A recent national survey by the Harvard Institute of Politics finds that a majority of Millennials (18- to 29-year olds) do not support capitalism as a political theory. One-third of them, however, do support socialism.
As a rule, I try not to put too much stock in such surveys because opinion polls make us dumb. But it’s become obvious that a significant portion of younger American are truly so under-educated that they truly believe socialism is preferable to capitalism.
Perhaps the problem is merely one of language. The reality is that the most ardent “capitalists” don’t like “capitalism” either.
Capitalism is merely an economic system in which the modes and means of production are mostly or entirely privately owned. That’s a rather broad categorization that includes such systems as corporatism, crony capitalism, social democracy, state capitalism, and welfare capitalism. Even those of us who can be described as “capitalists” would reject most of the other forms of capitalism we don’t like. (Which is why we tend to dislike the unhelpful word “capitalism.”)
What many of us (I’m tempted to say true capitalists) prefer is not an amorphous capitalism, but an economic system that is outgrowth of the natural order of liberty: a free economy. There’s no agreed upon term for the system of a free economy (which is why capitalism is often used as a substitute) but it includes free people engaging in free enterprise in free markets. A free economy is not a laissez-faire, each-to-his-own system of consumerism. It’s a system in which people are allowed to use their resources and abilities most effectively to serve others.
My naïve hope is that if more Millennials understood that capitalism is mostly used as a derogatory term free enterprise and economic liberty, they’d realize that they really do support it after all. But in case they aren’t convinced here are five reasons why you, young Millennial reader, should support capitalism:
1. Capitalism makes the world cleaner, less violent, and less poor (yes, really) — Because of capitalism there are fewer wars, fewer deaths from pollution, and fewer people living in extreme poverty than ever before. While global peace, health, and prosperity may seem like trivial concerns compared to your student loans, they are a reason most of us are grateful for the benefits of capitalism.
2. Capitalism is the reason you’re (probably) not a farmer – Do you currently have Tama soil under your fingernails? Do you not even know what Tama soil is? You probably don’t, which means you aren’t a farmer. Statistically, that is a safe assumption since there are only about 10,000 Millennials who are principal operators on a farm in the U.S.
Today, Millenials are farmers because they want to be. But that wasn’t always the case. In Colonial America approximately 90 percent of the population earned at least part of their living as farmers. Even in 1900, 41 percent of the U.S. workforce was employed in agriculture. People didn’t have a choice — farming was a required vocation.
So what changed? Mostly technological progress brought about by free enterprise. The gains from specialization and trade (key aspects of free enterprise) made it possible for you to be a Wendell Berry-reading “agrarian” at grad school rather than standing in an Iowa cornfield pushing a plow through Tama.
And that’s one of the truly remarkable effects of capitalism: it makes it possible for more and more people to pursue their interests, passions, and talents and use them in diverse ways to serve their fellow humans.
3. Capitalism is the main reason you weren’t drafted into the army — Thanks to the Obama administration, women will soon be joining men in being eligible for the “draft” — the commonly used term for mandatory military conscription.
But don’t worry, there’s not need for you to run off to Canada. No one in your generation has actually been subjected to the draft, and you likely never will. For our current all-volunteer military you can thank free market economists like Milton Friedman.
At the height of the Vietnam War, U.S. commander Gen. William Westmoreland testified before the President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Force, a commission that was exploring the feasibility of ending the military draft. As Newsday reported,
Staunchly opposed to an all-volunteer military, which must pay its soldiers market wages, Gen. Westmoreland proclaimed that he did not want to command “an army of mercenaries.” One of the commission members immediately shot back with a question: “General, would you rather command an army of slaves?
That commission member was Milton Friedman. Friedman based his arguments primarily on the need for freedom in human flourishing. But he also noted its effects on the lower classes:
A by-product of freedom to serve would be avoidance of the present arbitrary discrimination among different groups. A large faction of the poor are rejected on physical or mental grounds. The relatively well-to-do used to be in an especially good position to take advantage of the possibilities of deferment offered by continuing their schooling. Hence the draft bears disproportionately on the upper lower classes and the lower middle classes. The fraction of high-school graduates who serve is vastly higher than of either those who have gone to college or those who dropped out before finishing high school.
If you served in the military because you wanted to, not because you were forced by the government, then you have a reason to be grateful for capitalism. And if you didn’t serve you have an even greater reason to be thankful for free enterprise.
4. Free enterprise is the most moral economic system — Free enterprise is the most moral, most fair, and most helpful system for alleviating poverty. Even a cursory study of history will show this is both obvious and true. The free enterprise system, though not without it’s significant flaws, is the most moral economic system yet devised. In the video below, Arthur Brooks explains three reasons why a free economy is the most moral:
1) Free enterprise safeguards lasting happiness.
2) It promotes real fairness.
3) It does the most good for the most vulnerable.
5. You already prefer capitalism anyway — Quick: Name your favorite provider of a good or service?
Chances are that you said Apple or Uber rather than the DMV or the Department of Commerce. While the government may provide some necessary services, it isn’t the best at providing customer service or fulfilling the various and unique wants and desires of Millennials. Imagine standing in line for hours, like they used to do in the anti-capitalist Soviet Union, to get stale bread and sandpaper-rough toilet paper. That’s what happens when you reject capitalism.
But let’s be honest. You don’t really reject capitalism. You just want more redistribution. You love capitalism when it is providing you with iPhones, Beyoncé videos, and fair trade coffee. What you don’t love is that you can’t have everything you want while you’re in college, working a free internship, or having to put in the work to move up the corporate foodchain. You want the benefits of capitalism; you just want someone else to pay for it.
That’s natural. It’s wrong and evil, but it is definitely natural. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon of adolescent immaturity to want other people to take care of you and provide for your material wants and needs. You want more than you can have so you want other people to pay for it. That’s a form of immaturity that some people (e.g., politicians) never outgrow.
But you likely will grow up. You’ll realize that there aren’t enough “rich” people from which to redistribute income. You’ll realize that making the world a better place economically mostly entails you being productive at work, contributing to the flourishing of your fellow man by your labor. You’ll realize that, no matter where you fall on the economic spectrum, you are part of the most materially blessed generation in the history of the universe and that you are much, much, much better off because of free enterprise.
You’ll realize that, and you’ll grow up. Or you won’t. And then we’ll all be in trouble.