The Washington Post reports on a survey indicating that a majority of millennials reject capitalism:
In an apparent rejection of the basic principles of the U.S. economy, a new poll shows that most young people do not support capitalism.
The Harvard University survey, which polled young adults between ages 18 and 29, found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Just 42 percent said they support it.
It isn’t clear that the young people in the poll would prefer some alternative system, though. Just 33 percent said they supported socialism. The survey had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.
The report goes on to say that it is difficult to interpret exactly what this data mean. It seems clear, however, that this represents a signficant shift. Taken together with the fact that Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, has run a viable campaign for the Democratic nomination, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the ground is moving beneath our feet.
Albert Mohler comments on all this on his daily podcast “The Briefing.” You can download it here or listen below.
Mohler argues that many millennials are bereft of a basic economic worldview. They don’t like the way things are, but they don’t have a plan or view beyond that. Furthermore, there is a basic misunderstanding about what a free market economy is and how it operates. All of that adds up to rejection of capitalism on the one hand and to ad hoc government imposed solutions on the other.
There is so much to respond to here that it is difficult to do so in a concise and coherent matter. Certainly what Mohler exhibits is that one’s reaction to change depends on whether one approves of that change. That evident in his reaction to the upheaval of the 60s and it is also apparent in his reaction to millennials and to post modernism.
In addition, change often takes an all-or-nothing approach to what one is reacting so much nuance is needed while assessing change. For example, post modernism is a reaction to the domination exhibited in past wars, empires, and colonizations all of which were rationalized by predecessors using the metanarratives from pre modernism (religion) and modernism (reason and science). Thus, Post Modernism could be described as a outcome-based truth system. Here, the criteria for the truth of an idea depends on the desirability of the results of those claiming to use that idea. So what we see in Post Modernism is a strong reaction to traumatic events, such as WW II and the threat of nuclear annihilation. So as much as there are problems with Post Modernism, there are legitimate concerns too.
With the disruptive 60s, we saw a strong reaction to the use of authority by the establishment as the it sought to maintain some unjust systemic parts of the status quo like racism, sexism, and militarism. Did those revolutionaries make mistakes? Yes, plenty of them. But was change needed? Even more so.
The millennials want change and how we interpret and react to their demands partially depends on how much we agree with them. Their use of feelings as an apologetic or explanation for their beliefs very well could be a Post Modern result to the practice of domination. But their use of words should not distract us from what they have observe or what they want. For just like in the 60s, the call for change will be a mix of good and bad.
Finally, when it comes to Bernie Sanders, most of my fellow Socialists do not include him as one of us even though we like some of his ideas. Rather, Sanders is an FDR New Deal advocate. That is not socialism and that brings me to my final point. As much as Mohler can complain about Millennials are confused about what a Free Market economy is, most conservatives I know misunderstand Socialism. For they prefer to equate Socialism with big government or a nanny state. Socialism, at least from the Marxist tradition, is first about a redistribution of power to the workers. Therefore, Socialism has more to do with who in the state has power than how much power the state has. And in Socialism, the workers use democratic processes to obtain and maintain power both at the workplace and in the state. This is called the proletariat dictatorship. And its weakness is not found in the increased power of workers in both the private and public sectors. Its weakness is found in being a partial democracy by not sharing power with the wealthy as equals.
So before preaching to Millennials about their misunderstanding of the Free Market and other traditions which some of us would like to pass on, we should do some learning ourselves and then listen to them so we can both understand what they are saying and feel their concerns.
My takeaway from this survey is that millennials are wary of pinning their hopes to an economic “ism” in the same way that their parents did.
Is that a bad thing? They came of age during the housing bubble, so I’d say they have a right to be skeptical.
The easiest way to understand this is to realize that newer generations don’t necessarily buy into the mythology behind our economic system. They don’t necessarily agree with conservative critics that liberal solutions are threats to capitalism or “freedom” nor do they necessarily agree that bigger government is the solutions.
