Peculiar Capitalists

With weak corporate profits hurting stock prices and whacking everyone’s 401(k)s, you might think Americans would be rooting for profits to rise. Ah, but that would assume (as economists mistakenly do) that people are rational actors. The U.S. may now be a nation of shareholders, but they’re shareholders of a peculiarly populist sort. In a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 51 percent of adults agreed “strongly” (plus another 7 percent agreeing “not strongly”) that “business corporations make too much profit.” Just one in three agreed (22 percent strongly, 11 percent not strongly) that “most corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit.” The survey didn’t even offer the possibility that many companies now make derisory profits. It’s worth noting that past research has shown Americans holding wildly inflated notions of how profitable the average company actually is. In any case, 80 percent of the respondents believe “too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies.” As the chart below indicates,a majority of Americans view government

regulation of business in a positive light. That’s a shift from 1994, when 41 percent said such regulation was necessary and 54 percent thought it usually did more harm than good.