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Millennials embrace socialism but can't define it

Socialism
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As a Boomer, I thought socialism died in its 1989 collapse in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I was wrong. Based on the popularity of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other self-proclaimed socialists, the philosophy has climbed out of its grave and stalks the country with the popularity of zombie apocalypse movies.

Or does it? Apparently, the “socialism” that Millennials and Zoomers (Generation Z) crave isn’t the same as that of the old USSR. What is it? Well, Millennials and Zoomers don’t know, according to a survey by the Institute of Economic Affairs. They conducted the survey in the UK, but I would guess the results would translate well to the US as well.

The survey gave people under 40 years of age these definitions: A) “An economic system whereby business, trade and industry is mostly run and owned privately for profit. Prices and wages are determined mainly by competition in a free market,” and, B) “An economic system whereby business, trade and industry is mostly run and owned by the government. Prices and wages are determined mainly by the government.” 

Unfortunately, half of Millennials surveyed could not identify which definition referred to capitalism or socialism or they assigned the socialist definition to capitalism and the capitalist definition to socialism. For Democrats, A is capitalism and B is socialism. 

“When asked the same questions, Zoomers did even worse. On the fundamental divide in political ideology of the last 150 years, the generations that have had the greatest access to higher education did about as well as a dart-throwing chimp.

“The poll revealed further signs of confusion. Most of the respondents agreed with the statement that ‘capitalism heightens racism’ but also agreed that ‘racism is independent of the economic system’. They simultaneously claimed to want to pay ‘more tax to pay for public services’ but also wanted to pay ‘less tax, because the government will not spend it wisely’.”

Institute of Economic Affairs

So, what are they promoting?  According to the poll, “Millennials and Zoomers associated socialism with words like ‘equal’, ‘fair’ and ‘people’ while they associated capitalism with ‘exploitation’, ‘unfair’ and ‘corporations’.” In other words, both groups lump socialism with good feelings and capitalism with bad ones. 

Unfortunately, they get those backwards as well. Godly theologians distilled the principles of capitalism from the Bible during the Reformation. They began with the commandments “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet” and tried to figure out how those would apply to government because for millennia governments and the nobility had stolen from the common people with impunity. They determined that the Biblical commands require: 1) A government limited to taxing the people only enough to perform its God-given duty of punishing evil doers who violate individual rights to life, liberty and property; and 2) A government that treats all citizens equally so that the nobility must obey the law as well as the common people. 

Also, they had to define property. They decided that the chief characteristic of property is that the owner controls it and can dispose of it as he wishes. So property requires free markets. As a bonus, free markets settled the problem of determining a just price. Theologians had kicked around the Aristotelian concept of a just price for a thousand years. In the Reformation they decided that the closest humans can come to it is that price determined in a free market. 

The Dutch Republic first implemented capitalist principles in the 17th century and became the first capitalist nation. As a result, it launched the Industrial Revolution, or what some economists call the great enrichment, in the West. You can see the results in this graph of the history of per capita GDP, another term for standards of living. Another way of viewing it is that the higher the lines on the graph rise, the lower poverty falls. 

If Zoomers and Millennials really care about ending poverty or promoting equality and fairness, they will promote capitalism. Capitalism has always and everywhere reduced poverty where it has been tried. Socialism has only impoverished every society it afflicted. 

Roger D. McKinney lives in Broken Arrow, OK with his wife, Jeanie. He has three children and six grandchildren. He earned an M.A. in economics from the University of Oklahoma and B.A.s from the University of Tulsa and Baptist Bible College.  He has written two books, Financial Bull Riding and God is a Capitalist: Markets from Moses to Marx, and articles for the Affluent Christian Investor, the Foundation for Economic Education, The Mises Institute, the American Institute for Economic Research and Townhall Finance. Previous articles can be found at facebook.com/thechristiancapitalist. He is a conservative Baptist and promoter of the Austrian school of economics.

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