As Americans digest news of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the largest municipal filing in the country’s history, some wonder whether the U.S. economic system is to blame. Our new 2013 Economic Values Survey, just released yesterday, shows that while most Americans believe American capitalism is functioning, few give it high marks. A majority (54 percent) of Americans believe American capitalism is working very (9 percent) or somewhat well (45 percent), while more than 4-in-10 (42 percent) say it is not working well.
Americans are nearly evenly divided on whether capitalism and the free market system are consistent with (41 percent) or at odds with (44 percent) Christian values. Not surprisingly, there is a significant association between views about capitalism’s compatibility with Christian values and whether capitalism is working. Among those who believe American capitalism is mostly working, 53 percent believe the system is consistent with Christian values. By contrast, among those who believe American capitalism is mostly broken, just 27 percent believe it is consistent with Christian values.
Christians are split on this question, but the division that is most stark is not between evangelicals and mainline Protestants nor Catholics and Protestants, but upper versus lower class Christians. There’s a striking divide on the question between Christians by income level, with those making more money more inclined to see capitalism as in line with their religion’s values than those who make less. Among all Christians, 43 percent say capitalism is consistent with Christian values, while 45 percent say the system is at odds with Christian values. Among low-income Christians (those with annual household incomes of $30,000 or less), 35 percent say capitalism is consistent with Christian values, compared to 59 percent of high-income Christians (those with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more) who say the same. Low-income Christians, in turn, are significantly more likely to say capitalism is at odds with Christian values (50 percent) than high-income Christians (29 percent).
Questions remain about who is ultimately responsible for the Detroit bankruptcy, but a few culprits are hard to ignore, such as losing more than a million residents since 2000, having a 19 percent unemployment rate and political mismanagement. But the degree to which Americans attribute Detroit’s ongoing problems and the problems facing many Americans to flaws inherent in the capitalist system or individual shortcomings depends a whole lot on their own economic situation.