Culture War On Capitalism?

AEI President Arthur C. Brooks has a must read piece in today’s WSJ titled The Real Culture War is Over Capitalism. I have been worried about this since the Bush Admin saved AIG, etc. The fact that the US Gov and the UAW are going to own GM puts us into the surreal — seriously, I might as be on acid. From Brooks:

There is a major cultural schism developing in America. But it’s not over abortion, same-sex marriage or home schooling, as important as these issues are. The new divide centers on free enterprise — the principle at the core of American culture.

Despite President Barack Obama’s early personal popularity, we can see the beginnings of this schism in the “tea parties” that have sprung up around the country. In these grass-roots protests, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans have joined together to make public their opposition to government deficits, unaccountable bureaucratic power, and a sense that the government is too willing to prop up those who engaged in corporate malfeasance and mortgage fraud.

The data support the protesters’ concerns. In a publication with the ironic title, “A New Era of Responsibility,” the president’s budget office reveals average deficits of 4.7% in the five years after this recession is over. The Congressional Budget Office predicts $9.3 trillion in new debt over the coming decade.

And what investments justify our leaving this gargantuan bill for our children and grandchildren to pay? Absurdities, in the view of many — from bailing out General Motors and the United Auto Workers to building an environmentally friendly Frisbee golf course in Austin, Texas. On behalf of corporate welfare, political largess and powerful special interests, government spending will grow continuously in the coming years as a percentage of the economy — as will tax collections.

Still, the tea parties are not based on the cold wonkery of budget data. They are based on an “ethical populism.” The protesters are homeowners who didn’t walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don’t want corporate welfare and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don’t need bailouts. They were the people who were doing the important things right — and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.

Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss this ethical populism as a fringe movement — maybe even dangerous extremism. In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste. In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off “in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time.” Fully 70% agreed, versus 20% who disagreed.

Free enterprise is culturally mainstream, for the moment. Asked in a Rasmussen poll conducted this month to choose the better system between capitalism and socialism, 13% of respondents over 40 chose socialism. For those under 30, this percentage rose to 33%. (Republicans were 11 times more likely to prefer capitalism than socialism; Democrats were almost evenly split between the two systems.)

The piece is worth reading and thinking about. Who is currently defending the free markets, entrepreneurship, and liberty? The Republican Party is weak and unsure of itself or its path.

BTW, I am not sure how I feel about Brooks’ concerns over younger Americans. I see many on campus who want to work and make change without the government. But, I also see many who blindly support the advance of Obama and are now seeing partnership (read funding) with the government as their best path forward.


3 thoughts on “Culture War On Capitalism?

  1. Will

    I don’t know if there is a culture war against capitalism, but a war against the scope of capitalism. In many cases, the only entity that could effectively handle responsibilities not done by the private sector is the government (i.e. health care or the financial sector). I think it would be beneficial in our globalized society that we have the private and public sector working in tandem to address these large scale issues.

  2. Many younger voters, including myself, have seen the massive bailouts and rewarding of those that have been in massive debt. Personally I have felt that our current version of capitalism serves only those of large corporations and not the needs of the people. The actual structure of capitalism is not the ‘evil’ people say, but it is in definite need of retooling for the future.

    Capitalism can be a positive influence, by encouraging markets to become more green, or by supporting green entrenpuers through the investments of the populace. Sadly money makes the world go round. Unfortunately it seems that the government and capitalism has it’s priorities wrong. I feel that if capitalism shifts more focus towards natural capital as opposed to money capital more people may find a new confidence in the system. When we have business leaders changing the way our economy runs, this will lead to a much wider impact. One attempt I’ve involved in trying to reach out to this audience is the University of Vermont’s Institute for Global Sustainabily (

  3. Thanks for your thoughts. My concern is that the government works with even heavier hands that do corporate entities… For example, why exactly are we saving the auto companies? they make products that we don’t want (thats why they r in trouble)… we are throwing life lines to the past, not the future.

    glad to hear that UVM is doing cool things. I have no doubt there are plenty of entreprenuers/CEOs who act as stewards of communities as well as providers of products.

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