You also have to understand the magnitude of the 2008 collapse on attitudes about our economic systems and who largely benefits from economic growth. The temptation for conservatives is adopt a sneering tone which dismisses such critics as having no economic worldview or misunderstandings about the nature of free market economy. What it boils down to is that the free market economy is not working for everyone as advertised.
Case in point: look at all the people voting for Trump and rejecting conservative orthodoxy.
The truth is that capitalism has improved the global standard of living better than any other system. It’s also true that you can experiment around the edges of a capitalist system and improve life for those who aren’t “winning”. The conceit of conservatives is that they hear “socialism” and think Cuba or Venezuela. The folks who are open to socialism favor the democratic socialism that has worked for decades in places like France, Sweden and Denmark. That brand of managed capitalism is perhaps too radical for the US but there are people who think that would improve our current standard of living.
Places like Sweden and Denmark are ‘child friendly’ in how children are supported by many of the policies of the governments of those two countries;
whereas you don’t want to know how bad it can be for single mothers in a certain country known as the wealthiest country in the world, and hence the children of those single mothers are affected negatively.
If you want an economic system that CELEBRATES the well-being of children, then the moral and ethical people of a nation must place that welfare as a priority. That is not going to happen where children go without and many teachers and school counselors step in and contribute out of their own pockets for students in need. This is not going happen where an elected politician of a state is able to shut down state support of a children’s hospital with a neonatal center that services a large portion of the state.
We speak our ‘values’. But it is our children that must suffer because of our hypocrisy. God have mercy on these children, because we have failed them.
After listening to Mohler again, I find it odd that he feels so compelled to defend an economic system as if it’s directly tied to a Christian worldview. Surely Christians throughout history found a way to follow Christ before free market capitalism began to emerge during the industrial revolution?
I doubt the people in this survey who “reject capitalism” actually reject capitalism per se so much as they reject pure capitalism. They’re probably big fans of countries like Sweden, The Netherlands, etc., which are, in fact, capitalist.
It would have been interesting if they’d followed up the question about capitalism with the following:
1. If not capitalism, which economic system do you prefer?
2. Can you give an example of a country that uses this economic system?
I’m guessing the most common answer to #1 would be “socialism” and the most common answers to #2 would be countries like I mentioned earlier. Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, etc.
I think the greater question to these millennials (as I am one, but disagree with them) would be, “do you really reject capitalism or just upset you don’t get “your way”?
Yes, except that, even though there may be more than a grain of truth behind it, that question is patronizing, and millennials, like most adults, are very keen at discerning when they’re being patronized.
The survey seems to shrug its shoulders at the notion that “just 33 percent said they supported socialism”, as though that’s a small fraction. For a country as historically ardently anti-socialist–to the point of defining it as treasonous in the middle of the previous century–33% is a huge number. We all know Republicans have failed abysmal at disseminating their worldview to racial minorities–well millennials are growing up in an age where whites are barely over 50% of the population, so there is probably some bearing in the interplay between these numbers and the heterogeneity of this emergent generation.
Imagine if a younger, vigorous, ethnically mixed man/woman had run for that democratic socialist position, instead of Bernie Sanders. Youth involvement would have been through the roof. When Bernie departs from the limelight (whether in 6 months or 4 years, 6 months), there will be someone stepping up to replace him.
The Reagan revolution was sparked by people upset that they weren’t getting “their way”. They saw the flaws in the status quo and convinced the nation of a need to go in a different direction. Times have changed and millennials are skeptical about the merits of our version of capitalism, neoliberalism. You have to remember that capitalism has to be seen in the context of 2016 not 1980. If you can’t see the flaws of your preferred economic system then you can’t possibly understand why newer generations think the way they do.
Lastly, capitalism and socialism are not mutually exclusive in Western democracies. We have had some form of mixed economy dating back to the 1930s.