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Karl Marx vs. Adam Smith revisited.


In four previous studies concerning the ability of freshmen students to identify the founding fathers of free enterprise and communism it was found that relatively low percentages of students were able to correctly identify Adam Smith and Karl Marx (Manton and English, 1984, 1988, 2000, & 2008). These studies were conducted after the State of Texas required all schools to incorporate a free enterprise component or course for grades 10 - 12 by the 1978-79 school years (Texas Education Agency, 1979). The previous studies have shown that over the years that there has been little improvement in the ability of young college freshmen to identify these two icons of competing economic systems that encompassed the world economies for most of the 20th Century. Has this improved in recent years? It was decided to conduct yet another study to see whether there has been any improvement of student abilities to identify Adam Smith and Karl Marx.


According to the 2011-2012 Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines, students are to demonstrate proficiency in several core courses, earning 22 credits in this area, with only 0.5 of a credit dedicated to economics. Students must have taken and mastered economics courses with emphasis on the free enterprise system and its benefits. The Texas Education Agency requires students have a firm grasp of the theories in Communism and Free Market but it is not a guarantee that they will graduate from high school with that knowledge.

Throughout social studies in kindergarten-Grade 12, students build a foundation in history; geography; economics; government; citizenship; culture; science, technology, and society; and social studies skills. Even the history requirements set forth by the TEA that students must have an understanding of past economic ideas and decisions, and the influence these ideas and decisions have had on economics today. They must be able to analyze the contributions and theories of economic philosophers such as John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx, and Adam Smith and their impact on the U.S. free enterprise system.

Graduating high school students need to understand the historic origins of contemporary economic systems by identifying the historic origins and characteristics of the economic systems of capitalism and the contributions of Adam Smith. They also need to identify the historic origins and characteristics of the political and economic system of communism and the contributions of Karl Marx, and then compare the relationships between and among contemporary countries with ever-changing economic systems, and identifying the historic origins and characteristics of both socialism and fascism.

Four previous studies were conducted to determine whether recent high school graduates who are beginning their college studies are able to identify the founding fathers of communism and capitalism. This was done as a gauge or proxy to measure the young students' knowledge of this nation's economic heritage.

In all of the previous studies of freshman college students on this issue it was found that more students were able to identify Karl Marx as the founder of communism than could identify Adam Smith as the synthesizer and significant proponent of the free enterprise system.

In the first study, the results of surveying mostly freshmen students in two sections of introduction to business classes consisting of 201 students, showed that 73% were able to correctly identify Karl Marx compared to only 22% correctly identifying Adam Smith (Manton & English, 1984). The first survey was conducted in 1984 since Texas had introduced legislation, which mandated an economic component in all high school curricula by the 1978-79 year. Thus, the mandate for an economic component had been in place for about 5 years.

A second study was conducted in 1988. This study included first semester freshmen enrolled in the Freshman English composition course. Two hundred and ninety-three students enrolled in all sections of the English classes were surveyed. Again a higher percentage of students correctly identified Marx--67% compared to Adam Smith--34% (Manton & English, 1988).

Then in 2000, the study was basically repeated by surveying students enrolled in the beginning business computer course which was composed primarily of freshmen students. Of the 93 students surveyed, only 37% correctly identified Marx and 27% correctly selected Smith (Manton & English, 2000). The percentage that could identify Karl Marx had dropped appreciably from the previous studies. Perhaps this was due to the diminished threat of communism with the fall of Berlin wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

A follow-on study was conducted in the Fall of 2008 where it was found that 38.6% of the 241 freshman English students included in the study correctly identified Adam Smith and that 46% responded correctly to the question of "Who is the father of communism" by identifying Karl Marx. The percentage correctly identifying Marx continued to be lower than in the earlier studies. In all of the previous studies the percentages correctly identifying Karl Marx were higher than for Adam Smith.


The purpose of this study was to determine whether the ability of freshmen college students to identify the founding fathers of free enterprise and of communism has improved. Also, comparisons will be made between business college freshmen and education freshmen as well as gender comparisons in their abilities to select the correct persons. In addition, comparisons to previous study results will be made.


A questionnaire was prepared for the survey. It included questions concerning major, age, and gender. It also asked whether the student had previously had a business/economics course in high school, as called for by Texas law. The main questions concerned the identification of the fathers of free enterprise and of communism. The questionnaire contained five individuals prominent in each of the respective economic systems and asked the students to select the correct person from the five. The same questions and responses were used on all previous studies. During the Fall 2010 semester we surveyed freshmen students enrolled in the College of Business and the College of Education freshmen orientation courses. There were a total of 11 sections of the course. Five of these sections were for business majors and 6 were for education majors.

Findings and Analysis

There were a total of 229 responses. Of these 124 were male and 105 female. The College of Business had 105 respondents and the College of Education had 124. Ninety-seven percent of the students were under the age of 21. Seventy-five percent of the students had had a course in business/economics in high school.

Among the business majors there were 74 males and 31 females. Within the education majors there were 50 males and 74 females. The questionnaires were delivered to the class instructors via the college internal mail system. The instructors administered the questionnaire in the class and returned the questionnaires to the Dean of the College of Business and the Dean of the College of Education offices where they were picked up by the researchers.

The main questions dealt with the identification of the father or synthesizer of communism and the father of free enterprise system. The correct answers were Karl Marx and Adam Smith respectively.

Table 1 presents the responses to the question of "who is generally considered to be the father of communism?" One hundred and eighteen or 51.5% of the students answered the question correctly. Josef Stalin received 77 or 33.6% of the respondents for the second highest response.

