Millennials and the Anti-Capitalistic Mindset

The great intellectual debate of the 20th Century was between capitalism and socialism, wrote Robert Heilbroner in a 1989 New Yorker article. Seeing the collapse of Soviet Communism (socialism with totalitarian power), he proclaimed “the triumph of capitalism.” A socialist most of his career, Heilbroner explained: “Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won.” Heilbroner was correct about their competing economic performances, but public and political attitudes reflect much disenchantment with capitalism and sentiment for socialism.

Such views are especially prevalent with the Millennials, a generation born in the last two decades of the 20th century and early years of the 21st. A 2016 Harvard University poll showed only 42 percent of Millennials support capitalism and 33 percent want socialism. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 70 percent of them would consider voting for a socialist presidential candidate, as indeed many did in 2016. Even more astounding, another poll before that election found that only half of Millennials think Communism was or is a problem. More recently, a leftist group of them protested at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C., where some were photographed extending their middle fingers to the memorial.

Among much commentary about these developments, Joel Kotkin examines “Why Socialism Is Back” at Real Clear Politics and Warren A. Stephens asks “Why Do the Young Reject Capitalism?” in the Wall Street Journal. In a letter to the editor, emeritus university professor Phillip Nelson answers Stephens’s question and supplements Kotkin’s explanation succinctly: “Part of the answer is obvious. Anticapitalism is what they have been taught.”

The “anti-capitalistic mentality,” as Ludwig von Mises described it over half a century ago, continues its influential effects. Indeed, as Joseph Schumpeter warned in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942), capitalism’s economic success enables socialist sentiments, especially among academic intellectuals. An anecdote evidences that effect: an academic told me he called some of his colleagues “Mercedes Marxists.”

As historian Alan Charles Kors wrote in an essay titled “Can There Be an ‘After Socialism?’” (first published in the journal Social Philosophy and Policy):

The pathology of Western intellectuals has committed them to an adversarial relationship with the culture—free markets and individual rights—that has produced the greatest alleviation of suffering, the greatest liberation from want, ignorance, and superstition, and the greatest increase of bounty and opportunity in the history of all human life. …

The cognitive behavior of Western intellectuals faced with the accomplishments of their own society, on the one hand, and with the socialist ideal and then the socialist reality, on the other, takes one’s breath away…. In the names of fantasy worlds and mystical perfections, they have closed themselves to the Western, liberal miracle of individual rights, individual responsibility, merit, and human satisfaction. …

From one end of the earth to the other, Marxist intellectuals, propagandists, professors, and apologists never contrasted the existing “socialist world” with the more or less liberal societies of Western Europe and North America. …

Indeed, it is precisely to avoid the revivification of classical liberal principles that our teachers, professors, information media, and filmmakers ignore the comparative inquiry that the time so urgently demands.

Clearly, Millennials’ rejection of capitalism and acceptance of socialism show that they know little about either and do not know their comparative histories. Instead, they have learned relativism, postmodernism, and other academic fads. In much of the humanities and soft social sciences—especially with literary theorists and social justice warriors in the race, class, and gender grievance disciplines—capitalism is caricatured as racist, sexist, etc., and generally bad. Anti-capitalism books like Empire (2001), co-authored by a self-described “joyful communist” literary theorist, attract more attention from Millennials than pro-capitalism books like two by Nobel laureates in economics, F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944) and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962).

The anti-capitalism education of Millennials is but part of the problem. The media and entertainment establishments are also largely anti-capitalism in expression if not in their own economic practices. For example, the New York Times recently blamed the civil and economic disaster in Venezuela on its late leader Hugo Chavez’s populism and authoritarianism; although Chavez was a socialist and brought socialism to once-prosperous Venezuela, the Times never mentioned the words socialist or socialism. And Hollywood’s recent film Trumbo, which lionizes a Communist screenwriter prominent in the 1940s, uses the word communism but explains its meaning by having the lead character assure his young daughter that it is simply like sharing her lunch at school with another child without anything to eat.

Bret Stevens had a better answer for his son in his column “What’s Socialism, Dad?”: “Democratic socialism—whether [Hugo] Chavez’s or [Bernie] Sanders’s—is legalized theft in the name of the people against the vilified few…. Bernie’s Way paves the same road to serfdom that socialism does everywhere.”

Moreover, a horrendous problem remains, as explained by Alan Kors: the road to serfdom is littered with “the bodies.” Kors refers to Stéphane Courtois’s The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, which shows that approximately 100 million lives were lost to Communism. It is too much to expect that many Millennials, especially those who extended their middle fingers to the Victims of Communism Memorial, have read or will read The Black Book of Communism. But it would be nice if some would at least read Kors’s essay on socialism and communism; it’s brief, but profound and provocative. It would be nice too, but also too much to expect, for some colleges and universities to assign it in their summer reading programs.

