The 2020 Democratic primary field for the presidency of the United States contains candidates who identify as socialists (including the No. 1 or 2 front-runner, depending on the poll). It contains candidates who “flirt” with an identity as socialists (they defend the label, even if they don’t exhaustively claim it as their own), and candidates who, in the most gracious interpretation of things, claim to not warrant the label, but have dedicated their platform to defending tenets that can best be described as extremely compatible with some strand of socialism.
Put differently, this Democratic field is further to the left than any field or even outlier candidate has ever been in American history. And at the core of this leftward drift are not social issues or foreign policy, but rather, an embrace of the core tenets of socialism – and even more accurately – a hostile posture against the tenets of free enterprise.
Where has this affection for socialism come from? And why is it shared by many young people?
Millennials in many cases have had three encounters with market forces thus far: (1) The student loan debt they wrestle with; (2) Housing prices they find unaffordable and unrealistic; and (3) The memories they have of the financial crisis, and what it seems to have meant to their parents.
That all three of these things have governmental-policy error fingerprints all over them is unfortunately lost on too many millennials. It is causing a pendulum shift towards the very ideology (market interventionism) that has created so many of the problems we deal with.
And yet the testimony of history is clear. Global poverty and global illiteracy have declined from roughly 50 percent one generation ago to roughly 10 percent today, directly as a result of greater freedom, greater access to markets, and the quest for a better life. Free markets are too often presented as a veneer to crony capitalism, to protecting the interests of the rich and powerful, and not as a tool by which human flourishing can be achieved.
Socialism is doomed to fail not just because it is economically unsustainable, and not just because it leads to inevitable political corruption and confiscation. It is doomed to fail not just because it suppresses incentives, destroys productivity and strips the economy of competitiveness.
It is doomed to fail because it is an immoral system that robs mankind of dignity, making men and women wards of the state, and strips them of the happiness that is embedded in earned success.
A movement toward Medicare-for-all, a wealth confiscation tax, a Green New Deal, student loan forgiveness for all, and any other such extremist nonsense, may all sound fine for the Democratic primary sound bites. But the key to a better life for millennials, and for all generations, is the free and open market system. The one that has offered the opportunity of a greater quality of life for billions of people for decades.
The system requires the elimination of cronyism, no doubt. But for those who value human flourishing, it is capitalism – the quest for a free a virtuous society – not socialism, that is rooted in the American DNA.
David L. Bahnsen runs a wealth management firm in New York City and Newport Beach, CA managing over $1.6 billion of client capital. He is a trustee of National Review’s Institute, a frequent guest on Fox Business, and the author of Crisis of Responsibility, as well as The Case for Dividend Growth.