These are shocking statistics: Among Americans ages 18–29, people tend to have a negative view of capitalism and a positive view of socialism.

As Pew reported in 2011, people in this age group saw capitalism negatively by a margin of 47 to 46 percent, and they saw socialism positively by a margin of 49 to 43 percent. This is despite the fact that, to the degree governments have allowed it to exist, capitalism has brought the people of the civilized world vastly more wealth and vastly better and longer life—and despite the fact that socialist governments have slaughtered scores of millions of people.

Overall, people saw capitalism positively only by a margin of 50 to 40 percent. Why does the greatest force for human advancement in the history of the world get such mixed marks among its beneficiaries?

Today many people confuse capitalism with the cronyism of bank bailouts, corporate welfare, and special government privileges forcibly limiting competition. But such schemes are utterly contrary to capitalism, and it is illogical and unjust to blame capitalism for programs it explicitly opposes. Capitalism is the political-economic system of individual rights and free markets. Under capitalism, government protects individuals’ rights to control their own property and interact with others voluntarily. Capitalism forbids fraud, theft, government bailouts, and force of every kind.

When people think of capitalism, they should not think of bank bailouts or the like; rather, they should think of the relatively free aspects of our society and markets, such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the relative freedom of the computer industry that has brought us such wonders as remarkably inexpensive yet high-quality laptops, Androids, and iPhones.

Another illustrative example is the modern grocery store. Although the government interferes with the operation of such stores in myriad ways ranging from wage controls to taxation to antitrust actions to food subsidies, in large part grocery stores operate freely, in accordance with the best judgment of their owners and managers. The result is that anyone in the civilized world can quickly and easily purchase goods—including myriad varieties of fresh produce—imported from around the world.

My grandmother, who early in life did not have electricity or even indoor plumbing, spoke of getting an orange for Christmas, and of that being such a delightful treat. Fresh oranges were so rare in those days that they were once-a-year splurges for many families. Today most people take for granted our ability to purchase once-exotic foods from around the world as well as from nearby farms—not only oranges but kiwis, pineapples, pomegranates, coffee and tea in endless varieties, leafy greens, various grains and seeds including quinoa and buckwheat, many types of peppers, many types of meats, various cheeses, and on and on.

The American grocery store even helped bring down Soviet Communism, as Chris Anderson relates in his book The Long Tail. While visiting the United States, some 50,000 Soviet citizens witnessed, firsthand, American abundance. After visiting a Houston supermarket, Boris Yeltsin, the first president of post-Soviet Russia, said:

When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons, and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.

It is also terrible to think of an America following the same socialist path to ruin.

To damn capitalism is to damn prosperity, abundance, and, ultimately, life itself. If you want to know what capitalism has done for you lately, take a walk to the nearest grocery store, and open your eyes.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

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