Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Capitalism has taken a beating lately, as it often does in a prolonged recession, even though government precipitated the crisis in the first place.

But this time the enemies of capitalism have grown bolder, maybe more persuasive, and arguably more effective than its defenders -- certainly more devious in cloaking increasing state controls, central planning and federal ownership with softer terms to beguile voters into giving them the power to manage and control much of our economy.

Increased spending for every problem is now called "investment." Reregulation of the nation's financial system and centers of production is called "reform." Demand for more control over economic decision-making is called "fixing the economy."

Disturbing signals that capitalism has been losing ground among our body politic can be seen in a recent Rasmussen Reports poll finding that only 53 percent of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

Twenty percent disagreed, saying socialism is preferable, while 27 percent said they were not sure which was better.

The younger they are, the more they liked socialism. People under 30 were about evenly divided: 37 percent favored capitalism; 33 percent said socialism was better; and 30 percent were just undecided.

Support for capitalism grows with experience and age. Among people in their 30s, 49 percent said capitalism is the best system, compared to 26 percent who supported socialism.

People 40 and older overwhelmingly support capitalism -- a mere 13 percent said socialism is better.

Capitalism's popularity rises and falls with the economy. It was hugely popular in the Roaring '20s when the economy was running flat-out, taxes were low, government spending was modest, and regulation was minimal.

Then capitalism became the enemy with the crash of 1929 that heralded the Great Depression. Politicians and people blamed Wall Street, bankers, speculators and anyone with money.

Capitalism experienced a resurgence in the 1950s with the boom of the postwar years that weakened in the 1960s when John F. Kennedy ran on getting the economy "moving again" by cutting income tax rates. To those who criticized cutting taxes for the rich, Kennedy replied, "A rising tide lifts all boats." By the end of the decade, the Treasury was flush with cash and the budget was in surplus.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.