  • DrOfnothing

    I don’t understand how JMC authors can, on the one hand, complain that students and academics have lost their capacity for critical thought, while on the other, assert that they are too critical of capitalism. Isn’t the goal of higher education to take a critical view of accepted truths, challenge widely-held assumptions, and arrive at one’s own conclusions? Why should capitalism be spared from this–is it somehow to be accepted as a fundamental good? As with all other topics, shoudn’t its benefits and liabilities for various communities, societies, nations, and regions be assessed with rigor?

    By the same token, why should socialism be dismissed with such a knee-jerk, uncritical reaction? Bret Stevens’s assertion, “Bernie’s Way paves the same road to serfdom that socialism does everywhere,” is simply nonsense. France, Canada, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, all the Scandinavian countries and, indeed, almost all western European countries have moderate-socialist governments, and they all enjoy, on average, higher standards of living, better public schools, more educated populations, lower crime rates, more democratic and representational governing institutions, exponentially lower rates of incarceration and violent crime, less urban blight and poverty, and a stronger middle-class than the US does–hardly serfs!!!

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    I also found the analysis here muddled. Not only is there a problem lumping anti-capitalism / socialism / communism (of the totalitarian variety) together, but what does it mean to be anti-capitalist? “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matt 19:24. Anti-capitalist? Sure seems so.

    • ikari_kun2002

      A needle’s eye, in this context, is a low, narrow doorway. Getting a camel through the eye of the needle is proverbially difficult, not impossible. If you don’t know that, you are not qualified for Biblical exegesis.

      • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

        Perhaps you missed my point: The entire New Testament views capitalism as evil, the temptation of riches overwhelming and utterly destructive, greed as enslavement to Satan. Hebrew Bible as well.

        Matt 25:31:
        When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
        And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: … Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
        When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

        And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
        Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
        Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

        Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

        • Hosenberg DontcallmeGoth Hosse

          Hi Glen, It is fairly well known that the family and friends of Jesus of Nazareth were oppressively taxed into poverty by the Government (the Romans). That’s called Socialism. So, it is a bit of bizarre assertion that the New Testament doesn’t like Free Markets (Capitalism), IMO. Jesus of Nazareth was executed due to the “threat” he was perceived as being to the Roman’s taxing authority.

          • DrOfnothing

            The application of terms like Capitalism and Socialism to Roman Judea is utterly ludicrous.

            If one had to classify the politics of Jesus of Nazareth, it would certainly be closer to the modern-day left than the modern-day right, since he was a strong advocate of feeding the poor, healing the sick, and giving succor to the needy.

            The politics of the Roman Church structure that sprung up in the ensuing centuries is more problematic, but again, almost impossible to define in modern terms. On the one hand, they eventually became one of the biggest banks in Europe (accumulation of private capital) and were intensely hierarchical (right-wing). But on the other hand, they heavily taxed rich and poor alike, while devoting extensive resources to free social services via the Franciscans (left-wing). Lastly, they had a nasty habit of conducting internal purges and burning unbelievers at the stake (neither left nor right, just authoritarian). Really, its an exercise in futility.

            Mary was a welfare mom, Joseph was working-class, and Jesus walked among the lepers. He didn’t roll up on Mary Magdalene, slap her upside the head, and say “get a job, skank.”

          • Hosenberg DontcallmeGoth Hosse

            I like to frame my political arguments in terms of what makes the world go round — money. The Government (Left) wants to create laws to keep it coming their way (and they are certainly in a good position to do that – just like Jesus’ tax collector), the Right (Free Market, Private Property backers) want to let people — and not Governments — make the choice of where money goes.
            One of the better-known parables in the New Testament is Matthew’s “Parable of Talents.” The moral of the story goes beyond money, but the practical aspect of the tale is certainly not lost in the message. That’s about the most Free Markets, pro-Capitalist message you can get.

          • DrOfnothing

            You are applying 19th and 20th c. models to a society extant 2000 years ago, using a document that speaks almost entirely in metaphors. The comparisons are simply not sustainable. You can make them if you like, but they just sound silly. Yes, this was a society that had wealth, but it was also a society where the entanglement of wealth, political rights, and cultural authority worked very differently. I also don’t think you understand Christianity at all–it was a religion of the dispossessed, slaves, and the downtrodden, hardly one to celebrate the concept of private property. The entire message of the faith was that the things of this world are inconsequential, and that all people, rich or poor, weak or powerful, are to be judged only by their moral actions and by their acceptance or rejection of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m not a subscriber myself, but I think it was a nice idea in its origins, since much perverted by a hierarchical, materialist church structure (since its Romanization). Then again, it’s hard to have a religion without a Church, no?

