Capitalism Could Use Some Likes

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In our latest era of the culture wars, everyone on either the left or the right—no matter how extreme or wacky—seems to have a community right now. Except free marketers.

“Give me four years to teach the children, and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” 

— Vladimir Lenin

Stuck at home sick this week, my five-year old son did as expected: he binge-watched Netflix. Grateful to have chunks of his day occupied, I didn’t pay much attention to the onscreen particulars. His profile is set to his age, and I assumed there was some algorithm at Netflix that screens for appropriateness (I know – I feel foolish having just written those words).

But yesterday from the kitchen I kept overhearing snippets, and I was horrified by what was being fed to him: a steady drumbeat of anti-capitalist propaganda. Of course his movie, Bigfoot Family, featured cute animals with the full range of emotions and self-awareness (“Have a pancake,” insists Trevor the Racoon) while the actual humans…not so much. Nor does the blurb lack subtlety (“The spotlight’s [sic] on the Harrisons and their furry animal friends to save the Alaskan wildlife preserve from a selfish CEO’s destructive intentions”), but I still expected some balance. That was also foolish.

To recap: Connor Mandrake, the greedy CEO leading oil company Xtract, oversees an oil extraction process that involves blowing up the idyllic animal refuge of Rocky Valley using glowing red bombs. In addition to environmental pillage, Connor’s other business strategies include kidnapping, extortion, perjury and RICO statute violations for running a criminal enterprise. You know: it’s just another day at the office.

It’s hardly just kids programming either. Much of the rest of the mainstream media is no less cartoonish, consistently promoting a narrative that our free-market system is irredeemably corrupt, that rich people are cheats and that economic mobility is all but impossible. NPR’s feature program Fresh Air this week featured a 35-minute interview entitled “Private opulence, public squalor: How the U.S. helps the rich and hurts the poor.” The interview subject, Matthew Desmond, explains that “affluent Americans, including many with progressive political views, benefit from corporate and government policies that keep people poor.”

Given this steady diet of propaganda, it’s no wonder that in our latest era of the culture wars, everyone on either the left or the right—no matter how extreme or wacky they may be—seems to have a community right now. The free market? Crickets.

Less than half of Democrats (46%) had a positive view of capitalism in 2022, down from 55% just three years prior. Republicans still had a positive impression in 2022 (74%), but also down from 78% in 2019. Across parties when asked if capitalism gives people an equal opportunity to be successful, a concerning 14% said “not at all” with another 20% saying “not too” much.

Of course, unfettered free markets can encourage abuse and sensible regulation is needed—and exists in abundance already. In a country as rich as ours, inequality of opportunity is a cancer we must rectify, and we need a safety net for those who cannot help themselves. But there is no better alternative than free markets. Who else is going to fund it? The raccoons of Rocky Valley?

I am wary of advising leaders to wade into these waters. The culture war being waged in this country is vicious, and you’re unlikely to win a lot of fans by sticking up for the marketplace. But no matter where you lie on the spectrum of the proper level of government regulation you believe in free markets – despite their flaws – as an unmatched force for innovation, prosperity and mobility, it’s probably time to weigh in regardless of political affiliation.

Next step? Pick up a copy of former senator Phil Gramm’s important book, The Myth of American Inequality, to arm yourself with a fact-driven refutation of the consensus, and join the conversation. Once you’re done bombing Alaska, of course.

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