America, President Donald Trump vowed during his State of the Union in February, “will never be a socialist country.” Well, we have some good news and some bad news about that.
First, the bad news. A new Gallup poll finds that four in ten Americans are favorably disposed to socialism in “some form.” Just over half – 51 percent – say they believe socialism “would be a bad thing” for the country. That’s a pretty slim majority.
The usual caveats apply, of course. Gallup surveyed 1,024 adults, as opposed to registered or likely voters, the most reliable sample group. And the poll was conducted by phone across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., with a bias toward cell phone users.
So, who knows? When in doubt, cast a cold eye.
For example, Gallup found 47 percent of the people it surveyed would vote for a socialist candidate for president. In other words, nearly half of Americans would vote socialist in 2020.
Seriously? Self-described Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders is currently pulling around 18 percent of Democrats nationally, according to the RealClearPolitics poll average. He’s trailing former Vice President Joe Biden – no socialist, he – by 20 points or so.
And the respondents have an unorthodox understanding of what socialism means. The conventional definition of socialism is, in so many words, state control of the means of production, redistribution of wealth and the abolition of private property. According to Jacobin magazine’s “The ABCs of Socialism,” socialism isn’t just more government: “It’s about democratic ownership and control.” You know – just like they have in Venezuela.
But according to the Gallup survey, one in four respondents have a fairly milquetoast view of socialism, associating it with “social equality” – about as vague as it gets. For a concrete example of what extreme social and economic inequality looks like, spend a weekend in San Francisco – a city awash in unimaginable wealth and where the sidewalks are dotted with human excrement.
Just 17 percent of Americans cited the classic definition of the term, which is either an indictment of the public schools or an endorsement of the age-old American knack for taking ideas from abroad, homogenizing them and repackaging them for mass consumption.
Gallup also found that the Americans it surveyed are split on how best to describe the U.S. economy. Is it a “free market”? Government-controlled? Something in between? About one-third of respondents said the U.S. is generally a free market, while 40 percent said the economy either “leans toward” or is “mostly” government-controlled. Just 25 percent said it’s an “equal mix.”
Come to think of it, that sounds about right.
Easy rhetoric about the dangers of “unfettered capitalism” aside, reality is always more complicated than even the best designed poll can capture. The Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank in Washington D.C., has published an Index of Economic Freedom for a quarter century. In that time, the U.S. had fallen steadily in the global rankings, rebounding this year to 12th place (“mostly free”), our best showing since 2011.
Our income taxes are lower than they were a couple of years ago, but we have higher tariffs (Heritage doesn’t like those). The Trump administration has repealed some expensive regulations, but states like California still make it difficult to do ... well, just about anything.
By Heritage’s lights, Canada is freer economically than we are. Canada!
Now, the good news.
Unemployment just hit a 50-year low. The official unemployment rate stands currently at 3.5 percent, which as recently as a few years ago, nobody thought possible. “Real” unemployment – the “U6” unemployment category in the Labor Department’s charts, which tracks discouraged and “marginally attached” workers, along with part-timers – is 7.3 percent. We haven’t seen a number like that since 2001.
“Job openings recently surpassed the number of unemployed by 1.3 million,” the New York Post reported last week. “And it’s starting to trigger bottlenecks.” Put another way, we don’t have enough qualified workers to fill all of the jobs. As problems go, that’s not a bad one to have.
The reason? When labor is tight, wages rise. Who needs a $15 government-mandated hourly minimum wage when the market is doing the job quite nicely, thank you very much. For the average American worker, a 4 or 5 percent raise is well within the realm of possibility by the end of the year.
Progress comes in fits and starts. Some parts of the country are thriving while others are still struggling. Vast swaths of the nation’s interior are grappling with an opioid addiction crisis. Millions of young Americans are saddled with terrible student loan debt. Millions of others – perfectly able-bodied people – have given up work entirely. Many of them haven’t heard the good news.
But the signs are encouraging. What a shame it would be to throw away the old American engine of prosperity for a system that promises freedom from want and manages to deliver only mediocrity and misery.