Is America having a “socialist moment”? There are currently more people who say they prefer socialism to capitalism (37 percent) than identify as evangelical Christians (32 percent). What is driving people who don’t even know what socialism means to prefer it to free enterprise?
At the Library of Law and Liberty, James Rogers says it’s risk, not redistribution, that motivates America’s new socialists:
My suspicion is that most Americans still don’t resent really rich people. They may envy them, but we don’t resent them. In market economies people can get rich without making other people poorer. And while living standards for most Americans haven’t increased much over the last generation, they haven’t decreased either.
Where there has been a shift, however, has been a transfer in risk, particularly a shift that places more risk on the American middle class. While there can be multiple causes, this transfer of risk to the American middle class accounts, I think, for much of the angst that has made Americans more willing to identify as “socialist,” at least in the weak sense of socialist, of support for broadening and strengthening government systems of social insurance.
While median household income has basically stayed the same over the last generation, I’m guessing that the variance around that income level has increased. It’s increased most notably as a result of the shift from defined benefit retirement programs to defined contribution retirement programs. One’s 401(k) payout now varies with stock and bond markets. Risk has also shifted as businesses increasingly hire “contractors” rather than hiring people as employees (a change motivated particularly by the fact that employers need not provide benefits to contractors as they do to employees).