In the last 150 years, life has changed miraculously for the better. For the vast majority of human history, ordinary people did not have refrigerators, microwaves, and dishwashers, never mind televisions, computers, and smartphones. Yet the very free market capitalism that drove this expansion in human flourishing is under attack today, and most Democrats and young people prefer socialism to capitalism.
According to a Gallup poll published Monday, 57 percent of Democrats and voters who lean Democrat have a positive view of socialism, while only 47 percent of them have a positive view of capitalism. Similarly, a majority of people between the ages of 18 and 29 have a positive view of socialism (51 percent), while only 45 percent of them view capitalism positively.
As recently as 2012, more Democrats had positive views about capitalism (55 percent) than socialism (53 percent). Young people also favored free markets (68 percent) over central planning (51 percent), as recently as 2010. The popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may help explain this phenomenon, but it doesn’t make socialism any more rational.
In the past eight years, Americans have become disenchanted with free markets. In 2010, 61 percent of Americans viewed capitalism favorably, while in 2018 that number dropped to 56 percent, according to Gallup. But Americans have not all become enamored with socialism. In 2010, 36 percent of Americans saw socialism favorably, and in 2018 that number stands at 37.
Republicans aren’t buying the big government Kool Aid, however. Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of GOP voters and Republican-leaning Americans had a positive view of capitalism, while only 16 percent expressed a positive view of socialism. In 2012, a full 23 percent of Republicans approved of socialism, but the capitalism approval rate was still far higher, at 72 percent.
Republicans have their work cut out for them. Thankfully, they won’t have to painstakingly make the case for free markets in order to win elections. According to a Rasmussen Reports survey last month, a whopping 74 percent of likely U.S. voters prefer a free market system over a socialist system. Only 13 percent think socialism is better, and only 13 percent are undecided.
Even so, conservatives and Republicans still need to make the case for capitalism, because that 51 percent of young people needs to hear it.
As PJ Media’s D.C. McAllister argued last November, socialism is tantamount to a mental disorder. She cited Ludwig Von Mises’ “Liberalism,” in which the great economist traced socialism back to a “pathological mental attitude” born of resentment and “envious malevolence.”
“Resentment is at work when one so hates somebody for his more favorable circumstances that he is prepared to bear heavy losses if only the hated one might also come to harm,” Mises wrote. “Many of those who attack capitalism know very well that their situation under any other economic system will be less favorable. Nevertheless, with full knowledge of this fact, they advocate a reform, e.g., socialism, because they hope that the rich, whom they envy, will also suffer under it.”
Many Americans may honestly think that socialism would work better for them, but The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf disabused them of such notions in an excellent article last week.
Friedersdorf took aim at “democratic socialism” directly, pointing out that “minorities would lose if democracy were radically less constrained by the political and economic system under which we currently live.”
He quoted the leftist website Jacobin, where the authors argued that social welfare spending is not enough.
The core aim of socialism is not just the state gaining control of industry, but empowering the broad masses of people—in their workplaces, in their communities, in their homes, in their schools, in their politics—to be in the driver’s seat of society … Only when the private decisions that have massive public implications are subjected to popular control will we have a democratic society.
This “desirable” outcome is far worse than any ballooning deficit. Friedersdorf powerfully explained why:
Instead of individual capitalists deciding what to produce in their endlessly varied, constantly competing private businesses, “without any democratic input from the rest of society,” control over industry and decisions about what to produce would reside in state planning agencies. And imagine their decisions perfectly, if improbably, reflect the actual democratic will of workers, whether in the nation; or a state, like Ohio or Utah; or a metropolitan area, like Maricopa County or Oklahoma City.
Popular control is finally realized! So: How popular is Islam? How many Muslim prayer rugs would the democratic majority of workers vote to produce? How many Korans? How many head scarves? How much halal meat would be slaughtered? What share of construction materials would a majority of workers apportion to new mosques?
Under capitalism, the mere existence of buyers reliably gives rise to suppliers. Relying instead on democratic decisions would pose a big risk for Muslims. And Sikhs. And Hindus. And Jews. And maybe even Catholics.
The Atlantic writer noted that the current capitalist free market system provides increasing options every year for all sorts of minorities who would never have a prayer if producers chose what to make based only on popular vote. A mere five percent of Americans are vegetarians, and only three percent are vegans. The new “democratic socialist” overlords would likely reject vegetarian and vegan requests for vegan meat or milk substitutes.
Friedersdorf pounded the nail in the socialist coffin by concluding with a damning paragraph. The democratic socialists often lament that no country has enshrined their view of state control. Yet these socialists would trust the same masses that frequently reject their platform with control over society…
There is a strangeness in watching the demos in every country repeatedly reject what one believes to be just for decades, in favor of what one believes to be monstrously unjust, yet nevertheless believing that if the same demos is put under democratic socialism, it will render reliably just judgments about how an entire society should produce and consume.
Of course it won’t.
Democratic socialists think that if they seize the reins of power, they would bring about justice and give workers a voice. By doing so, they would make life more difficult for all kinds of minorities.
No moment quite revealed the utter bankruptcy of socialism better than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) complaint about too many brands of deodorant. Capitalism provides an embarrassingly rich glut of consumer options, because there is demand for every little niche product. Take away that system, and suddenly Americans have no more options.
I may prefer Old Spice deodorant, but it would be ridiculous for me to insist that everyone should wear it. It would certainly be more fair if Americans all had the same deodorant, or the same apartment, or the same car — but it would vastly impoverish the quality of life in the U.S.
That’s even assuming that today’s “democratic socialists” somehow avoid the tyranny and death that plagued socialism in the past, and that such socialism would not utterly devastate the economy, which it would certainly do.
Republicans need to make arguments like this, not just because it will help them win over the sensible Americans who reject socialism, but because it will help convince the young and impressionable that they really don’t want a poorer and more average life for themselves and their fellow citizens.