Which Countries Prefer Capitalism?

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center gauges the opinion among citizens of various countries of the free market. They were asked if they agreed that under such a system the majority is better off even though some are rich and some are poor. The results invite interesting conclusions.

People in emerging countries have more faith in the market than those in developed societies. Among the latter, between 60 and 70 percent of respondents agree with the survey’s statement, but the proportion is greater among the former — between 70 and 80 percent. There are significant differences, however, between Asians and Latin Americans. With some exceptions, support among Latin Americans ranges from 50 to 60 percent depending on the country. The region’s brand of populism, which emerged in the 1930s, comes across as a more or less permanent ideological (some would say cultural) trait.

There are interesting exceptions. In three countries governed by various types of left-wing populism — Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador — support for the market is between 10 and 15 points higher than in Latin American societies governed by non-populist rulers. The lesson here is that the best cure against populism is actually experiencing its consequences.

There is an exception to this rule, too — Argentina. Despite the catastrophic consequences of the Kirchner years, only one in three Argentines agrees with the survey’s statement. Among the Argentines, populism seems an ingrained cultural trait while among some other Latin Americans the sentiment seems more dependent on circumstance.

How disappointing that in the four countries of the Pacific Alliance — Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia — support for the market is low. In the case of Mexico (44%), it probably has to do with the mediocrity of the last decade and a half, dictated by the absence of economic reform under a system that critics of the market have constantly and absurdly called “neoliberal”. In the case of Chile (57%), Peru (53%) and Colombia (49%), part of the reason probably has to do with the end of the commodities´ boom that helped sustain the connection between private enterprise and social mobility in people´s minds for a while.

In the case of Chile, the most advanced country in the region, another element seems to be at work. Not unlike what happened in Spain after a few decades of relative prosperity, a couple of complacent generations that grew up taking things for granted think it’s time to place all kinds of parasitic demands on capitalism.

Unsurprisingly, Asia is where the capitalist paradigm has conquered people’s imagination. What is less well known is that the free-market idea has many followers in Africa. Between 68 and 75 percent of the people support the market in countries that have experienced certain economic dynamism in the last decade and a half. The list includes those whose economy has grown the most (Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana) and those that attracted significant investments (South Africa, Kenya and the three mentioned before). In this group, faith in the free market is stronger than in the Latin American countries that achieved the best economic results during that period.

One last comment. The results point to an ironic ideological kinship between peoples perceived (even by themselves) as incompatible with each other. Support for the market is roughly the same among Israelis and Palestinians. It shouldn’t be surprising. The economic improvement in the West Bank and the commercial exchanges across the border in recent years (until politics got in the way once again) were already an indicator of this underlying affinity.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
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