Anti-capitalists are often also conspiracy theorists

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Conspiracy theorists are people who believe that shadowy but powerful individuals or groups are responsible for negative events – such as crises, pandemics, etc. In the 2008 financial crisis, for  example, conspiracy theorists blamed “greedy bankers” and “financial speculators.”

Normally, the media associates conspiracy theories with right-wing extremist thinking. And indeed, right-wing extremists are often also conspiracy theorists. 

However, the fact that anti-capitalists are particularly prone to conspiracy theories is hardly ever a subject that comes up for discussion. Anti-capitalist conspiracy theorists blame the super-rich and corporate lobbyists for all negative events.

For my book In Defense of Capitalism, which is being published in 30 countries, the globally renowned institute Ipsos MORI interviewed approximately 1,000 representatively selected people per country to find out what they think of capitalism. Each respondent answered 34 questions on capitalism in three thematic sets of questions. This allowed us to find out which respondents support the market economy and capitalism, and which reject them.

In addition to the questions about capitalism, Ipsos MORI presented all respondents with two statements that typify beliefs held by conspiracy theorists. We developed a metric to analyze how strongly our respondents agree with these two statements. 

This allowed us to clearly determine whether pro- or anti-capitalists are more inclined to conspiracy thinking.

It turned out that “decided anti-capitalists” are significantly more likely to agree with the conspiracy theorist statements than “decided pro-capitalists.” This is true for all 33 surveyed countries, with the sole exception of Albania. 

In the U.S., too, anti-capitalists tend to be more conspiracy-minded than pro-capitalists, although the differences here are smaller than in other countries.

The link between anti-capitalism and conspiracy theorists was surprisingly clear. I had suspected such a connection, but never expected it to be so strikingly demonstrated in all countries. 

In the graph below, please focus more on the differences between the top, dark gray bar (anti-capitalists) and the bottom, light gray bar (pro-capitalists) rather than on the differences between countries. In every single country (apart from Albania), the upper bar is longer than the lower bar:

Anti-capitalism and the tendency to conspiracy thinking

The Conspiracy Theory Coefficient: Average proportion of respondents who agree with the following two statements:
“In reality, politicians don’t decide anything. They are puppets controlled by powerful forces in the background.”
“A lot of things in politics can only be properly understood if you know that there is a larger plan behind them, something that most people, however, do not know.”
divided by the average proportion of respondents who explicitly disagree with the two theses.
Sources: Allensbach Institute survey 12038, Sant Maral Foundation, Ipsos MORI surveys 20-091774-30, 21-087515-07, 22-014242-04-03 and 22-087515-44 Indochina Research, FACTS Research & Analytics Pvt. Ltd. and Research World International Ltd.

From the anti-capitalists’ point of view, capitalist countries are ruled by the omnipotent super-rich and policy is determined by lobbyists who, from behind the scenes, pull strings in secret. The reality is that, of course, lobbyists do have influence. But, if the rich were really as omnipotent as anti-capitalists believe, then in the USA over the last few decades we would not have seen a massive expansion of state influence, more and more regulation, more and more big government and more and more redistribution. 

And neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden would have become president of the USA, because Trump won the primaries against Hillary Clinton, who raised double the amount of donations as he did. And Biden won the primaries against Michael Bloomberg, who was the eighth richest man in the world at the time and invested $1 billion of his own money in his election campaign – without success.

As far as other countries are concerned, the assumption that lobbyists and the super-rich determine every facet of government policy is even more absurd. In Germany, for example, the country where I live, the government has introduced numerous policies over the past 15 years that are at odds with the interests of businesses and the rich. The energy industry, for example, has been transformed more and more into a planned economy – with disastrous consequences for the German economy. Many rich people in Germany are therefore very critical of the current policy direction.

And just a few days ago, the European Union completely banned internal combustion engines from 2035 – again, certainly not a decision dictated by the super-rich or lobbyists. On the contrary, Europe’s automobile industry is being seriously damaged by such planned, ideological decisions.

So, when anti-capitalists claim that politicians are nothing more than the puppets of the super-rich and it is millionaires and billionaires who determine government policy, they are in fact peddling a conspiracy theory.

Rainer Zitelmann is the author of the book In Defense of Capitalism


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