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Transatlantic Blog

Great news: Even ‘socialists’ love the free market (poll)

A Gallup poll released Monday made headlines: “Four in 10 Americans Embrace Some Form of Socialism.” However, the headline could have read, “Seven in 10 Americans reject the central premise of socialism.”

When Gallup asked if “some form of socialism” would be “a good thing or a bad thing,” 41 percent said it would and 52 percent said it would not. However, the public’s response to an ill-defined “socialism” reveals less than a more detailed question buried deeper in the same poll.

Gallup also asked Americans “whether they would prefer mostly free market or government control over several economic and societal activities.”

The poll shows that Americans trust the “free market” to be in charge of nearly every facet of society, including “the distribution of wealth” (by 40 percentage points), wages (27 points), and “the economy overall” (29 points).

Fewer than 41 percent of the people surveyed want the government to run any of these concerns, which are central to socialism. Clearly, some of the people who reportedly favor socialism are confused about socialism’s ends and means. If they oppose government redistribution of wealth and economic intervention, whatever economic system they think they support, it isn’t socialism.

The cognitive dissonance goes deeper, as Gallup noted that citizens prefer the market to take care of “two areas in which Democratic politicians have made proposals to greatly expand government involvement”: healthcare and college. And their skepticism of government is well-earned.

The UK’s outgoing prime minister, Theresa May, wanted to encourage apprenticeships – a laudable goal shared by many leaders across the Atlantic. Her Conservative government introduced a tax on large corporations to fund a new, government-controlled apprenticeship program under the Department for Education. Corporations then withdraw these funds to run the apprenticeships they had already been offering.

A new government report shows that public control reduced opportunity and disproportionately hurt the least advantaged. Apprenticeships fell by more than 125,000 after the introduction of the program. Furthermore, The Telegraph reports that “people with lower skills, and those from disadvantaged communities risk losing out due to employers’ preference to spend their levy on higher level apprenticeships.”

Simply put, the government taxed away the money these corporations would have used on apprenticeships for the less skilled. With less capital to spend, corporations prioritized high-quality programs that gave them the greatest return. The empowerment of the poor was redistributed to government bureaucrats in the name of helping the poor.

National healthcare, too, has increasingly visible problems. Single-payer systems demand rationing, and a Canadian appeals court recently ruled that doctors who participate in Canada’s government-funded system must facilitate abortions and assisted suicides, even if doing so violates their deeply held (and constitutionally protected) religious beliefs.

The only undertakings that respondents wanted government to handle are online privacy and environmental protection – and there are excellent arguments against trusting the state to oversee either of these sectors, as well.

If two-thirds of the American people remain skeptical of increasing government, why do so many say they support socialism? Thank the socialists themselves for the confusion.

Even today’s Communists have repackaged their dogma as decentralized hedonism.

British viral celebrity Ash Sarkar brands her ideology as “fun Communism.” She explains, “Communism is a belief in the power of people to organize their lives as individuals – their social lives, their political and their economic lives – without being managed by a state.” She describes Communism as “the desire to see the coercive structures of state dismantled, while also having fun.”

This is, to put it mildly, not the “lived experience” of any nation under Marxism.

Religious leaders who do not clarify their historic opposition to socialism only further this double-mindedness. All three Abrahamic faiths have traditionally supported the right to private property.

Even those who muddy the waters by calling Europe’s social welfare state “socialist” violate a core Christian objection to socialism.

“Socialists,” wrote Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, “by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life.”

Thankfully, as this Gallup poll shows, even America’s putative “socialists” understand that God created humanity for freedom which is best delivered by the free market.

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Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.