For all we know, they think capitalism is a synonym for communism.
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“Capitalism is when the government has complete control over the decisions that the country makes.”
Those responses, coming primarily from students in the top half of their class in allegedly high-quality school systems, don’t provide much encouragement about what’s going on in high school classes in history, political science, government or business (or much confidence in the value of the Rasmussen survey).
Not all the responses were that bad. One student, for example, wrote: “Capitalism promotes individualism. It is a free market system that allows individuals to use their entrepreneurial skills to advance their lives.” Another wrote, “Capitalism is an economic system in which wealth and the means of producing wealth are privately owned and controlled, rather than publicly controlled or state-owned.” Wrote a third student, “Capitalism is an economic system based on markets (both regarding markets for goods and services and markets for labor) and based on the private ownership and private control of capital.” And more succinctly from another student, “Capitalism rewards hard work and risk-taking — the opposite of socialism and communism.”
The bad news is that there’s nothing to keep this latter group of better-informed students from being out-voted by the former and larger group of less-knowledgeable students.
The good news is that it’s not very hard to get these students on the right track once they’re exposed to even a modicum of information regarding the fundamental differences between capitalism, socialism and communism.
On the final exam in an economics course that I just completed teaching, one question asked students to evaluate capitalism. Wrote one student, not that many semesters out of high school, in a not atypical response:
Capitalism represents a profound change in human thinking that occurred over the past 400 years, a drop in the bucket in time. And yet, these recent centuries have seen remarkable and historic advances, improvements in the quality of life for the masses that were unthinkable in the Dark Ages, due overwhelmingly to free market enterprise. Capitalism carries a host of inherent positives — the self-regulating effects of competition, workers with specialized skills who can command a livable wage, increasing technological advances, voluntary exchange between workers, consumers and businesses, the property rights of citizens, the encouragement of risk-taking and business creation. Most importantly, capitalism marks a “rags to riches” story never before seen in history, wherein hard work and a cutting edge mind can lead the poorest individual from poverty to wealth.
The bottom line? It looks like we need a bigger supply of pro-capitalist teachers.