"For Love of Neighbor" is a new documentary film offering a hopeful vision for Christian engagement in politics. Click here to learn more.

People Across the World Prefer Free Markets

No, I am not making this up. According to the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, “a global median of 66% say most people are better off under capitalism, even if some people are rich and some are poor.”

Yes, buried in the study—after pages and pages of statistics on education, hard work, inequality, and belief in a brighter future, Pew suggests that a majority of people across the world favor the free market approach to defeating poverty.

It isn’t just a majority, either—it’s a majority of people in the poorest countries. The study found that “belief in the free market tends to be highest in developing countries (median of 71%).” Even more incredibly, “nearly two-thirds or more in all nine of the developing economies surveyed agree that most people benefit from capitalism, including 80% of Bangladeshis, 75% of Ghanaians and 74% of Kenyans.”

[pq]A global median of 66% say most people are better off under capitalism.[/pq]

On the other hand, those surveyed in developed countries are the least likely to support free markets—although the majority of them still do, at 63 percent. This result grabbed all sorts of headlines, as capitalism is more popular in China (76 percent) and Vietnam (95 percent) than in the United States (70 percent).

But these results confirm what classical liberals would expect—the poor have a great deal to gain from capitalism, and they know it. Indeed, while the rich can gain more money, the poor have a much higher standard of living under free markets, as subsistence farmers open their own businesses and begin to own their own futures.

Despite what you might hear on MSNBC, progressive programs and government spending do little to bring people out of poverty. After ten years of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Great Depression still gripped America. Thirty years after Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty began, programs have created more problems than they aimed to solve.

Command economies are older than the pyramids. Governments redistributing wealth did not start the engines of capitalism, which have powered inventions like the light bulb, the steam engine, the airplane, and the smart phone. Instead, they forced their subjects to slave away at epic projects—building majestic temples and tombs for themselves—to showcase their glory. They alone reaped the benefits of all this work, and lost out on the inventions to come.

These innovations, thought up and marketed by free people in free economies, improved the lives of individuals across society—both the rich and the poor. With time, even the poorest are able to gain access to valuable innovations. So long as their markets are open to foreign trade, poor nations do not even need to make their own tractors or computers—in an open market, they can trade for them.

People in Bangladesh and Ghana have learned this lesson, and they are eager to keep reaping the benefits of capitalism.

Indeed, the study found that those in emerging and less developed countries have a more positive outlook on the future. In emerging countries like South Africa, Vietnam, China, and Poland, a median of 50 percent say that “when children today grow up, they will be better off financially than their parents.” In developing countries, the median is 51 percent, but in advanced countries it falls to 28 percent—with only 30 percent of Americans owning this positive outlook.

Many countries whose citizens have a negative outlook on the free market also had a negative view of the future. In Greece and Spain, two countries with bloated debt and crippling welfare states, a majority oppose free markets (50 percent in Greece and 51 percent in Spain), and say their children will be worse off in the future(65 percent in Greece and 62 percent in Spain).

Most in the survey agreed that an unequal distribution of wealth is a serious problem, but most are willing to accept inequality if it is the inherent cost of freedom and greater prosperity for all.

Bill Gates may be tremendously wealthier than an industrial worker in Bangladesh. But due to the wealth created in a capitalistic system, that Bangladeshi worker has more opportunities than he would have in any other system. As the market expands, he may be able to own his own business, and to utilize technology even the greatest medieval king could have never dreamed of.