As to the question dealing with the father of the free enterprise system, 97 or 42.6% of the students answered Adam Smith. Thomas Jefferson received the second highest number of responses (see Table 2).

The highest number of students selected the correct answer to both questions, but Karl Marx was selected by barely the majority of students at 52% while not even half of the students could correctly identify Smith. These results do not differ too much from the previous studies on this topic.

As to the number of students who answered both questions correctly, only 60 out of the 229 or about 26% did so. By gender 32 males or 26% had both correct while 28 or 27 % of the females were correct in both choices. By college, 27% of the College of Business majors had both questions correct while 26% of the College of Education majors were correct on both questions.

The data comparing the business and the education majors concerning their knowledge as to the fathers of free enterprise and communism are presented in Tables 3 and 4.

About the same percentage of students from both areas correctly identified Karl Marx--52.4% for the education majors and 50.5% for business majors. About one-third of both groups indicated Josef Stalin as the Founder.

The business students had a higher percentage identifying Adam Smith correctly than did the education majors--48.6% as opposed to 37.4%. Thomas Jefferson received the second highest selections by both groups (See table 4).

Table 5 presents these results considering gender comparisons.

Sixty-one or 49% of the males correctly identified Marx while 54 or 51% of the females were correct in selecting Marx as the founder of communism. For Smith, 51% of the males selected him correctly while, 49% of the females were correct.

Summary and Conclusions

This study was conducted as a follow up on study to four previous studies. The purpose was to determine whether freshmen college students had improved in their ability to determine who are considered to be the founding fathers of commission and free enterprise.

As in all of the earlier studies, a higher percentage of students correctly identified Karl Marx as the founder of Communism than identified Adam Smith as the founder of free enterprise. However, the percentage that could identify Marx in the more recent studies has dropped significantly from the earlier studies conducted in the 1980's. Could this be due to the diminished threat that communism poses today compared to the 1980's? The Soviet Union has disappeared, the Berlin Wall is down and China is employing market place techniques. With the worldwide wane of communism has the knowledge and awareness of its founder diminished. Has terrorism replaced the threat of communism in the present time?

There seems to have been an increase in the student's ability to identify Adam Smith but only to 42% in the current study. This was the highest percentage for all 5 studies conducted, but does not nearly approach what the figure should be.

Only one fourth of the respondents selected both men correctly. This is a serious indictment of the high school economic courses mandated to be taken by these students. Certainly from an historic perspective a much higher percentage of students should be able to identify these historic giants of economic thought. Their impact on all of our lives is significant and should be understood and appreciated.


Coyne, Thomas J., ed. (1985). Readings in Managerial Economics Plano, Texas: Business Publications, Inc., 51-52.

Conley, D. T. (2008). College Knowledge: What it really takes for students to succeed and what we can do to get them ready. The Main Idea, Jossey-Bass

Conley, D. T. (2007). Redefining College Readiness. EPIC: Educational Police Improvement Center, 3, 1-32.

Manton, Edgar J. and English, Donald E. (1984). College Students' Awareness of Economic Heritage: Adam Smith vs. Karl Marx. Texas Business Educator, 18, 12.

Manton, Edgar J. and English, Donald E. (1988). The Ability of First Semester College Freshmen to identify the Founding Fathers of Capitalism and Communism. The College Student Journal, 22, 363-366.

Manton, Edgar J. and English, Donald E. (2000). The Ability of College Freshmen to Identify Adam Smith and Karl Marx. The College Student Journal, 34, 468-471.

Manton, Edgar J. and English, Donald E. (2008). Economic Heritage: Adam Smith vs. Karl Marx. College Student Journal. 42 (2), 375-380.

Texas Education Agency (1979). Economics Education. A Statewide Assessment in Texas Austin, Texas, 1.

Texas Education Agency (2010). Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits. Retrieved from ch118a.pdf.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2009). Digest of Education Statistics, 2008.





Department of Business Administration and MIS Texas A&M University-Commerce
Table 1. Father of Communism

                 Number      %

Karl Marx          118      51.5
Josef Stalin       77       33.6
Mao Tse Tung       17       7.4
Nikolai Lenin      10       4.4
Leon Trotsky        7       3.1

Total              229     100.0

Table 2. Father of Free Enterprise

                     Number      %

Adam Smith             97       42.6
Thomas Jefferson       63       27.6
Benjamin Franklin      31       13.6
George Washington      24       10.5
John Paul Jones        13       5.7

Total                  228     100.0

Table 3. Father of Communism

                     Education         Business
                      Majors            Majors

                 Number      %     Number      %

Karl Marx          65      52.4      53       50.5
Josef Stalin       41      33.1      36       34.3
Mao Tse Tung        9       7.3       8       7.6
Nikolai Lenin       5       4.0       5       4.7
Leon Trotsky        4       3.2       3       2.9
Total              124      0.0      105     100.0

Table 4. Father of Free Enterprise

                        Education           Business
                          Majors              Majors

                     Number      %      Number      %

Adam Smith                46     37.4        51     48.6
Thomas Jefferson          40     32.5        23     21.9
George Washington         17     13.8         7      6.7
Benjamin Franklin         15     12.2        16     15.2
John Paul Jones            5      4.1         8      7.6
Total                    123    100.0       105    100.0

Table 5. Students Correctly Identifying
Karl Marx and Adam Smith
by Gender

            Karl Marx        Adam Smith

Gender    Number     %     Number     %

Male        61       49      49       51
Female      54       51      47       49
Total       115     100      96      100
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Author:Manton, Edgar J.; English, Donald E.; Flanagan, Jennifer; Dubey, Anvit
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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