Americans now distrust the free market

I started my day in Davos with Richard Edelman of the eponymous public relations company at a breakfast to launch its annual trust barometer report.

The conclusion is that trust in chief executives and private enterprise is at an all-time low. Trust in US business fell from 58 per cent last year to 38 per cent, bringing it in line with levels similar to the other side of the Atlantic.

The statistic I found most interesting is that only 49 per cent of Americans, living in the country of capitalism and free enterprise, thought the free market should be allowed to operate independently.

As Richard put it: “America is the new Europe”.

I find that, if not surprising, quite a sobering figure. If the country of bare-knuckled capitalism no longer believes in it – at least temporarily – all bets are off.

Nick Burns, a Harvard professor and former undersecretary of state for the US, said the world was at “a hinge point in history” similar to 1919, when the public’s trust in institutions is exhausted and political change results.

I plan to write more about the issue in my FT column tomorrow.

John Gapper is the FT’s chief business commentator

Davos blog 2009

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