis, and there is a widespread sense that over-exuberance in the marketplace had something to do with it. That's how the pendulum swings.

More importantly, I'm not sure how much concrete information a poll like this contains. It isn't a tracking poll, and it's not like Rasmussen is claiming that everyone is far more skeptical of capitalism or gung-ho about socialism than they were six months ago.

What Rasussen does have is a poll from three months ago indicating that 70% of the Americans prefer a "free market economy" over one managed by the government. But I doubt there's perfect overlap in the public mind between those concepts and capitalism or socialism. The only real shift between the two polls seems to be a big increase in public confusion: only 15% couldn't decide between free markets and government management. But 37% of the public isn't sure whether they prefer capitalism to socialism.

I don't really blame them for being uncertain. The country spent the last two months of the presidential campaign in a rather silly debate over whether or not Obama is a socialist because of some off-hand comments about 'spreading the wealth.' But the comments concered only the basic notion of a progressive tax code, which was around long before Obama, and long before the financial crisis, and, I presume, can live hand-in-hand with just about everyone's definition of "capitalism." The confusion is understandable.