How Do We Rescue Young People from Socialism?

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started fretting about the socialist tendencies of young people early last decade.

And when Sanders attracted a lot of youth support in 2016, I gave the issue even more attention, and I’ve since continued to investigate why so many young people are sympathetic to such a poisonous ideology with a lengthy track record of failure and deprivation.

Some of the recent polling data is very discouraging.

And if you want to be even more depressed, here are some tweets with the most-recent data about the the views of young people.

It’s not just that they have warm and fuzzy thoughts about so-called democratic socialism.

I’m completely horrified to learn that more than one-third of young people even have a positive perception of communism.

36% of millennials polled say that they approve of communism, which is up significantly from 28% in 2018. https://t.co/WVFGJmZ3ba

— MarketWatch (@MarketWatch) October 28, 2019

In other words, wearing Che t-shirts isn’t just a vapid fashion statement.

These kids are either overtly evil or utterly oblivious.

Yes, I realize I sound like a curmudgeon (“you kids get off my lawn!”), but how else should I react when I see these numbers from Axios.

50% of millennials and 51% of Generation Z have a somewhat or very unfavorable view of capitalism. https://t.co/LxESSusLk4

— Axios (@axios) October 28, 2019

For what it’s worth, the same problem exists in the United Kingdom.

And it may be even more lopsided.

Latest student voting intention:

Labour 72% 
Lib Dems 10%
Conservatives 8%
SNP 3%
Brexit Party 2%
Plaid Cymru 2%
Green 1%

ICM 29 Nov-2 Dec#GE2019

— Matthew Goodwin (@GoodwinMJ) December 5, 2019

(Though I’m very relieved the misguided views of young people didn’t prevent a victory for Boris Johnson last month.)

For today’s column, let’s keep our focus on the United States.

What’s the underlying cause of bad polling numbers in America?

In a column for the Washington Times, Robert Knight explains that many young people have been spoon-fed a leftist version of American history.

Why do so many young people hate America and think we’d be better off as a socialist country? …reading and believing Howard Zinn’s best-selling ‘A People’s History of the United States’… First published in 1980, “A People’s History” has sold more than 2.5 million copies and is in virtually every school district, university and local library. …Everything Zinn wrote was couched in the language of Marxist class warfare. Key events were omitted. The mass slaughter that followed the Communist takeover of Cambodia? Good luck finding it in “A People’s History.” …Zinn was a member of numerous Soviet front groups, and he helped found the socialist New Party… Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Zinn warned that concern over communism was due to “hysteria,”… In a chapter titled “The Coming Revolt of the Guards,” …Zinn states flatly that “capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle class.” …Zinn envisions a utopian future in which “certain basic things” would be “…available — free — to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, transportation.” …The reason this insane, economically illiterate, un-American scheme appeals to so many is that they’ve been miseducated via Howard Zinn into thinking that they live in a bad country that must be rebuilt as a socialist paradise.

Jarrett Stepman opined on the adverse consequences of historical illiteracy in a piece for the Daily Signal.

As young Americans are losing an understanding of civics and American history, they increasingly embrace socialism. …younger generations have a far sunnier view of socialism and communism than their elders. …Perhaps worse than nostalgia for the Soviet Union, “57% of millennials (compared to 94% of the Silent Generation) believe the Declaration of Independence better guarantees freedom and equality over the Communist Manifesto.” That’s appalling. …there’s not only been a worrisome decline in inculcating informed patriotism in young Americans, but a willful attempt to re-educate them to turn them against the foundations of America itself. …So far, we have escaped the curse of socialism… But a troubling collapse in a basic understanding of our history, along with the malignant attempt to reframe our country’s origins to make us more susceptible to doctrines outside our tradition, means that the specter of socialism now hangs over us.

Amen. The government’s education monopoly too often gives kids a diet of statist pabulum. This is another reason why we need school choice.

But it’s not just bad history in government schools.

It’s also bad policy in government.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Mene Ukueberuwa shares some insights from Edward Glaeser, a professor at Harvard who warns that statist policies are leading young people to support bigger government.

Bernie Sanders…has become an unlikely voice of the young generation. …this axis of today’s struggle could change politics for generations to come, as millennials reject the country’s capitalist consensus and embrace socialism in record numbers. …Critics often blame today’s socialist surge on millennials’ laziness. …One free-market economist has a different explanation. Edward Glaeser, a Harvard professor…, argues that young people have radicalized politically because “there are a number of ways in which the modern American economy isn’t working all that well for them.” Many public policies make it harder to get a job, save money or find an affordable home, leaving young idealists thinking, “Why not try socialism?” But that cure would merely worsen the disease. Mr. Glaeser decries policies that constrain the job market and increase the cost of living compared with what the economy would produce if left alone. …Consider the housing market. “In the 1960s and earlier,” Mr. Glaeser says, “America basically had a property-rights regime that meant that anyone who had a plot of land could pretty much put up anything reasonable on that plot of land.” …The shift of income toward those Mr. Glaeser calls the “entrenched” is most explicit in entitlement programs. …They’re funded by payroll taxes, which snag a disproportionate share of low-earners’ paychecks. Taxpayers also pony up ever more to fund the retirements of government employees.

Glaeser is right.

Government intervention is increasing the price of housing for the young. Entitlement programs are pillaging the young. And bureaucrat pensions are a scam that victimizes the young.

For all intents and purposes, Prof. Glaeser is describing Mitchell’s Law.

Bad policy causes bad results, which leads some people (in this case, young people) to want more bad policy.

So the obvious solution, he argues, is to get rid of the bad policies that are causing problems in the first place.

And maybe young people will realize that they should support free markets and limited government!

“They say, ‘Well, there are a whole bunch of projects—a whole bunch of government spending that helps old people. I want mine. If we’re going to spend a huge amount on Medicare, why aren’t we spending a whole lot on education for me?’” …To give newcomers a chance, Mr. Glaeser would curtail the influence of entrenched groups and restore incentives for “a capitalism that is inclusive, and that provides a place of opportunity for more people.” …Mr. Glaeser insists that this message would be likelier to catch on if it were backed by policy reforms that make work more fruitful. A program of plentiful job opportunities, cheaper housing, and tax cuts financed by curtailed entitlements could be a significant step toward replacing socialism in the hearts of Mr. Sanders’s young supporters.

For what it’s worth, bad history and bad policy are both good explanations, but they don’t fully explain why young people are misguided.

I suspect many young people also think support for socialism is a way of signalling that you’re a nice person. That you care about others.

I’m not sure how we solve this problem, but this clever video from Kristian Niemietz suggests that part of the answer may be satire.

Though I may be biased since I have an entire collection of humor that targets socialism and communism.

P.S. When it hits close to home, college students actually reject socialism, though maybe they should have learned that lesson in kindergarten.

by Dan Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell is a public policy economist in Washington. He’s been a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, an economist for Senator Bob Packwood and the Senate Finance Committee, and a Director of Tax and Budget Policy at Citizens for a Sound Economy. His articles can be found in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Investor’s Business Daily, and Washington Times. Mitchell holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. Original article can be viewed here.