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Changing Young People’s Minds About Socialism

Samuel Gregg writes for National Review Online about changing popular misconceptions about socialism.

Young Americans like socialism. That’s one finding of a new Axios/Momentive poll surveying American attitudes toward topics such as economic inequality, capitalism and socialism, and government’s role in the economy.

Among Americans aged 18-24, the poll reports that only 42 percent of those surveyed regardless of political affiliation have a positive view of capitalism, while 54 percent have a negative view. Only two years ago, the same polling survey had 58 percent of the same demographic favoring capitalism, while 38 percent had a negative view. …

… Precisely what these younger Americans have in mind by words such as “socialism” or “capitalism” isn’t discussed in this poll. Few, I imagine, are thinking of a Stalinist command economy when they think of socialism. Their opinions more likely reflect concerns about inequality, a desire to see America become something like a European social democracy, or a sense that there’s something wrong with 21st-century American capitalism.

I suspect, however, that sympathies for socialism also reflect a lack of understanding of what free markets are and, importantly, what they are not. In my experience, young Americans will often say that they think the economy is rigged in favor of the privileged and well-connected. Indeed, they are right to believe so.

What they don’t grasp is that this problem has little to do with markets and everything to do with the cronyism which permeates America’s economy. Nor do they recognize that cronyism is enabled by widespread government intervention in the economy. The bigger the government, the more likely cronyism will prevail.

Nor is it enough to explain to younger Americans the ways in which capitalism’s economic performance is infinitely superior to socialism’s record — or that of European social democracies, for that matter. Many young people also want to live in an economy which they regard as just. I can only agree.

This makes it ever more urgent for those who support free markets to double down on educating young Americans in the economic and moral case for capitalism.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...