Young People Think They Want Socialism. But They Don’t.

By Michael Matheson Miller Published on February 6, 2018

The surveys are in. We now know what young people say they want: Not capitalism, but socialism. I see a number of reasons for this. One is a healthy concern for justice. Young people rightly feel frustration with our current crony, managerial capitalism. It rests on free market slogans. But it often excludes the poor and makes it hard for small and medium enterprises.

Another problem: Lack of knowledge about what socialism really is. Many young people were never taught about the reality of socialism in practice. The almost 100 million people starved or shot under various forms of socialism? It’s as if they never existed. Talk about being “marginalized”!

It’s not all their fault. Teachers skip lightly over the evils of communism. Of the undergraduates I’ve taught, many had never heard of Joseph Stalin. Or the gulags. Why wouldn’t they think that “socialism” simply means “fairness”? That it’s what you favor if you prefer community and justice over profit?

End of Creativity

Another problem is that few think through what socialist economics would mean in daily life: the end of creativity. We often fancy that “change” is always for the better. It won’t affect the things we like. No, those will remain. But the ugly stuff will go away. Right? Wrong.

What would socialist economics mean in daily life? The end of creativity.

Young people value choice and opportunity. Everyone likes new phone apps and different kinds of food. A socialist economy stifles these things. Want to enjoy specialty coffee? Read a book on your Kindle? Text your friends? Socialism didn’t produce any of those innovations. And it won’t let the next ones happen.

Quirky, local businesses? Gone. Ditto farmers markets. They are highly unregulated free markets. In a socialist economy, agriculture and industry would be nationalized and run by bureaucrats not shopkeepers.

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The late playwright Vaclav Havel was a Czech dissident and statesman. He has a wonderful reflection on why economic freedom matters. Not just for productivity. For creativity and beauty. See his powerful collection, Open Letters.

Vaclav Havel: Stories and Totalitarianism

In “Stories and Totalitarianism” (1987) Havel wrote:

When he can no longer participate with relative economy and economic life man loses some of his social and human individuality and part of his hope of creating his own human story.

Where there is no natural plurality of economic initiatives the interplay of competing producers and their entrepreneurial ideas disappears along with the interplay of supply and demand the labor and quality markets and voluntary employer employee relations. Gone too are the stimuli to creativity and attendant risks the drama of economic success and failure.

Man as a producer ceases to be a participant or a creator in the economic story and becomes an instrument. Everyone is an employee of the state…. Everyone is buried in the anonymity of the collective economic “non-story.” [Emphasis added.]

Havel points out that in socialism, “consumers do not have a choice of different commodities. They “cannot express their individuality even in this limited way. All they have is what has been allocated by the monopoly producer: the same things that have been allocated to everyone.” That goes for furniture and food. For clothes and music and books. Havel continues:

[E]verything begins to resemble everything else: buildings, clothing, workplaces, public decorations, public transport, the forms of entertainment, the behavior of people in public and in their own homes.

This standardization of public and private spaces has a standardizing effect on life… In such an environment, stories become interchangeable.

The Freedom to Be a Hero

This is profoundly important. Socialism turns man into an object. One that serves the good of the state. Instead of a subject and a protagonist. Even a hero.

Economic freedom is not the highest freedom. It is not the most important thing in life. But it plays an essential role in the flourishing of families and individual persons. Economic freedom and a pluralistic, competitive market economy comes with cultural challenges. Like any human endeavor. But the same economy also helps create the conditions for people to use their God-given talents.

Yes, a capitalist economy produces a lot of vulgarity and ugliness. Yet amidst the junk we have choices. We can, if we insist, create truly human, useful, and even beautiful things. As Havel would say, we have the space and the choice to “create a story” that’s all our own.

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  • James

    Capitalism that does not turn into cronyism seems about as much of a fairy tale as communism creating a “workers’ paradise”.

    • Adobe_Walls

      It’s only government that makes that possible.

      • Sailorcurt

        That’s exactly right. The framers knew this and intentionally created our government to limit its power. They also knew that it would only last as long as the people were diligent in keeping it so. “You get the government you deserve”.

        Crony Capitalism wouldn’t be possible without the government usurping the power to pick winners and losers, to favor some other others, to erect barriers to competition etc.

        We cry out for the government to protect us from ourselves because being an adult is hard. Much easier to have daddy government regulate everything into conformity so we don’t actually have to make any real decisions take any real risks.

        And in the process of seeking protection and security, we concede liberty and become nothing more than serfs. Liberty means having the freedom to sometimes make really, really stupid decisions…and comes with the responsibility to accept the consequences of them. But responsibility is hard so most people will willingly sacrifice liberty for a sense of (false) security.

        Young people prefer socialism partly because they’ve been misled about what that means and left in the dark about the history of it, but also because they simply don’t know any better yet. They don’t like profit? What, exactly, do they think pays for those cool iPhones and tablets and unlimited data plans they take for granted? They’ve been dependent on their parents their whole lives, they don’t know anything any different. The most important decisions they’ve been faced with to date is whether to get the white iPhone or the black one, or whether to take soy milk or almond milk in their half-caf latte.

        Hopefully a little dose of real life will cure them…but it’s not likely.

        • AndRebecca

          The Left has done a great job in the schools and elsewhere getting the children to be unable to take care of themselves and to like it that way.

      • James

        Capitalism without government is anarchy. Not good for business either.

        • Check out “Baptists and Bootleggers.” It describes how government really works. In short, Baptists want to block liquor sales in order to help people. But bootleggers join them in limiting sales by licensed stores so they can have a larger market. Most regulations have been written by the large corps in order to protect them from competition. The more power you give politicians, the more they have to sell to the highest bidder, large corps. That is crony capitalism, but it has nothing to do with capitalism and is actually a version of socialism, the national socialist kind.

          • James

            My point is that this is what capitalism inevitably leads to. The idea that somehow a pure capitalist state can be maintained is as much of a fantasy as the idea that socialism will create a workers’ paradise.

            Capitalism leads to plutocracy. Socialism leads to tyranny. Human nature.

          • That’s probably true. Capitalism requires a critical mass of Christians in order to remain capitalism. As the US has shown, people turn to socialism when they abandon Christianity. Augustine called it the lust to dominate. Plutocracy and socialism, especially the fascist kind, are not very different.

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