Increasingly, socialism’s trick looks like a treat to many American millennials. On the surface, this appears shocking in a country where capitalism essentially is enshrined within the Constitution. But looking deeper at millennials’ direct and indirect life experiences, it is not surprising at all.
A recent poll, commissioned by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and conducted by YouGov, showed millennials’ divergent view of capitalism and socialism. Overall, Americans’ opinion of capitalism held relatively steady at 61 percent favorability; however, favorability among millennials and members of Generation Z was decidedly lower, at just 50 percent. Similarly, Americans’ view of socialism was unfavorable (just 36 percent seeing it positively), while 49 percent of millennials viewed it favorably.
Among the five age groups polled, millennials had the highest combined score in rating capitalism as unfavorable and socialism as favorable. Millennials also had the highest favorable view of communism (36 percent) and Marxism (35 percent).
To understand millennials’ clearly divergent views, you must understand their equally divergent life experiences. Millennials are those people born between 1981 and 1996, currently ranging in age from 23 to 38.
Looking at their indirect life experience, millennials have no adult memory of communism in its most historical form. The oldest millennial was just eight years old when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and just ten years old when the USSR fell in 1991. The oldest millennial became an adult in 1999, a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
When the USSR collapsed, the general American view (sadly incorrect) was that communism had died with it. Certainly, China was still communist. Yet its movement toward capitalism, at least at the individual level, was naively believed to signal that nation’s movement away from an authoritarian and doctrinaire approach — and possibly away from communism altogether at some future point.
That left only minor states, such as Cuba and North Korea, seemingly trapped in lands that time had forgotten — Jurassic Parks of a geriatric ideology. In short, communism was no longer America’s existential threat, as it had been for three generations.
Further adding to millennials’ missing adult memory of “serious” communism is the media’s unserious coverage of it during most of their adulthood. A sympathetic (if not sycophantic) establishment media loathes associating current communist states’ failings with their failed ideology.
Instead, China’s reinvigorated authoritarianism is largely overlooked – even as Hong Kong thrusts it before the world’s eyes – and it is not connected back to communism’s repression of individual rights. The routine human rights abuses in Cuba and North Korea are virtually ignored, while the mass depopulation of Venezuela, if examined at all, is treated as though it were a natural disaster, rather than the ideological one it truly is.
Millennials’ direct life experiences only reinforce their indirect ones when it comes to socialism and communism. Their lives have been spent mostly being under others’ care. If their parents were financially capable, they were subsidized by them at home; if their parents were not, they would have qualified for government assistance.
Among those who pursued higher education, many went to college — an atmosphere awash in subsidies. Parental assistance is at its most extreme (or at least, expensive) here, and for those whose parents could not offer full assistance, governmental assistance – through grants and subsidized loans – was also at its peak. At the same time, these subsidies rained down upon them in America’s most leftist environment. Now out of college, they are being promised subsidies – from student loan forgiveness to free health care – by a plethora of Democratic candidates.
Subsidies are the basis of socialism’s economics, which substitute government planning for free market control. Socialist governments make decisions and direct people to them by subsidies, moving resources around within society to meet their centrally-planned priorities.
Similarly, subsidies have dominated millennials’ short direct life experiences, and many have no indirect knowledge of subsidies’ downfall in reality. Subsidies work, but only on very limited scales for very limited durations. Once extended on a societal scope for an indefinite period, they come crashing down, bringing the leftist state with them.
This is why socialist and communist states must rely on authoritarian force to perpetuate their economic contradiction. It is also why the citizens of such states perpetually have sought to escape them.
Socialism is capitalism’s greatest proselytizer. Ask an average person who has come into direct contact with socialism which economic system they would choose and they’ll likely say they prefer capitalism. Ask a millennial and they may say they prefer socialism — but that’s because they have never truly experienced it.
Having never known the trick, it is unsurprising that they would be fooled by socialism’s promised treat. Like America’s love of Halloween, it is a fun fantasy, a great party where others give you candy for free. What is not to like?
To not like socialism, it is first necessary to know its trick: The lie that someone else pays but everyone benefits. It is not until socialism’s promise is realized for its victims — equality through shared poverty in which everyone pays and no one benefits — that it is truly known. Millennials know it the least, which is why they embrace it the most.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987-2000.