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Millennials Say ‘Democratic Socialism’ But What They Want Is Free Stuff (Washington Examiner) July 11, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Surprise primary victories by “democratic socialists” in New York and Pennsylvania have created a buzz about millennials and socialism. Bernie Sanders was the prophet of this movement, attracting strong support among young people for his ideas about democratic socialism in the 2016 presidential campaign. Still, people were surprised when a YouGov poll showed that young people (under 30) preferred socialism to capitalism 43 to 32 percent. With these recent political wins, some wonder whether the Democratic Party will undergo a socialist realignment, just as Donald Trump led a populist reinvention of the Republican Party.

To all of this I say: Not so fast. First, there is a widespread misunderstanding of what democratic socialism means and what millennials really want. Socialism is an economic system that involves collective (especially governmental) ownership of the means of production and distribution. It stands in contrast to a capitalist, market-regulated ownership of business. When you add the word “democratic” to it — which is presumably done to soften the impact of an historically unpopular term in the U.S. — you are essentially saying the system is chosen democratically, not imposed by some kind of totalitarian regime as in Russia or Venezuela.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, tiny Denmark found itself front and center as Bernie Sanders pointed to it as a model for his democratic socialist ideals, and Hillary Clinton felt compelled to admire it in one of the debates. But something was wrong, if not rotten, about that characterization of the state of Denmark. Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen clarified that his country was not socialist, but rather “a market economy” with “an expanded welfare state.” High taxes and lots of government benefits, yes, but not a government-controlled economy. Ah, there’s the very important difference.

It would appear that today’s millennials are most interested in free college education, retirement of student debt, and help getting into the difficult housing market, but less interested in government controlling the means of production and distribution. In fact, a 2014 Reason-Rupe survey of young people (ages 18-24) confirmed their admiration for socialism at 58 percent. But when pollsters then asked whether they wanted governments or businesses leading the economy, they preferred markets by a two-to-one margin.

The real problem is that millennials do not seem to have a good understanding of what socialism is. In a 2010 NYT/CBS poll, only 16 percent of young people could accurately define socialism. (Not to be too hard on millennials, older folks only responded appropriately to that question at a 30 percent clip).

I am not suggesting that there are no hard-core socialists in the mix. The Democratic Socialists of America has grown dramatically since the Bernie Sanders campaign, from 7,000 members to 37,000. They could fill a small island, if not an actual city or state. But they are true believers, calling for “popular control of resources and production, economic planning and equitable distribution” in their Constitution. And they have endorsed their fellow democratic socialists in New York and Pennsylvania.

But the real question is about the millions of millennials, and I think this generation, which has been coddled by helicopter parents and seeks “safe spaces” when they go off to college, basically wants more free stuff from the government. Their concern is not who controls the means of production and distribution — in fact, they do not even understand that is what socialism is. Besides, with the voter turnout among millennials so poor — only half of those eligible voted in 2016, compared with two-thirds of older cohorts — it will be awhile before their vote will show up and make a difference. By then, the old saw says they will have paid enough taxes and experienced enough government regulation that they are likely to view things differently.

Mark me down as skeptical that a huge socialist millennial wave is about to hit our shores.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To view the column at the WashingtoExaminer: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/millennials-say-democratic-socialism-but-what-they-want-is-free-stuff

 

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