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What Does Capitalism Mean to You?

👉🏼 Link: Modern Capitalism Survey

How do you feel about capitalism? Positively? Negatively? Something else? Let me know your thoughts for a new book I’m working on.

For a long time, most Americans viewed capitalism in positive terms, but something’s changed recently.

The short version of the change can be described as: the younger you are, the more likely you are to view capitalism as a negative force.

For anyone 35 and older, opinions haven’t shifted much. Most people have a favorable opinion of capitalism, while a minority (typically around 35%) have an unfavorable one.

Among people ages 18-24, however, for the first time opinions are just as likely to be negative as they are positive. I’ve been noticing this trend anecdotally for a while, but looking at more formal survey data confirms it:

Young adults’ perceptions of capitalism have been the real driver of topline change in the past two years. Today, 18-34 year-olds are almost evenly split between those who view capitalism positively and those who view it negatively (49% vs. 46%). Two years ago, that margin was a gaping 20 points (58% vs. 38%). By contrast, views among adults ages 35 and older haven’t budged, with wide margins of 35-64 year-olds and 65+ saying they view capitalism in a positive light.

Source: Axios Capitalism Research

I’m curious about what readers think.

My own opinion shouldn’t be surprising: I wrote The $100 Startup, after all. I host a daily podcast on making extra money without quitting your job.

For me I’ve always viewed capitalism in the same lens as I think of my primary values of autonomy and authenticity. I don’t want to be dependent on a job, or on any other person or entity, for my livelihood. This has been ingrained in me for as long as I can remember. Besides, I think it’s fun to build small businesses and side hustles.

In a way, I think the anti-capitalist movement draws on some of the same privilege it claims to criticize. You don’t hear a lot of poor people saying that money doesn’t matter. To put it another way, most people who say things like “money doesn’t contribute to happiness” tend to have a lot more money than the average person.

All that said—I understand that there’s more to the conversation. Even though I generally think making money is good, it doesn’t make sense to focus on making money as an end goal. It seems pretty clear that a lot of people get tripped up that way.

What’s more important than money? Service, impact, and living a life of meaning—whatever that looks like to you. Money is merely a tool that allows us to have options. (Besides, money isn’t real anyway.)

Further, I also try to pay attention to how opinions are shifting, and I want to always be learning. Historically, older people ignore the opinions of youth at their peril. Young people, of course, are the future.

Besides, it’s possible to be “a capitalist” and still recognize the secondary effects of a society organized around the pursuit of wealth. Among other things, it means that some people will gain much more wealth than others. It also leads to some important professions (teachers, mental health professionals, etc.) being valued much less than others.

A modern society can (and should) protect the vulnerable, provide social safety nets, and generally try to increase wealth for everyone.

That’s why I realize it’s not a simple issue, so back to the question: what does capitalism mean to you?

If you have three minutes to take an anonymous survey, I’d love to know. Some comments may be shared anonymously (or with your first name) in the book I’m writing.

👉🏼 Link: Modern Capitalism Survey