In the latest issue of the Atlantic, Clive Crook wonders why, even though capitalism has brought the United States to a level of prosperity unprecedented in world history, Americans still regard it with distrust. Traditionally conservatives have blamed liberals in Hollywood for consistently producing films in which businessmen are the villains, but Crook has his doubts:
In this...the culture is not really driving attitudes. It is expressing widely held (though not very closely examined) beliefs; it is itself responding to demand.
The problem, he claims, lies not with popular culture but rather with many of capitalism’s defenders. Economists, for instance, have become so concerned with "math, quantitative methods, and narrow specialization" that they have all but given up demonstrating that markets work (and, given their use of jargon, it’s questionable whether anyone would understand them if they took it up again). But the worst of all are the corporate leaders and conservative politicians who emerge as defenders of the free market:
They speak of capitalism’s virtues, then get down to the real business of subsidies, import protection, tax relief, and other favors. People see through it, and find their prejudices confirmed. The conflation of the interests of business with the interests of the nation is virtually an organizing principle of the Right. Yet in reality those interests are usually opposed--as Adam Smith again pointed out. What best serves a nation’s economic interests is competition--it’s why markets work, when they do. But competition hurts individual businesses, and most CEOs hate it. Don’t look there for intellectual enlightenment.