As Republicans gear up for 2020, new polling from the American Action Network suggests that they would do well to hold their capitalist roots. Among the results, the polling found that in a split sample, highlighting “socialist” policies like the Green New Deal moved suburban women and 18 to 44-year-old voters toward conservative policies and away from liberal policies.
Republicans have notoriously struggled with the youth vote, and it’s no secret that the millennial generation shares a deep concern for the environment. This information could be key to Republicans as they head into climate and environmental debates this fall. While AAN’s polling may indicate a simple PR battle, the conservative ideology has it right on the economics and impact of capitalism versus socialism on our environment.
As pointed out by Marion Tuby of Human Progress, environmental harm will assuredly always be a factor in human activity and production. There is no economic system in which people can thrive and progress with absolutely zero environmental impact. Because of this, we must stop looking at which economic system entirely avoids environmental damage, but instead, determine which system best mitigates that harm. With a simple compare and contrast, the choice is clear: capitalism wins every time.
In no other economy do producers have such a responsibility to consumers and to their resources as they do under capitalism. Free-market societies require excellent business practices. If you do not treat your fellow man with the best of intentions, if you do not follow sustainable business practices, and if you do not responsibly manage your resources, consumers have the option to leave for a competitor. You will have a surplus of goods with no buyers, and your business will fail. It is in the best interest of everyone to do business well.
Believing that corporations and the market will do well is not an idealist fantasy of the right — it happens every day. Delta Airlines works with The Nature Conservancy to voluntarily offset carbon emissions. Madewell gives their customers a $20 discount on new jeans when they bring in an old pair. Those old jeans are then donated to Habitat for Humanity to be upcycled into housing insulation. Patagonia recently saved $10 million dollars through tax cuts and planned to donate that sum to conservation and charity organizations.
Companies are able to do this because they make a profit and feel a responsibility to their consumers, who are a demographic made up widely of hikers, hunters and others who enjoy outdoor recreation. Patagonia understands that stewardship and conservation are key components to their business, and they are willing to invest their own funds to maintain the amenities their customer base so utilizes. These corporate sustainability practices are simply not possible under socialism.
Under capitalism, there is an incentive to stretch your resources, and to make more with less and therefore stretching what you have without creating waste. Businesses are then able to invest profits back into their product and scale up as the market demands. No natural incentives exist under socialism because the conservation of resources serves no direct benefit to production. Additionally, those who consume resources have no responsibility to those who are most impacted by consumption.
As a result, excessive product is often produced to the point where there is no longer a demand, which in turn drives up the cost of goods to make up for lost resources. While capitalism may have a bad reputation for driving consumerism and always wanting “more, more, more,” the inverse is actually true. Capitalism does not cause consumption — it can only respond to it. Without a market demand to guide socialist central planners, such a check does not aide socialism in the same way.
A critique provided by Soviet economists Nikolai Shmelev and Vladimir Popov observed such a model of poor resource allocation. They noted, "to bolster the production of gloves, the Soviet government more than doubled the price it paid for moleskin. Warehouses soon filled with mole pelts, but glovemakers were unable to use them all, so many rotted.” The single illustration of government-influenced excess is not uncommon. The root of this problem is summed up quite easily: Socialist central planners are simply unable to administer resources as effectively as a market of supply and demand.
Economic theory and real-world case-studies prove that capitalism can be clean — Republicans need only get the messaging right. While there is no perfect economic system, we ought to be promoting the one proven to provide the safest, most innovative environmental solutions. Capitalism is the only system through which competition enables both the economy and the environment to thrive. Environmentally-minded voters would do well to remember that a socialist economy would be detrimental to the environment. We’ve seen it before: Socialism doesn’t work on an economic level, and it certainly doesn’t work on an environmental level, either. Republicans should use this point in demonstrating how capitalism benefits the world around us in more ways than one.