Millennials, those born between 1982 and 2004, are the largest age cohort in American history, and according to a recent poll, most of them (44%) prefer socialism to capitalism (42%). An earlier 2015 poll found an even larger number of Millennials (53%) with a “favorable opinion” of socialism. Inference: America is in trouble.
Maybe Donald Trump can stem the tide for another four or even eight years, but support for socialism will continue to mount as long as Millennials remain ignorant of what socialism really is. The greatest danger to this country comes from the fact that so many Millennials don’t understand politics and economics.
How else to explain Millennial support for Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist? With a 75% approval rating
overall, and higher among Millennials, Sanders is “the most popular politician in the country,” according to the Observer. According to his official website, Sanders supports a long list
of liberal causes: free health care and college tuition for all, “combating climate change to save the planet,” “fighting for women’s rights,” “fighting for LGBT equality,” “fighting for nurses,” “empowering tribal nations,” “fighting for the rights of native Hawaiians,” “standing with Guam” (huh?) – all of it paid for by “making the wealthy pay their fair share.” It seems that Bernie is “fighting” for just about everybody except straight white males and that nebulous crowd he calls “the rich.”
Sanders intends to use the tax code to force the rich to pay more. Oddly enough, Sanders himself is one of these nefarious rich people. His net income in 2016 was over one million dollars. Nothing in the tax code prevents any taxpayer from contributing more than their required amount of tax to the federal government. So far as I know, Bernie has not done so. So it would seem that he doesn’t mean it when he talks about the rich paying more, or he would have done so. Maybe Bernie is just a clever capitalist, who, along with Nancy Pelosi with her $140 million and financier husband, masquerades as a socialist.
At its heart, capitalism is a liberating philosophy of life whereby individuals participate freely in markets by trading their goods or services for those of others. Under capitalism, individuals are incentivized to work by the rewards of the free market. Socialism substitutes state control and state ownership. It dictates wages and prices, creating a hugely inefficient and corrupt system that always ends in bankruptcy. Bernie’s vision of the future is so hackneyed a version of all this that it would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.
According to one respected website, Bernie’s health care plan (“Medicare for All”) alone would bankrupt America. Estimates of Medicare for All costs to taxpayers range from $3.1 to $14 trillion over the first decade. Bernie proposes to fund his proposal by raising taxes on the rich, but that revenue, even if it could be collected, would not be enough. With F.Y. 2018 federal spending at $4 trillion, the addition of another $855 billion in annual spending (based on an average of the estimates for Bernie’s plan) involves a 21.4% tax increase (not counting funding for all of Bernie’s other initiatives). Since they already pay 90% of taxes, and since Bernie rules out middle-class tax increases, this increase would fall exclusively on the top 10% of earners. So for those affluent taxpayers, Bernie’s plan for health care alone would entail a tax increase of 23.75%.
Meanwhile, Bernie’s “free” college tuition plan would cost an estimated $70 billion annually. That’s another 1.94% increase in federal tax for “the rich.” Climate change initiatives increased regulation, and race- and gender-based giveaways would place more burdens on affluent taxpayers. Altogether, Sanders-style socialism would drive marginal federal and state rates to at least 70% in high-tax states, not counting sales tax, property tax, and countless other taxes and fees.
Meanwhile, socialism promises what amounts to income for life for those who choose not to work. This being the case, who in his right mind would strive to become a successful entrepreneur – or surgeon, accountant, or business leader – when he could hang out in Boulder and smoke dope for the next forty years?
There are many words to describe socialism. Having lived under communism myself, I am thoroughly familiar with the idleness, poverty, and demoralization collectivism breeds. It was commonplace to visit a restaurant in Belgrade, be handed an elaborate menu listing hundreds of choices, and then be told, “Soup, salad, and bread – nothing else today.” Loss of power and water in communist Yugoslavia and Bulgaria was an everyday occurrence. And secret police and neighborhood spies were everywhere. Among the old, there was bitterness, and among the young, only the ambition to get out. That to me is the essence of socialism: idleness, poverty, and repression. But how many Millennials know this? How many care to know?
Not many, and not many of their teachers are making an effort to teach them about socialism. Within university departments of history, among faculty who should know better, liberals outnumber conservatives by a ratio of more than 33 to 1.
With the sort of education they receive, it’s not surprising that Millennials are attracted by the increasing radicalism of the Democratic Party – and given the radicalism of its base, it’s not surprising that the Democratic Party is rapidly becoming openly socialist.
According to Pew Research, Millennials tilt Democratic by a 51-to-35% margin. Interestingly, their grandparents (the “Silent Generation,” aged 69-86) have now abandoned the Democratic Party in large numbers. These voters contributed to Trump’s victory in 2016. What does the Silent Generation know that Millennials don’t?
To begin with, they know that the world is a dangerous place. They grew up in the shadow of WWII and lived through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. They lived with the fear of all-out nuclear war, with reports of Soviet spying and the horrors of Chinese and North Korean communism. They learned of gulags, executions, and starvation – and they knew how fortunate they were to have been born in America.
They also know how difficult it is to maintain a decent standard of living. In their childhood, they heard tales of the Great Depression. They grew up at a time when the minimum wage was 75 cents an hour – that’s an hour of real labor, not chatting or surfing the internet. They built wealth patiently from small beginnings, via a 30-year mortgage, Social Security, and contributions to retirement plans. They knew how hard it was to put money away.
The Silent Generation’s hard-knocks wisdom is a long way from the smug assurance of those who have never lived without wi-fi. I don’t wish ill on anyone, but I know that a time of testing is at hand for Millennials. With more than $21 trillion in debt, America is moving toward a debased currency and a permanently lower standard of living. And despite the assurances of Millennial historians such as Yuval Noah Harari, war is not really a thing of the past. Another great war is coming – one America may well lose. I doubt if our adversaries will be as magnanimous as America was following WWII.
Millennials seem willfully blind to these possibilities.
Millennials as a group have lost sight of a fundamental law underlying all civilization. Call it self-preservation, self-interest, or simply survival. It was the great truth that Churchill cited when he rallied Britain to defense in 1940. It was what George S. Patton meant when he said, “The object of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other bastard die for his.”
Most Millennials, I suspect, are not great Patton fans. They can’t understand the wisdom underlying his salty language or his heroic life. They can’t appreciate Patton because they don’t accept that life involves struggle. And since that truth is at the heart of capitalist economic theory, they don’t understand or accept capitalism.
Socialism obscures that truth, and it does so in the service of the selfish ends of both the ruling elite and the dissolute masses. It is founded on the lie that the human species can live everywhere in peace, accepting the rule of distant bureaucracies and subsisting on an “equal” dole of crumbs.
Inevitably, Millennials will learn from their mistakes, but the learning curve will be difficult and the consequences painful.
If Millennials succeed in installing an Elizabeth Warren-like figure in the White House, it will be a long and uncertain road back to human freedom. After decades of socialism, aging Millennials may learn their lesson, but at the cost of a lifetime wasted, and the future ruined for the rest of us.
Wouldn’t it be better if they would just wake up?
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).