            The simplistic statements about “the Government” and the Right vs. Left also demonstrate any substantive understanding of the modern state, political ideology, or the ideologies of Capitalism, Socialism, etc. I’m sorry to be the one to point this out, but your knowledge on these subjects is very thin. Read the Heywood, you’ll find it both compelling and informative. It’s fine to disagree with it, but you need evidence to back them up, not just opinions!

  • Hosenberg DontcallmeGoth Hosse

    Great article. I have many other thoughts on the subject, but a really easy-to-understand heuristic is as follows (IMO):
    Right: Capitalism, Free Markets, Private Property, No Govt
    Left: Socialism, Regulated Markets, Shared Property, Govt
    Also wonder how many people know that the word “Nazi” is short for the German term, “Nationalsozialistische” ?

    • DrOfnothing

      Yes, this is the simplistic and inaccurate heuristic employed by the author. It’s wrong on a number of counts:

      Only a small minority of the “Left” in the US support a full socialist system
      Neither the US Left nor Socialism is arrayed against capitalism in its entirety.
      The US Right still supports large govt. and large govt. expenditure in several of the most costly sectors–law enforcement, internal security, and military among them.

      Lastly, a small correction, Nazi is short for NSDAP, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. But they were a party of the Right (Nationalist, Fascist) not the Left–in fact their primary ideological opponents were Communists.

      • Hosenberg DontcallmeGoth Hosse

        Hi Dr, If you support large government, then you are Left leaning. And admittedly, there are a lot of Left-leaning “Republicans.” People are free to call themselves whatever they want. Rush Limbaugh once said that he would run as Democrat if he ever tried for office.
        The “Na” in “nazi” comes from the first two letters of “Nationalsozialistische” — “Na.” The “zi” comes from the 11th and 12th letters of the same term. So I disagree with your assertion.

        • DrOfnothing

          Hmm, you’re right on the second point, “The term ‘Nazi’, an abbreviation of National Socialist devised by a journalist, was not widely used until around 1930 and remained unpopular within the party itself. ”

          But the first point is not correct, I’m afraid. Historically, you can have “large government” on either the right or the left. Take, for example, Saddam Hussein’s right-wing dictatorship–very large government bureaucracy, but hardly socialist. Military dictatorships require a significant support structure to maintain them. The same was true of the Nazis, btw. The state and the party (which were meant to be one and the same) was involved in _everything_, from dentistry and child-rearing to education and road-building.

          Rather than approaching it in simplistic terms of large v. small government, it is more accurate to see Left v Right in terms of what adherents think the state should actually do. Those on the left of the political spectrum, starting at the nearest end with Democracts ending at the far end with hardline Communists, with Socialists in the middle (and it’s a very wide spectrum), believe that government should address social concerns and regulate, to one degree or another, economic activity. It can do this by any number of means, from milder forms such as the regulation of maximum work hours and minimum work age, to more substantial measures such as provision of state-subsidized health care and full retirement/disability pensions, to the most extreme end, which is state centralized management of all economic activity and the abolition of private ownership. The farther one moves along that spectrum, the larger government infrastructure is required. The abhorrence of “Socialist” in America comes from the Red Scare/McCarthy days, but few realise that many of the measures that make living in the States tolerable (public schools and hospitals, the interstate highway system, regulation of food and water) are all techncially “socialist” measures, and that most of our closest allies are moderate Socialist countries (UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, S. Korea, Australia, etc.).

          Those on the right advocate less involvement by the state in economic activity (aka “classical Liberalism” a la Adam Smith), and that translates into a smaller segment of the government devoted to regulation and social issues. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a smaller state overall. The real kicker here is the military and security apparatus. In the US, it is absolutely one of the largest and most expensive aspects of the state. Add to that the criminal justice, policing, and prison system, internal security (DHS, FBI, NSA, etc.) and the foreign intelligence apparatus (CIA), and you have very large government indeed! Most Western countries have one or the other (e.g. social services OR a large military). The Scandinavian countries have very small militaries, but cradle-to-grave healthcare, excellent public schooling, etc. Only a few of the wealthiest have _both_ (UK, France,US), but they’re not balanced. The UK has a large military for a European country, but the US has an utterly massive one–more than that of the next seven largest in the world (inc. China and Russia) _combined_! Now THAT’S large government 🙂

          The reason for this is a.) the Cold War and b.) inertia. The federal govt. is the single largest employer in the country, and the military is made up entirely of govt. employees. Closing bases or drawing down forces means losing jobs, not just in the military itself, but in the massive industrial backbone that supports it (Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, Colt, etc.). Considering the dire state of American physical and social infrastructure and the complete absence of a credible military challenge that couldn’t be easily met with _half_ the forces we have right now, I’d rather have fewer bombers if it means a lower deficit, safer bridges, more hospital beds and better roads, but that’s just me 🙂

          • Hosenberg DontcallmeGoth Hosse

            Respectfully, certainly disagree. Right-leaning to the extreme means effectively no Government – or government with extremely little power. You can’t shift money out of the citizens’ pockets into the pockets of government bureaucrats that don’t exist. Impossible to have “fascism” in a far-right society because the Government has no monetary taxing authority — and hence no power. The citizens will always control the elections (not the Government). Armies exist for external country threats; not as an internal control. Bottom line, only Left-leaning Governments have the ability to foster a culture that will turn into a Fascist state.

