Many Americans have historically associated “socialism” with things like the Red Scare, Nazism, the Cold War, and McCarthyism. Today, that fear has largely faded—particularly among young people—and has instead become a love affair.
A recent Axios/Movement poll found that 51% of 18 to 34 year-olds view socialism positively, though the share is only 41% for all Americans. That poll also found that 49% of young adults viewed capitalism favorably—a decrease from 58% in 2019. However, across all Americans there is 57% support for capitalism with just 36% having a negative view of it, which is a slight decrease from the 61% to 36% split in 2019.
Many reasons explain these trends, but the fact that capitalism has lifted more than one billion people worldwide out of poverty is irrefutable.
Despite this reality, the alarming rise in support for socialism, particularly among young adults, begs the question: Do proponents of “socialism” really understand it, and will it ever invade America?
In short, institutions matter and we should understand them, because when we do, we have a better appreciation for capitalism and will reject socialism, even as socialism metastasizes throughout many sectors of our economy.
Socialism is an economic system in which government owns the means of production. Socialism is an extractive economic institution with redistribution of resources—not with market prices but rather by elite politicians who supposedly understand the collective desires of society.
Capitalism, on the other hand, derives its success from an inclusive economic institution with private ownership of the means of production in a free enterprise system. This institutional framework has strong private property rights allowing for a well-functioning price system in markets that allow efficient allocation of resources to those who desire things most with a profit-loss calculation to increase prosperity.
Many supporters of socialism believe society would be best served by a big government that oversees things like health care, food, employment, and transportation, with college and housing at no charge. Socialism’s enthusiasts also claim government-run societies would decrease income inequality and give workers a greater voice.
However, socialists fail to recognize the truth that nothing is free.
More precisely, scarcity means there are always costs, whether realized or unrealized. Free college and universal health care could be fantastic services if they were truly free, but the government doesn’t have its own money—it must extract resources from Peter to give to Paul, and “free” provisions like these have poor outcomes.
Moreover, the ideas of “tax the rich” and “give to the poor” are fallacies that don’t support lower poverty or less income inequality, as they reduce opportunities for success in the productive private sector while contributing to greater dependency on costly government redistribution. This intervention stifles consumer power, eliminates competition, and oftentimes contributes to greater poverty and income inequality.
History shows us that socialism has never worked and will never work well.
Cuba—a socialist country located only 90 miles south of Florida—first embraced socialism over 60 years ago under Fidel Castro. Cubans yielded enormous liberties to Castro’s government in exchange for promises of a better life. As Cuba now grapples with shortages of COVID-19 vaccinations, food, and other critical supplies, even President Biden recently denounced Cuba and its economic system as a failure.
Despite the growing disdain for capitalism in the United States, data from the Economic Freedom of the World report confirms that capitalist, free-market policies lead to the greatest prosperity.
Greater economic freedom under capitalism provides for a more robust economy and a well-functioning price system that yields higher life expectancies, higher incomes, greater per-capita GDP, and less poverty. And capitalism is also morally superior to socialism as it empowers people to make decisions that meet their needs rather than being told what to do through subjective determinations from elite politicians. Furthermore, socialism requires the immoral violation of personal property rights and individual freedoms.
Government is not intended to dictate the lives of each individual, nor it is it supposed to control a society’s factors of production.
As former President Trump said, “America will never be a socialist county.” Socialism did not make America great, nor will it provide for a more perfect union. While we’ve moved further toward socialism in many sectors of our economy, which explains their poor outcomes, Americans should appreciate the many benefits of capitalism so that we can right the course toward more human flourishing.
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Vance Ginn, Ph.D.