America’s ‘Socialist’ Generation Is More Capitalist Than It Thinks

Michael Schaus

This article originally appeared in the Nevada Business Magazine.

Kids today ruin everything. Socialism, for example, just isn’t what it used to be.

Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, for advocates of the free market system, the evolving understanding of what it means to be a “socialist” in modern America isn’t nearly as dire as it sounds.

The newly empowered generation of young Americans — millennials certainly fall into this group — increasingly describe themselves as so-called “Democratic Socialists.”

In fact, according to a national Reason-Rupe survey, more than half of 18- to 29-year-olds (53 percent) view socialism “favorably.”

To generations that are old enough to remember when a socialist uprising in Cuba resulted in a handful of nuclear missiles being parked 90 miles off the coast of Florida, this modern embrace of socialism can be alarming.

Thankfully, what’s considered “socialism” in today’s pop-econ terms bears little resemblance to the textbook definition.

In fact, judging newly-empowered young Americans by the way they act, one could easily mistake them as more pro-capitalist than many of the generations before them — their fondness for a growing welfare state aside.

This is a generation, after all, that has not only utilized but also advanced the free market unlike any other.

Discontented with the monopoly-like power of cable companies, young Americans happily embraced online-streaming alternatives such as Netflix and Amazon — allowing them the freedom to pick not only what they watch, but when they watch it.

Feeling underserved by expensive taxicab companies, America’s youth turned to market-disrupting ridesharing competitors such as Uber or Lyft.

By embracing sites like Etsy, Amazon and countless others, these young consumers not only transformed the way we shop, but they have unleashed an untold number of young entrepreneurs into new markets.

In every corner of the economy, it is clear that America’s youngest generations demand a constant flow of innovation, customization and (above all else) choice when it comes to how they interact with the world.

In other words, we’re talking about a demographic that has imbedded in its consciousness a sound rejection of anything billed as a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, they demand a seemingly endless supply of options, progress and market competition.

And this isn’t just some academic observation based off the consumer habits of young Americans. We’re seeing this pro-choice mentality shine through in public policy as well.

School choice, for example, is one of the most libertarian policy changes to sweep the nation in recent decades — and millennials are overwhelmingly supportive, with roughly 75 percent supporting the concept, according to a recent survey conducted by Beck Research .

That’s a lot of supposed socialists embracing the idea of a market-driven education system. Such support, however, shouldn’t be too surprising.

Instinctively, this generation expects corporations, governments and pretty much the whole of society to cater to their unique needs, compete for their attention and respond to the market forces of their generation.

And why shouldn’t they? More than their parents or their grandparents, millennials have experienced a level of customization and innovation that couldn’t have been imagined just a few decades ago.

The result is a generation that might not respect the economic nuances that have created such vast consumer choice, but have grown to expect and demand it nonetheless.

This demand for choice tells us something important about the so-called socialist groundswell among young Americans: “Socialism” doesn’t mean the same thing in modern political discourse that it meant in the 20th century.

The American generation now calling for “democratic socialism” — the droves of young activists showing up for Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — aren’t really pro-socialism, as much as they are pro-welfare.

Driving the movement is a growing belief that taxpayers should foot the bill for an ever-increasing list of government programs. It’s a call for more government spending — not necessarily a dismantling of the market economy.

And that’s a sharp departure from the traditional understanding of socialism — where government technocrats and commissars replace organic market forces in a top-down bureaucratic system. Indeed, the brand of socialism that Marx wrote about, isn’t the kind of socialism young elite progressives would be willing to tolerate.

Socialism in modern America just isn’t what it used to be — and that means there is a Grand Canyon-sized opportunity for the liberty movement to be heard by young Americans.

After all, we’re talking about a generation that, more than any other, has already embraced the core tenant of free-market capitalism: The freedom of choice.

Michael Schaus is communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.