In a nation that has prided itself on the “American Dream” – that anyone can become wealthy if they work hard enough and make the right decisions – it’s probably a shock to learn that a lot of folks no longer believe in capitalism.
But the shock goes even deeper than that. A report from the Cato Institute that examined Americans’ opinions on wealth and the wealthy says that 47% of American socialists believe that “taking violent action against the rich may be justified.”
About the report
The Cato Institute is a think tank that performs independent, non-partisan research into a wide range of issues related to personal liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace. You can learn more about the Cato Institute here.
The new report is entitled What Americans Think About Poverty, Wealth, and Work.
The survey…investigates attitudes toward the rich and the poor and examines what Americans believe about work, welfare, and social mobility. (source)
Many of the results seem to be right down party lines and in this political climate, are frighteningly predictable.
Let’s take a look at the findings.
Socialism vs. Capitalism
Opinions have taken a shift since 2016.
In 2016, Democrats were about as favorable toward capitalism (58%) as socialism (56%). But after President Donald Trump took office, Democrats became more favorable toward socialism. Today, 64% of Democrats have favorable opinions of socialism and 45% are favorable to capitalism. Republicans continue to have overwhelmingly favorable views of capitalism (77%) while only 13% have favorable views of socialism. (source)
Why did this shift occur?
According to half of the Democrats surveyed, President Trump caused them to dislike capitalism and lean more toward socialism.
At the same time, 44% of Democrats say that Trump has not influenced their views on capitalism vs. socialism. 72% of independents and 64% of Republicans reported that President Trump has not influenced their views on the economic model.
Overall, 59% of Americans favor capitalism and 39% favor Socialism.
Thoughts on Wealth
Opinions on wealth were varied. Here were some of the findings:
84% of Americans believe “there is nothing wrong with a person trying to make as much money as they honestly can.”
61% want to raise taxes on anyone who makes more than $200,000.
53% want to raise taxes to a whopping 70% on those who make more than $10 million.
65% of Americans over age 60 oppose the increased tax on people making more than $10 million, while 62% of those under 30 support the increase.
A worryingly slim majority of Americans do not believe that wealth should be redistributed from the rich to the poor.
62% oppose the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. (Where do they intend for that 70% millionaire tax to go?)
Down party lines, here’s who believes in wealth distribution: 58% of Democrats, 36% of Independents, and 15% of Republicans think that money should be taken from the rich and given to the poor.
More than half of Americans (55%) believe that the distribution of wealth in this country is “unfair.” This is divided by age and political philosophy.
79% of Democrats find the distribution unjust.
55% of Independents find the distribution unjust.
67% of Republicans find the distribution just.
70% of people under 30 think the current distribution of wealth is unjust
61% of people over 65 think the current distribution is just.
The distribution of wealth (or lack thereof) will probably be a key factor in the next election. It was only a couple of years ago when a group went public about their desire to “expropriate” the assets of the wealthy and redistribute them to the poor.
Young people vs. old people
Let’s talk about younger people’s opinions versus older people’s opinions. Cato reports:
People under 30 are about 20–30 points more likely than Americans 65 and over to:
believe the rich got rich by “taking advantage of other people” (52% vs. 27%)
believe billionaires are a threat to democracy (51% vs. 26%)
feel “angry” when they read or hear about rich people (44% vs. 11%)
believe it’s “immoral” for society to allow people to become billionaires (39% vs. 13%)
believe that citizens taking violent action against the rich may be justified (35% vs. 10%)
support redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor (53% vs. 20%)
support raising top marginal tax rates (62% vs. 43%)
Young Americans are about equally favorable toward socialism (50%) and capitalism (49%). In stark contrast, Americans 65 and over solidly prefer capitalism (76%) to socialism (34%). (source)
It is not out of line to blame our education system for pushing socialism and leftist professors who promote violence for these attitudes. In fact, the Democratic Socialists of America urge socialists to become teachers to accomplish just this.
However, it might be consoling to note that when a similar survey was undertaken in 1978, more than half (54%) of Americans under 30 believed that wealth should be redistributed from the rich to the poor. The young people who were 18-29 then are 59-70 now, and you can see how their opinions have changed. That should provide some hope that the attitudes of current young people will change as they become more mature and have more life experience.
People have wildly varying views on how rich folks became wealthy.
One of the biggest points of disparity was opinions on how rich people attained their money. Liberals and conservatives are completely at odds regarding this.
Strong liberals say the top drivers of wealth are family connections (48%), inheritance (40%), and getting lucky (31%)
Strong conservatives say the top drivers of wealth are hard work (62%), ambition (47%), self-discipline (45%), and risk-taking (36%)
Strong Liberals say the top causes of poverty are discrimination (51%), an unfair economic system (48%), and a lack of educational opportunities (48%)
Strong Conservatives say the top causes of poverty are poor life choices (60%), a lack of work ethic (52%), breakdown of families (47%), and drugs and alcohol (47%) (source)
With these differences in perspective, it is easy to see how difficult it would be for liberals and conservatives to come to a consensus regarding policy to “fix” the poverty in America.
What attitudes most influenced people’s points of view?
According to this report, there are two major factors that influence people’s points of view regarding capitalism vs. socialism: resentment and compassion. The report says:
Statistical tests find that resentment of high achievers has about twice the impact as compassion for the needy in predicting hostility toward capitalism and support for raising taxes on the rich. However, compassion is a better predictor of support for increasing welfare benefits. Both resentment and compassion predict support for socialism. (source)
At the same time, 69% believe that billionaires became wealthy by creating value for others, and 65% believe that the nation is better off when people become wealthy because they, in turn, will invest in businesses that create jobs.
Most Americans (82%) believe that people should be “allowed” to become billionaires. However, this really breaks down in the Democratic party, where 54% of them believe that billionaires are a “threat to democracy.” Unsurprisingly, 65% of socialists believe that “allowing” billionaires is immoral.
And this is where things get kind of scary.
There are more people than you might think who believe that “citizens taking violent action against the rich” is acceptable. Here are the people who believe that it is acceptable in some situations to be violent toward the wealthy.
One must wonder what they mean by “violence.”
Do they mean that violence should be used to expropriate the wealth or violence should be used just for the sake of harming the wealthy for the audacity of being financially well-to-do? Do they want to use guillotines like the people in the French Revolution to enforce their goals of wealth distribution?
At this point, there’s a hard push toward socialism in this country.
Most folks who believe in socialism don’t see the correlation between those policies and the collapse of Venezuela for example. They don’t understand that every time in history that food production was collectivized, people died of starvation. On the other hand, a lot of the vocal people who are against socialism have views that appear to be condescending and judgmental, neither of which is going to win over hearts and minds.
As someone who has been dirt poor despite my very hard work, I find the opinions that cite laziness and drug use to be downright offensive. As someone who managed to dig myself out of poverty, I find the concept of having the results of my hard work “redistributed” to be equally offensive.
Also note: this article is based on the Cato Institute’s statistics – this isn’t an opinion piece.