Neither Evidence of its Failure nor Arguments on its Immorality sway some from Socialism’s Utopian Appeal.
One of the most important parts of growing up in the United States is that phase we all go through in our young adult lives that confuses, disappoints, and often outright enrages our parents. While most of these prove to be harmless and temporary, some of them grow into something bigger. In these cases, they are typically influenced or afforded nourishment from outside media. Subcultures that were once universally loathed or at least ignored by critics and parents alike are now celebrated as pillars of Western society. It’s a hindsight game, really. For example, since modern critics now recognize the talent and innovation of bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, Punk Rock has been normalized and is now celebrated. Even Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley were in many ways ostracized at first, twenty years prior..
This pattern of something new and innovative being dismissed as destructive or nonsense, only to rise to cultural prominence can be seen in all aspects of culture, especially politics. At the turn of the 19th century, anti-monarchal movements and sentiments were often censored, their foundational ideas labeled radical. However, after application to governments worldwide, they liberated the people and gradually became a hallmark of the entire Western world. Even more government systems have risen with momentum, and proven unsuccessful. Fascism in pre-WWII Europe was a powerful movement that managed to consolidate power in many countries. It has since been destroyed and both rightfully and universally regarded as a blight on human history.
There is one movement that is seemingly an exception to the trend of ideological death after economic failure, military defeat, genocide, or famine (or all of the above): socialism. The rise of socialism so long after its heyday would be akin to awarding Beatles-level fame and acclaim to Katy Perry for her originality.
Alas, recent polls have affirmed socialism’s popularity among millennials. A Reason-Rupe survey, for example, found that 53% of Americans have a friendly view of socialism and Gallup found that 69% of millennials would be willing to vote for a socialist presidential candidate. Theories abound to explain the young voters’ attraction to the philosophy. One possible factor is simple ignorance. Not stupidity, of course, but a mere lack of knowledge in regard to the true history of socialism. Obviously, most American millennials have not and will never (fingers crossed) experience socialism in the U.S. Millennials are also too young to remember the rising tide of socialism spreading from the Russian Revolution and the Eastern Bloc to the western hemisphere, and are apparently too busy to do much research about it. Instead of absorbing the fact that the government cannot ensure utopia and that attempts to do so end in regression and death, these misguided millennials double down on the flowery rhetoric of socialism and consider the past a perverted attempt at their beloved philosophy.
Why has an ideology that has caused so much heartache and been such a consistent failure, both throughout the world and across time, remained so popular?
Some American socialists like Bernie Sanders tout “democratic” socialism as the true solution to America’s problems, as if adding the word “democratic” makes the socialist ideology any less destructive and immoral. “What democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of one percent in this country own almost as much wealth as the bottom ninety percent,” said Sanders in a 2016 presidential debate. It is still unclear where the “democratic” part comes into play. Adding “democratic” in front of socialism does not change anything. Many socialist leaders were elected democratically, but this does erase any of the immorality that comes with the ideology. It is also unclear who gave Bernie Sanders or anybody the right to determine how much or how little someone should have, or how government-mandated theft is any different from common theft. Unless members of that top percentile acquired their wealth illegally, it is nobody’s business but their own. Those who accuse the supporters of capitalism of excessive greed should ponder this: what is greedier than wanting to take from someone else on the grounds that you simply exist?
The closest thing to a socialist regime that Americans currently see, and frequently reference as model societies, are those in Scandinavia. Bernie Sanders believes that the nation “should look to countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.” However, upon looking a bit closer at these economies, one will find that they are not the socialist paradises that Sanders touts. Until 1950, Sweden had the highest per-capita GDP in the world. The 1960s saw Sweden’s taxes and government employment rocket upwards. As the government grew, however, GDP shrunk. Now Sweden’s per-capita GDP is fifteen percent lower than that of the U.S. Standard of living and disposable income are also significantly lower in Sweden, despite the United States spending much more on its own dependency and military. The post-WWII welfare system these countries created is now quietly failing, and the only working solution seems to be pumping the breaks on the welfare state. Sweden has made large cuts to its socialized medicine budget and made similar cuts in housing and unemployment benefits, and now 10% of Swedes have moved to private healthcare. Finland, meanwhile, has raised its retirement age, increased incentives to work in the private sector, and limited the amount of time students can spend in free universities. Norway, still bolstered by its oil reserve, is shaping up to be the last bastion of the struggling Statist philosophy.
Socialism’s promoters like Sen. Sanders seem to ignore the writing on the wall in Scandinavia and, moreover, they blatantly and irresponsibly ignore Venezuela: easily the purest and most salient example of the failure of a socialist state. Policy analyst Marian Tupy writes,
“American pupils can go through years of ‘education’ without learning about communist crimes and socialist economic failures.” He goes on, “(Millennials) see the imperfections of free-market democracy at home and assume that countries with the opposite economic and political arrangements, such as socialist Venezuela, must offer a better life to their people.”
Yet, the problems faced in Venezuela are quite prevalent and all too familiar with socialist systems. From the arrests and jailing of government opposition leaders to astronomical inflation, Venezuela has become the true, ugly, repressive beacon of modern socialism.
Ignorance of the true nature of socialism is another key to its popularity. The polls mentioned earlier seem to indicate that once Americans reach that ever-important wage-earning, family-supporting age, their opinion of socialism begins to dwindle. Reason-Rupe reports that among Americans over thirty, only 30% have a favorable opinion of socialism, and Gallup finds that same group to have about the same amount willing to vote for a socialist candidate. Even young millennials, when polled on the actual definition of socialism, worded as “an economy managed by the government” are rejecting it. Only 32% favor that idea. However, 69% support government-mandated health insurance and 54% want guaranteed free college. These numbers change among millennials in the $40,000-$60,000 income range, as polls indicate an almost direct relationship between income change and support for wealth redistribution.
The latter study seems to confirm oft-dismissed stereotypes about the entitled millennial voter. It also shows the total lack of legitimacy modern socialism has as a permanent movement. It would seem that young socialists are more than happy to let others bear financial burdens for them until it’s their turn to return the favor. This begs the question: why are young Americans unwilling to look to the near future? Perhaps the hindrance stems from education. Studies over the past few years have shown that fewer college students are taking history classes each year. Maybe it is that history classes themselves fail to shed light on the true fallacies and pitfalls of socialism. Could it be that the standard of living is so high that the value of earning one’s keep is disappearing? Speculation, natural as it may be, serves little worth for the purpose of this article. What needs no speculation is the fact that socialism is an evil ideology based on theft and control. This fact, as well as the citation of countless instances of its indisputable failure, seem to fall on far too many deaf ears.
— J. Thomas Perdue is a sophomore studying journalism. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative.