Millennials and Socialism: The “Crash Diet” of Political Ideologies
Need new headphones? Amazon.
Need to get across town? Uber.
Need a date? Tinder.
Need to end world poverty? Socialism.
What do these all have in common? They are are quick fixes to problems we face daily — things we need or like to confront in a timely manner. How are they different? The first three work, the last one promises dazzling results and always fails.
We — especially Millennials — live in a culture of instant gratification. When we want to fix something, with the click of a button, we have a solution. Since the advent of mass communication, the world has become much smaller, and in some ways, much simpler. However this has created a sort of societal hubris — we have come this far, why can’t we fix anything with the ease of a click?
This fallacy that we can always easily gratify our needs, no matter what they may be, is most clearly manifested in socialism’s rising popularity throughout American Leftists. Figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claim that by boosting healthcare spending, the entire population will have access to quality medical care. Bernie Sanders claims that by taxing the rich we can give everyone free university educations. Throw federal money at the problem and it will *poof* disappear. And the liberal masses are eating it up.
What ease! What practicality!
With a wave of their legislative wand, poverty, the housing crisis, and lack of jobs go away. Unfortunately, socialism is not the “Uber-eats” of politics, instantly delivering solutions to chrony-ism and poverty. We want a utopia of equal healthcare and social benefits and we think that by state-mandation, politicians can achieve this fantasy.
The problem is, socialism is based on an ideal society that has never existed and will never exist. Though we can get one hour delivery of groceries off of Amazon, we cannot, however, achieve income equality. Millennials have grown up in the most globally equitable, prosperous era in all of human history, so it is natural that they have taken for granted the relative stability that has allowed all of these instant solutions to come about. Technological changes, for example, have risen thanks to the growing amount of capital and productivity made possible by the stability of the modern era. With the click of a button, we can access romance, technology, entertainment, education, and much more.
And yet, millennials still insist we are not doing well enough. They have taken this prosperity for granted and so they turn on the very mechanism that produced it — capitalism and its corresponding neoliberal values. When in fact, competitive markets have allowed the rise of tech giants, innovative finance, better production, and an overall advancement of mankind. Yet, they do not see the production of jobs in developing countries — they see globalism preying on the poor. They do not see a rise in global living standards — they see crippling inequality.
Neoliberalism will not catch on with Millennials any time soon — it does not provide a quick-fix. There would be a transition period of deregulation and the globalization of labor that leaves some without jobs and others without the political power their money once brought them. Poverty would remain and a degree of inequality would persist. How, then, could the young, instantly appeased generations not opt for the socialist alternative that promises higher government intervention and taxation as a panacea to society’s ills? A system that is as clear as a Google search and as fast-acting as an Amazon delivery.
And in the short term, they’re right. As the daughter of a Venezuelan immigrant, I have lived through the total demise of the country as it falls prey to socialism. As a young girl, I witnessed the wealth and prosperity experienced by the Venezuelan upper class. Caracas was a host to a thriving cosmopolitan culture with plenty of high-end restaurants, shopping centers, and the like. Under Chavez, the rich prospered and the poor celebrated their constant welfare payments and relative mobility which maintained a constant Chavez voting base.
The problem came in my adolescence — they ran out of money.
The poor could no longer be paid off because of startling hyperinflation. As they ran out of basic necessities like toilet paper and dish soap, the government’s infallible hand started to raise question.
The rich fled, and continue to flee, as business opportunities shrivelled up as the government completely stagnated the innovation in the oil industry. Because of its state control, the vast oil industry was never diversified or innovated because of a lack of competition.
Now Venezuela is reaching an inflation rate of over 13,000% and many citizens face starvation and a total lack of healthcare. Decades of socialism and subsequent authoritarianism (which too often go together) have totally crippled the country, even though it started off promisingly and was seen as the land of opportunity throughout South America.
Turns out the Chavez regime’s promises for instant socio-political prosperity did not hold up in the long run.
But surely our socialist champions know better! Surely the Chavez regime fell pressure to their power and ended up taking advantage of the poor! Well the reality is that our “champions,” like Sanders, have praised Venezuela in the past, seeing their former socioeconomic order as a haven for more opportunity and equality. Sanders himself backed the idea that nations like Venezuela offered more mobility than the modern-day U.S.
But it turns out that socialism completely stagnated the economy and squelched all innovation. No stable business remains in Venezuela and all opportunity is gone. Want Amazon? Want a Tinder date? You’re out of luck.
So today, Millennials especially must be cautious when they begin to romantically look at socialism. The promises are indeed inspiring and our intentions are truly good. But the reality is not. The truth is that socialism has never worked. Even the celebrated Swedish system has a highly deregulated private market, thus disqualifying it from its mainstream socialist brand.
Even though we live in a culture of instant gratification, not all of our rapid innovations work. In this way, socialism is synonymous to crash-dieting — a quick way to lose a few pounds, but never permanent and ultimately linked to unhealthy eating habits. Capitalism is like a healthy diet and exercise regime — it takes sacrifice, but in the long term it’s sustainable and effective.
It’s time to reject the status quo of instant gratification. Will it require interim economic suffering? Yes. Will it last longer than socialism? Yes.
Most importantly, has capitalism and neoliberalism produced more innovative and effective societies over the course of modern history? Absolutely.
— Carine Hajjar
A second-year student at Harvard College interested in pursuing a B.A. in Government and/or Economics. Classical liberal and lover of facts over feeling.