Medical Tuesday Blog
What is happening in America, once the apotheosis of capitalism?
Is a specter of socialism haunting America, especially among our millennials? There is disquieting evidence of many young Americans’ sympathy for socialism.
Exhibit A: 2.052 million people under the age of 30 voted for democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries and caucuses.
Exhibit B: Polls find that, not only do a large majority of millennials have a favorable opinion of socialism, a near majority would prefer to live under socialism rather than capitalism.
Exhibit C: The no-longer sleeping Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) now boasts 30,000 members, most of them in their twenties and eager to follow the socialist banner.
We’ve come a long way since the 1988 presidential race when George H. W. Bush buried his Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis by labeling him a “liberal.” Socialism is no longer a parlor game for academics but a political alternative taken seriously by millennials who are not put off by the radical DSA platform.
DSA believes in ending the private ownership of industries whose products are viewed as “necessities.” The production of such products, it argues, should not be left to “profiteers.” It also believes that government should “democratize” private businesses — that is, give workers control over them — to the greatest extent possible. “Socialism,” explains a member of DSA’s national steering committee, “is the democratization of all areas of life, including but not limited to the economy.”
Get exclusive insider information from Heritage experts delivered straight to your inbox each week. Subscribe to The Agenda >>
What is happening in America, once the apotheosis of capitalism?
The first part of that answer lies in two words, not “Karl Marx,” but “Bernie Sanders.” The senator from Vermont captured the hearts and the votes of many millennials with his call for single payer health care, free public college, campaign finance reform, and racial, economic, and climate justice. The prime target of his animus was the top 1 percent in America who own, it is true, some 40 percent of the nation’s total wealth — as much as the bottom 90 percent. What Bernie rarely pointed out was that the same top 1 percent paid 39.5 percent of the individual income taxes. Sanders had a ready explanation for how to pay for all of the freebies: increase the taxes on the rich and their corporations. In Bernie’s world, there is such a thing as a free lunch because the bill will be paid by those at the top.
According to one CNN analyst, millennials rallied in the many thousands behind Sanders because they are socially liberal — especially on LGBT rights — saddled with mountains of student debt, disillusioned with the status quo, “and eager to break with traditional [political] models.” Bernie provided solutions to all their problems — without detailing the price or conceding the lessening in individual liberty. Such details were swept aside by the revolutionary spirit of the millennials who “felt the Bern.” As one Bernista said, “You can build a powerful political movement with a base of 2 million true believers.”
The second reason for the shift toward socialism was the Great Recession of 2008. It tore a huge hole in the American people’s belief in capitalism as the way to a better life and sent them looking for alternatives. Many of them, especially younger Americans, found it in a “soft socialism” that was part welfare state, part administrative state, part socialist democracy.
The most startling poll was the YouGov survey that reported that given a choice, 44 percent of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 would prefer to live in a socialist nation rather than a capitalist country. Another seven percent would choose communism. However, the same poll revealed that only 33 percent of the respondents could correctly define socialism as based on the common ownership of economic and social systems as well as the state control of the means of production. What most millennials mean by “socialism” seems to be a mix of our welfare state and what they perceive to be Swedish democratic socialism. But Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries including Denmark favor the free market and are content with private rather than government ownership of their major industries. However, Danish domestic spending including comprehensive health care has a high price — a top personal income tax of 57 percent.
The millennial trend toward an acceptance of socialism is not new. A 2014 poll by Reason-Rupe, a libertarian group, reported that 58 percent of those aged 18 to 24 had a favorable view of socialism. A 2016 Gallup survey found that 55 percent of those 18-29 had a “positive image” of socialism. But 90 percent were favorable to “entrepreneurs” while 78 percent favored “free enterprise.” How can a group be 55 percent socialist and 78 per cent entrepreneurial? Either through cognitive dissonance or plain ignorance. In any case, it is critical for advocates of free enterprise to make the case against socialism because acceptance of socialism by any name places millennials on a slippery slope. Another recession and/or a well-run presidential campaign by a charismatic demagogue could move America farther down the road to serfdom.
A 2016 Harvard poll determined that 33 percent of Americans under 30 wanted socialism. In January 2016, YouGov asked millennials whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of socialism. Eight percent replied “very favorable,” 35 percent “somewhat favorable,” for a total of 43 percent, almost the same percentage as in their 2017 survey.
But would these same millennials choose socialism, if in exchange for “free” education and “free” health care, they would have to give up their personal property, such as their iPhone? Would seven percent of millennials declare their willingness to live under communism if they knew the real costs of communism as practiced in some 40 nations over the past century — the denial of free speech, a free press, and free assembly, the imprisonment and execution of dissidents, no free and open elections, no independent judiciary or rule of law, the dictatorship of the Communist Party in all matters and on all occasions?
For the first time in decades, socialists are taking advantage of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon to organize, raise funds, and field candidates from New York City to Oakland, California. A major instrument is DSA — the Democratic Socialists of America — about which the liberal New Republic asked, “Are the Democratic Socialists for America for Real?”
The most dramatic proof of socialism’s new-found political clout was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over veteran Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York, the number four Democrat in the House of Representatives, in the June Democratic primary. Ocasio-Cortez received 57 percent of the vote — to Crowley’s 42 percent — while pledging to back Medicare for all, free college tuition, legalization of marijuana and the elimination of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Attractive and articulate, the 28-year-old socialist announced she would support progressive candidates who challenged Democratic incumbents in primaries. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi cautioned Ocasio-Cortez not to oppose liberal Democrats who had a proven record of results. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2000, warned that “the policies Ms. Ocasio-Cortez advocates are so far from the mainstream, her election in November would make it harder for Congress to stop fighting and start fixing problems.” He noted that Republicans were already referring to Ocasio-Cortez as “the new face” of the Democratic Party. But an ideologue like Ocasio-Cortez is unlikely to be ruled by conventional politics.
The same can be said of Democratic Socialists. Over 700 elected delegates from around the country attended DSA’s 2017 national convention in Chicago, the historic site of many political beginnings from the 1860 presidential nomination of Abraham Lincoln to the riotous 1968 Democratic National Convention. Veterans of the organization were “blown away” by the enthusiasm of the younger DSA members whose priority is to win elections that advance socialism. Chicago City Councilman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, aged 28, is one of DSA’s elected officials. He advised an ecumenical approach for socialist candidates — to run on the Democratic ballot line because it offers access to people who want single-payer healthcare and a $15 minimum wage. As part of its demographic outreach, Bianca Cunningham, the African-American chair of New York City’s DSA labor branch, helped to form a national Afro-socialist caucus. . .