Why do so many millennials self-describe as socialist? Given the decades-ago collapse of the Soviet Union, the enduring poverty of Cuba, and the surge in younger Americans pledging support of redistributionist Bernie Sanders, it's a troubling question.
As former Reason pollster Emily Ekins, now at the Cato Institute, has noted, millennials are the only age group that has a favorable attitude toward "socialism."
The stock answer for this is that Americans under about 35 or so have no real memories of the CCCP or, for that matter, China before it embraced some elements of free markets and thus raised about 680 million people out of extreme poverty.
Shorn of those in-your-face examples of state-owned means of production, goes this line of thinking, the pure "Feel the Bern" idealism of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" overwhelms millennials with warm and fuzzy feelings. But as Ekins and Joy Pullman argued a while back at The Federalist (and as Ekins and I had done here at Reason in 2014), it turns out the millennials simply don't know what socialism means. If you define it as a general social safety net, they're for it (as are most Americans). But the kids also really like profits, and entrepreneurs, and they really love the idea of starting their own business someday. So the apparent love for socialism has less to do with being hatched after the "end of history" (1989-1991) or going to colleges exclusively staffed by latter-day Trotskyites or anything. It simply reflects lack of a common language. It turns out that millennials are commies as much as they speak a different language than us graybeards who remember 1989 as one of the most amazing years in human liberation.
In any case, when it comes to contemporary history, writes Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, Venezuela is a real-time lesson in applied economics. For all the Hollywood fans of Hugo Chavez (check this out for a sampling), that country is reaping the whirlwind of a centralized, state-controlled economy right now, and all images flowing north are truly terrifying: Empty shelves, desperate residents, crackdowns on demonstrators.
As Reynolds notes at USA Today, capitalism may not be perfect, but it's preferable to socialism.
The daughter of Venezuela's socialist ruler, Hugo Chavez, is the richest individual in Venezuela, worth billions and billions of dollars. In Cuba, Fidel Castro reportedly has lived — pretty much literally — like a king, even as his subjects dwelt in poverty. In the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as Hedrick Smith reported in his The Russians, the Communist Party bigshots had lavish country houses and apartments in town stocked with hand-polished fresh fruit, even as the common people stood in line for hours at state-run stores in the hopes of getting staples.
Reynolds argues that what's going on right now, both in Venezuela and in the U.S. 2016 campaign, is a teachable moment that we shouldn't gloss over:
America's New Class isn't the super-rich (they tend to donate to Hillary), but the upper-middle-class employees of nonprofits, universities and government agencies. They benefit twice from the kinds of programs that Bernie supports: Often, they're employed to administer them, or receive funds for providing services (think college administrators who, unsurprisingly, heavily support Bernie and Hillary), and then they also receive the benefits, since their kids are more likely to go to college than, say, a Kroger cashier's. (And if we ever wind up with government-run health care, ask yourself who'll get the hip replacement first — a woman who works as a cashier at Kroger's or a senior bureaucrat in the Department of Health and Human Services).
A couple of years back, we put together a special Web page about millennials. Check it out now to see why millennials aren't listening to you, to learn "5 Myths About Millennials," to relive youth panics "from flappers to hipsters," and to find out the "favorite millennials" of foks as varied as Frank Portman (author of the King Dork books and leader of the Mr. T Experiment), Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, magician Penn Jillette, "renegade" historian Thaddeus Russell, and libertarian movement eminence Sharon Presley. And, oh yeah, Glenn Reynolds, who also teaches at University of Tennessee Law School along with running Instapundit. Who the hell did they all pick?