A majority of people think that the rich are getting richer while the rest of society struggles, according to a new report.
Fifty-six percent of general population respondents to a study by consultancy Edelman agreed with the statement: "Capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world," while 78% agreed that "elites are getting richer while regular people struggle to pay their bills."
People in 15 countries are pessimistic about the future, with most believing they and their families will not be better off in five years' time, a trend that is particularly marked in developed countries such as Japan, France, Germany and Italy.
In the U.S., 43% of people believed they would be better off in five years' time, a 7 percentage point drop on a year ago, while in the U.K., only 27% of people thought they would have more money in the same time period, a drop of two percentage points.
In the developing world, people were more optimistic: In Kenya, 90% of people thought they would have more money in five years, the highest in the survey. In Indonesia the figure is 80% and in India it is 77%. In China, 69% thought they would be better off, a fall of 6 percentage points on figures a year ago.
The only two markets where people were more optimistic about their economic prospects than they were a year ago are South Africa, at 57% (a one percentage point jump) and the United Arab Emirates, which has seen a three percentage point increase to 75%.
Forty-eight percent of the general population said the "system" is failing them, relating to how governments behave. More than half (57%) said governments serve the interests of only the few, while 30% said they serve everyone's interests.
But — even though people are skeptical about capitalism — they expect businesses to help improve society. Ninety-two percent of employees said they expect their company's CEO to speak up on issues ranging from income inequality to diversity and training for jobs of the future.
"Business once paid only lip service to this kind of societal discontent but now it has leapt into the void left by populist and partisan government," said report author and CEO Richard Edelman.
People are worried about losing permanent jobs due to a shift toward the freelance economy (61%), while 60% are concerned about a looming recession. Fifty-eight percent are concerned about a lack of training, while 55% think the future of work is under threat because of cheaper foreign competitors. Automation, which hits the headlines for its potential to replace humans, is lower down the list, being a worry for 53% of workers.
Trust in technology is also an issue. Sixty-one percent agreed that "government does not understand emerging technologies enough to regulate them effectively." But this is an opportunity for businesses, according to Lisa Osborne Ross, president of Edelman in Washington. "Established companies tend to welcome regulation and provide input on the process because they understand government's role in protecting them, their customers and their business," she stated in the report.
Edelman's Trust Barometer surveyed 34,000 people in 28 countries in October and November 2019 and was released Monday ahead of the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos this week.