          • DrOfnothing

            You are welcome to disagree, but the basic history of politics, as well as the systematic study of ideology, are all on my side. Here is a link to the Nolan Chart:

            The ideology you describe is either Libertarian (no personal restrictions and internal security structure, but large military) or Anarchist (no state at all).

            Extreme-right ideologies favour economic freedom, not personal freedom.

            Fascism is a philosophy of the right, and always has been. Anyone with even a cursory comprehension of political ideologies knows this. Left-wing “Fascism” is an oxymoron, because all Left ideologies are ultimately internationalist (except Stalinism), and Fascism is the epitome of a nationalist philosophy.

            And if you don’t think an Army can be used to assert domestic control, you haven’t read a single work of the history of Europe, Africa, Asia, or South America in the 20th century!

          • Hosenberg DontcallmeGoth Hosse

            Good debate — you are making the mistake (IMO) that assuming something has been “told” to you or that it is in “print” means that it must be true. Political Science classes (“Poly Sci 101”) funded by the Government (Left, Public Schools) will almost certainly try to put those who favor Capitalism into a negative light; after all, the Capitalists (free citizens with self-protection rights) are the enemies to them. Just the fact that if you Google the term “fascism” and Google — proven to be an extremely Left-leaning organization — ranks the number one definition as “Right-wing” proves my point, I believe. But regardless, good debate (and nice try 🙂

          • DrOfnothing

            Nope, I doubt everything that I’ve told. But I’ve taught the political history of Europe, among things, for nearly two decades now. I’ve also worked with some of the foremost authorities in political ideology. I’m sorry, but you really don’t know what you are talking about. These are your opinions, but they are not grounded in concrete knowledge or understanding.

  • bdavi52

    Socialism, Communism, the Left — all those big, loosey-goosey terms which are increasingly difficult to define since so many use them as a tar brush (even as we equally use Fascism, Conservatism, etc) — they all thrive in the nooks and crannies that Capitalism tends to leave behind.

    Market competition creates winners & losers. Natural inequality drives market competition (I want what you have; I can provide what you can’t, ad infinitum). The wealthy obviously have advantages (social, political, cultural, educational) that the poor don’t. Natural human groupings come together and break apart (creating inclusivities and exclusivities). And through all this hubbub the “invisible hand” guides & shapes supply & demand, collapse and expansion, creating in its wake pockets of the disadvantaged.

    So now that we have come to pray to the 4-Headed God — Diversity, Inclusion, Equality, & Social Justice — each and every nook & cranny becomes an example of a capitalist failure. Look here: children are starving…and here Minorities are under-represented….and here Wealth is concentrated….and here nothing is equal….and here at top & bottom we are hardly ‘diverse’. And Socialism, et al, begins to seem like a wonderful answer. Especially because its advocates envision a world filled with Professional Experts (little mini Philosopher Kings) who know best (through their extensive training) what’s best for you.

    In that World of Social Justice, the State (informed as it would be by the expertise of the Learned Class) would allocate equivalence, making sure that Wealth was not concentrated, rather equally distributed, along with opportunity & privilege. Everyone would be included because exclusion indicates bias and in that world we would be mandated bias-free. Diversity would be everywhere. All %’s appropriately demographically balanced (just hope your surgical team contains an actual surgeon who is familiar with the heart). And everyone — just as described in Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron — is always in every way equal.

    Capitalism would not only NOT provide such things (and does not pray at the shrine of the 4-headed god), Capitalism actively works against such things founded as it is upon the notion of free choice, free will, natural inequality, merit, failure, success, and hard work. Socialism, on the other hand, pats you on the head and says, “There, there! Just because you’re not good enough to be on the football team, that’s no reason to not be on the team. Here, I’ll just place you there! Just because you’re not as productive as Sam, that’s no reason Sam should be promoted over you. Here, I’ll promote you, too!” And on and on. Capitalism says you’re free to pursue whatever happiness you wish (and you may very well fail). Socialism says this is the happiness best suited for you, no reason to pursue it, the State will simply provide.

    And for those with tin hearts and strawman brains, the elimination of inequalities, the flattening of difference, the guarantee of inclusion — what by any rational measure is dystopian hell — seems magically better than the world created by market competition. And that is tragic (and significantly dangerous).