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Richard W. Edelman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Edelman, talking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2011. Photo/Wikimedia Commons/Michael Wuertenberg/World Economic Forum

Most people cynical about capitalism & no longer believe hard work pays off

The majority of people believe capitalism is doing more harm than good and working hard no longer leads to a better life, according to a global survey of more than 34,000 people by American PR agency Edelman.

The majority of respondents in every developed country do not believe they will be better off in five years' time, and 56 percent believe that capitalism in its current form is now doing more harm than good in the world. Almost 80 percent agreed that “elites are getting richer while regular people struggle to pay their bills.”

Long-held assumptions about the benefits of hard work and citizenship have been upended, and fears are stifling hope, said Richard Edelman, the agency's CEO.

A sense of inequity is undermining the public's trust in institutions and the perception is that institutions increasingly serve the interests of the few over everyone, the survey found.

We are now living in a trust paradox, said Edelman. 

"This is an era of strong economic performance and nearly full employment; over the past two decades, more than a billion people around the world have lifted themselves out of poverty. The major societal institutions –government, business, NGOs and media – should be enjoying high levels of trust."

Since the agency began measuring trust 20 years ago in its annual Edelman Trust Barometer survey, economic growth has traditionally fostered trust. It measures trust based on two distinct considerations: competence (getting things done) and ethical behavior (doing the right thing and working to improve society)

But this year, neither government, business, NGOs and media were perceived as both competent and ethical by most people. 


The cause of this trust paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it. 

Against the backdrop of growing cynicism around capitalism and the fairness of our current economic systems are deep-seated fears about the future, the survey found.

Specifically, 83 percent of employees say they fear losing their job, attributing it to the gig economy, a looming recession, a lack of skills, cheaper foreign competitors, immigrants who will work for less, automation, or jobs being moved to other countries.

People are also worried about the impact of technology: Sixty-one percent agree that the pace of change in technology is too fast, and 66 percent worry that technology will make it impossible to know if what people are seeing or hearing is real. 

The Edelman survey results were released ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which began on 21 January 2020.

The survey's authors told Reuters it was the first time the survey sought to understand how capitalism itself was viewed and that earlier surveys showing a rising sense of inequality prompted them to ask whether citizens were now starting to have more fundamental doubts about the capitalist-based democracies of the West.