Friday, July 27, 2012

The Meaning of Capitalism ... And Education

If The Election Is About Capitalism, What Does That Mean? contains the dictionary's definition of capitalism.

Although acehieving a working understanding of capitalism should be required for all Americans, my guess is that the vast majority of We the People are generally not really familiar with the concept and that it's rarely, if ever, discussed objectively, if at all, in our classrooms:

""There are three in 10 Americans who don't have the fundamental sense of the liberal-conservative dimension in American politics," said Michael Dimock of Pew. "Then you take that to the abstract notion of capitalism, and people probably have an understanding that's slimmer.

Two experts on public sentiment, pollsters Peter Hart, a Democrat, and Bill McInturff, a Republican, see the current debate very differently.

Mr. McInturff said it's a momentary rhetorical rumble, not a secular shift in opinion. "It fits the convenient interest of President Obama who at a time of economic stress is running against a candidate who epitomizes the financial-services industry," he said.

Mr. Hart said President Obama's message cuts across the political spectrum because distrust of institutions "particularly at the pinnacle of capitalism" is so broad and deep.

In the WSJ/NBC poll released this week, Messrs Hart and McInturff synthesized the candidates' economic messages and, without saying who said what, asked people "would you be more or less likely to vote for the candidate" after hearing this pitch.

Obama's message—"Will fight for balance and fairness and encourage the investments needed to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class"—got 80% saying "more likely." Mr. Romney's message—"Wants to restore the values of economic freedom, opportunity and small government"—got 68%.

Mr. Hart said Mr. Obama's edge reflects current public concern over business and capitalism, however that's defined.

We still have months before the election, and definitions do matter. So, in case you're concerned about your own grasp of the term capitalism, here's a crib from Merriam-Webster:

"An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market."

Earlier, the article said this about the situation:

"Let's talk about capitalism, because everyone else certainly wants to.

The presidential campaign has become a virtual referendum on capitalism and business. President Barack Obama's ads call Mitt Romney a "vampire" capitalist. Mr. Romney says Mr. Obama is anticapitalist.

Actually, capitalism has long been a problematic idea for many Americans. Public understanding of the term is so vague that the current debate is probably less about the economic system and more a reflection of how people feel at the moment about their own well-being.

The Pew Research Center says just 50% of Americans view capitalism positively. That isn't lost on companies.

"The American public sees business and capitalism as inextricably linked" and has "definitely" become more critical of both, says Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna. He blames today's "political rhetoric" but also the "flagrant abuses by some sectors."

His prescription: "American business needs to reestablish in the public's mind that we are a significant force to provide jobs and careers to millions of Americans through capitalism."

But there is also a lot of confusion at work. In the 1980s researchers Robert Peterson, George Kozmetsky and Gerald Albaum found that just 35% of Americans could correctly define capitalism.

In other words, it isn't clear we're all talking about the same thing.

What's more, in good times the public may be happier with capitalism and business. In bad times, not so."

My Take

If we're going to choose more government or less government, more MOM or more OPM, more false security or more individual opportunity, to continue down the road to financial ruin or make a U-turn toward general prosperity, and increased or diminished national security as a result of our country's financial strength, we all need to know more about capitalism versus collectivism and the choices we're making.

Self governance isn't easy. And it's an ongoing responsibility for the citizens fortunate enough to be living in a free society.

Such a free society will become an even better and more stable, prosperous and secure society to the extent that it consists of a highly informed citizenry.

The election is not for the politicians or the pollsters to decide. That's We the People's job.

Education matters at all ages and will always be our most important "product."

Thanks. Bob.

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