When Matthew Elliott and James Kanagasooriam from the Legatum institute set out to investigate Britain’s attitude to economics, it was against the background of a resurgent Labour party having surprised pollsters (and Theresa May’s conservative government) by almost winning the general election in June this year. So, expectations were that left-wing ideology and policies would be popular with the public. And they were. As the authors state in the foreword: “for advocates of free-market economics, the findings of this report might make for concerning reading.” Concerning indeed.
For example, respondents were asked to associate capitalism and socialism with three traits from a list of positive (e.g. practical, fair, tolerant and innovative) and negative (e.g. selfish, divisive and corrupt) words. The following is a graphical representation of the results for people’s associations for capitalism:
Even among Conservative voters, the top associations were “greedy”, “corrupt” and “selfish”. It is a damning testament to the awful job Tory politicians have done over the past decades in extolling the virtues of free market capitalism.
Socialism fared considerably better. While “naïve”, “disruptive” and “divisive” scored highly, so did many positive associations:
The study also considered public support for specific policies, and the results were equally alarming. When asked whether various industries should be in the public or private sector, large majorities saw utilities and railways as better off in public ownership, but perhaps even more ridiculous are numbers like 50% support for state owned banks and 23% support for nationalisation of travel agents.
If anyone needed a reminder of capitalism’s reputational crisis, the study provides it. It underscores the mammoth task ahead if we are to turn public opinion once again towards support for the free markets. It is a task that is both urgent and of vital importance, because the hard left is banging on the doors to the chambers of power – and it is one which cannot be successfully completed if public discourse continues to pit proud leftists against tepid supporters of free market capitalism.