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Iain Murray: Socialism, Capitalism, and American Values

Op-Eds and Articles

One of the most important things I learned at the feet of Fred Smith, founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was that most Americans don’t think about politics in the way policy wonks do. They don’t particularly care about empirical data, trend lines, or confidence intervals. Indeed, if you try to reach the public by arguing along those lines, you’ll lose the argument. As Fred would say, “People aren’t stupid because they’re stupid. They’re stupid because they’re smart. And if you try to make them smart, you’re being stupid.”

This is one of the problems capitalists have. We tend to point to empirical studies and GDP growth data, or even to assume that capitalism’s success in creating wealth and lifting all boats is self-evident. We’re being stupid when we do that.

Fred understood that the way to reach people is by making sure a policy accords with their values. There are three main value groups in America—people who value, respectively, fairness, freedom, and community. If you can persuade all three groups that your policy matches their values, you are halfway to winning.

In my new book, The Socialist Temptation, I argue that the recent rise in popularity of socialism has occurred because socialism talks a very good game when it comes to values. The trouble is that it actually undermines those values.

We know there are things wrong with America. Part of the Socialist Temptation is that it offers easy solutions to those problems. We can cure inequality with redistribution of wealth and ending privilege, for instance. Americans care deeply about fairness and equality, so that appeals to them. The Socialist Temptation accords with American values.

Similarly, Socialists say that Americans aren’t truly free while there is oppression. Americans care deeply about freedom. And they say that American communities are being broken by capitalism. Americans care a lot about community. Yet the policies socialists will introduce will do far more damage to equality, freedom, and community than our current system does.

Read the full article at The Capitalist League