Enthusiasm for free markets runs higher in communist China and Vietnam than in traditional capitalist bastions the United States and United Kingdom, the Pew Research Center reports.
A world-topping 95 percent of Vietnamese say that most people are better off in free-market economies, and 76 percent of Chinese agree, according to a Pew survey of nearly 49,000 people worldwide that might have astonished Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong. Seventy percent of Americans and 65 percent of those in the UK expressed support for a free-market economic system.
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Expanded world trade has ignited fast economic growth in emerging economies such as China and Vietnam, lifting tens of millions out of poverty. Meanwhile, the advanced economies of the United States and Europe have contended in recent years with sluggish growth, high unemployment and stagnant wages.
Those distinct experiences appear to have shaped attitudes toward free markets — and the future: 65 percent of those in advanced economies said they expected children in their countries to be worse off than their parents. In low- and middle-income countries, by contrast, at least half the respondents expected their children to be better off.
Optimism was highest in Vietnam, where 94 percent saw good times ahead for their children. In China, 85 percent felt the same way. But just 30 percent of Americans, 23 percent of British, 15 percent of Italians, 14 percent of Japanese and 13 percent of French predicted a brighter future for today's children.
Worldwide, 60 percent said the income gap between rich and poor is a "very big" problem in their countries. But a lack of jobs was seen as an even bigger problem.
Overall, 66 percent of those around the world say people are better off under capitalism even if it leaves some rich and some poor.
"People are willing to accept a certain level of inequality to have free markets," says Katie Simmons, senior researcher at Pew.
Concern about inequality was highest in Greece and Lebanon — 84 percent in both countries saw it as a major problem — and lowest in Japan (28 percent).
Despite ranking behind Chinese and Vietnamese in enthusiasm for free markets, Americans still hold fast to the belief that individuals are responsible for their own fate. In the United States, 57 percent (exceeded only by Venezuela's 62 percent) rejected the idea that "success in life is determined by forces outside our control." Americans were also more likely (73 percent) than people anywhere else to say working hard was very important to getting ahead in life.
Pew surveyed 48,643 adults in 44 countries in telephone and face-to-face interviews between March and June.