Why quick-fix politics clicks with millennials
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: March 2016
Newspaper: OC Register
President Ronald Reagan, whose wife Nancy passed away last week, had a passion for educating young adults. Even today, the Young Americas Foundation uses the late president’s Santa Barbara-area ranch to help develop the next generation of conservative leadership. So it’s with all confidence that I predict President Reagan would be distraught at the current ideological preferences of Americans under the age of 30.
A YouGov survey conducted in January asked respondents whether they had a more favorable view of capitalism or socialism. Americans between the ages of 30-44, 45-64, and 65-plus all preferred capitalism by a wide margin. However, 43 percent of Americans under age 30 – the so-called millennials – had a favorable view of socialism, while 32 percent said the same thing about capitalism.
It’s not unusual to find young adults at the core of progressive movements for “change,” but the millennial generation is uniquely susceptible to the easy political promises of socialism. For starters, many young people who tried to enter the workforce during the Great Recession haven’t experienced the benefits of a capitalist economy: According to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, nearly half of all 25-year-olds are living at home with their parents, up from roughly 25 percent at the turn of the millennium.
We also live in an age of instant gratification – instant news, same-day delivery of consumer goods, an on-demand chauffeured ride. This digital generation communicates in shareable icons and images, and signals its support for candidates and causes with likes and retweets.
But what millennials gain in multitasking skills, they can lose in deep engagement on difficult issues. A 2012 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and Elon University suggested that the Millennial generation “will exhibit a thirst for instant gratification and quick fixes, a loss of patience and a lack of deep thinking ability” as a consequence of their always-connected lives.
Instant gratification and quick fixes are exactly what’s been promised by today’s variant of “democratic socialism”: Free health care and free college, financed by the wealthiest of the wealthy and with few costs for the rest of us. The reality is far less appealing: There’s not enough money at the top of the income pyramid to finance this agenda, which is why everyone has to pay the tab for “free” services.
For instance, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, in its analysis of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tax plan, estimated that middle-class families earning $45,000 a year would pay $1,600 more in taxes on average to finance these benefits.
Of course, “free college for all” is far easier to share and digest on Facebook or Twitter than is a dense table of tax figures. The bigger concern here is the anti-prosperity underside of the ideology that the millennial generation is embracing.
Consider the social-democratic policies on offer in much of Western Europe, where rigid labor markets, confiscatory tax regimes, and a hostility to entrepreneurship have resulted in years of low growth and high unemployment rates.
At its extremes in Venezuela, the results of socialism are devastating. A columnist for business newspaper City A.M. explains: “Food is running out, as are other essentials, even though the country claims the world’s largest oil reserves. There are shortages of toilet paper and soap, empty shelves and massive crowds queuing for hours in front of supermarkets.”
In a series of radio commentaries that aired in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan explored the dangers of socialism in an easily-understood format appealing to young listeners. He continued to speak forcefully and memorably on the topic during his time as president.
Today, we need another generation of political leaders who are passionate about speaking to young people on the dangers of anti-market ideologies. We shouldn’t ostracize or look down upon millennials who embrace socialism; instead, we should show them why a “free market” is better than a “free lunch.”