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Opinion: To survive, capitalism must become more inclusive

Polls show Americans are losing faith in their economic system. But the last 200 years have shown that it can lift people out of poverty and empower them

SHARE Opinion: To survive, capitalism must become more inclusive
A street sign for Wall Street in New York City.

Wall Street in New York City is the symbol of American capitalism. Despite capitalism’s ability to move billions of people out of poverty, recent polls show many Americans no longer support it.

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Capitalism has lifted billions out of poverty, developed lifesaving, state-of-the-art medicine, and has driven the technological revolution of the past two centuries. The accumulation of talent, education, and productive capability that follows capital investment has created the technological leap that moved our world from one of agrarian farmers to the modern wonder that it is today.

The global poverty rate has fallen from 94% just 200 years ago to below 10% today despite adding an additional 6 billion people to the population, thanks to a system that tells everyone that they can be a creator, an entrepreneur, and a capitalist.

So why does capitalism get attacked so aggressively and what can be done about it?

While over 50% of Americans still support capitalism over socialism, polls show that support for capitalism has been declining. A 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer poll found that globally, capitalism is seen as doing more harm than good.

Even more troubling, an Axios/Momentive poll shows that support for capitalism among young Republicans has fallen by 20% in just the last two years. If the next generation of conservatives, those who are typically the loudest in support of free-market policy, are switching their support to other systems of economic organization, our economic future may not be as bright as we believe. 

More people must reap the benefits of the capitalist system if we are to shift the direction of public opinion and maintain laws favorable to a market economy. We must pursue goals that include everyone in the benefits of ownership and wealth-building that come from a system of free enterprise and open competition.

That means wages must climb higher. Employers can offer employee stock options programs to allow their workers to earn not just a wage or salary, but build real equity that will alleviate financial stress now with the prospect of owning inter-generational wealth and breaking cycles of poverty.

We must rework our education system to prioritize real financial literacy and teaching children how to earn more than ends meet. We must remove institutional barriers that hold people back, with the goal of achieving empowerment, equality and opportunity.

As it stands right now, everyone benefits to a greater degree than they would under another system, but those benefits are not easily recognized when your wages are stagnate, costs are increasing and everyday life is hard.  

If we hope to maintain a legal system that prioritizes the rights of the individual, our collective goal must be a society where everyone can participate in the wealth-building benefits of capitalism regardless of race, gender, orientation, nation of origin, economic status or any other distinction.

This is not fundamentally different from the capitalist system broadly defined as private ownership of the means of production, but it does require a focused emphasis on achieving these outcomes from the economic elite. 

An inclusive economy can be achieved and, I believe, is the ultimate end of our market system as it is conceived by luminaries such as Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, and more. Not a system that gives ever higher bonus packages to CEOs and layoff notices to shift workers, but a system that harnesses the human drive to achieve and create new discoveries in science, technology and medicine; new discoveries that move our species forward. 

During the past 200 years of extreme growth, our system of open and free enterprise has harnessed humanity’s creative energy for much more good than bad. With a market-based system, our future remains bright and filled with much more good than has already been discovered. Whether a positive and optimistic future will actually be realized largely depends on changing the hearts and minds of the current and future generations. By making capitalism live up to its promise, we can ensure that no one is left out, and as we move forward, we move forward together. 

Trent Staggs is the mayor of Riverton and the president of Prosperity Utah.