Society and Culture

“Millennial Socialism” is not Bolshevism – it is a confused and shallow knee-jerk socialism


My colleague Kristian Niemietz recently commissioned an opinion poll to get the measure of Millennials and Zoomers. He concluded that their economic views are irredeemably left-wing and that, unlike previous generations, Millennials are showing little sign of abandoning their bad opinions as they march towards middle age.

Kristian is broadly correct. Fashionable views about capitalism being to blame for everything from climate change and racism to high prices in the south of England have an uncanny hold over Britons under the age of 40. But there is another conclusion that can be drawn from the poll’s findings which is equally depressing: lots of people do not very much about economics.

The survey gave the following straightforward definition of capitalism: ‘An economic system whereby business, trade and industry is mostly run and owned privately for profit. Prices and wages are determined mainly by competition in a free market’. When asked whether this was a description of capitalism or socialism, nearly half the millennials in the survey either did not know or thought it was socialism.

They were then given an equally straightforward description of socialism: ‘An economic system whereby business, trade and industry is mostly run and owned by the government. Prices and wages are determined mainly by the government’. When asked whether this was capitalism or socialism, the majority of millennials either did not know or thought it was capitalism.

When asked the same questions, Zoomers did even worse. On the fundamental divide in political ideology of the last 150 years, the generations that have had the greatest access to higher education did about as well as a dart-throwing chimp.

The poll revealed further signs of confusion. Most of the respondents agreed with the statement that ‘capitalism heightens racism’ but also agreed that ‘racism is independent of the economic system’. They simultaneously claimed to want to pay ‘more tax to pay for public services’ but also wanted to pay ‘less tax, because the government will not spend it wisely’.

Reading the results in full, one gets the impression that a significant number of those who took part had never thought about these issues very deeply. And why should they? A third of adults do not bother to vote in general elections and the vote of a single individual would not have the barest scintilla of a chance of making a difference to the result if they did.

Some would say it is their civic duty to educate themselves about such matters, but what incentive does anyone have to acquire an understanding of macroeconomics unless it is directly relevant to their job? Economists themselves appreciate why large sections of the electorate are rationally ignorant.

Rationally ignorant voters cannot avoid being asked their political opinions from time to time, even if it is only down the pub. Sometimes they will simply say they do not know, as a significant minority of respondents did in this survey. At other times they rely on time-saving heuristics. One such heuristic is known as ‘intentions bias’ in which policies are judged by the goodwill of those who advocate for them rather than on the outcomes they produce. This works against capitalism because, as the economist Joseph Schumpeter observed, most people hold the ‘ineradicable prejudice that every action intended to serve the profit interest must be anti-social by virtue of this fact alone.’

Sure enough, in Kristian’s poll, Millennials and Zoomers associated socialism with words like ‘equal’, ‘fair’ and ‘people’ while they associated capitalism with ‘exploitation’, ‘unfair’ and ‘corporations’. This is the problem with intentions bias. It leads to voters being not merely ignorant but systematically biased towards bad policies.

The only cure is for voters to feel the consequences of their actions. That does not happen unless a party representing their views wins power, but if the Millennials and Zoomers make it to middle age without abandoning their faith in big government, that is only a matter of time.

 

Head of Lifestyle Economics, IEA

Christopher Snowdon is the Head of Lifestyle Economics at the IEA. He is the author of The Art of Suppression, The Spirit Level Delusion and Velvet Glove; Iron Fist. His work focuses on pleasure, prohibition and dodgy statistics. He has authored a number of papers, including "Sock Puppets", "Euro Puppets", "The Proof of the Pudding", "The Crack Cocaine of Gambling" and "Free Market Solutions in Health".


1 thought on ““Millennial Socialism” is not Bolshevism – it is a confused and shallow knee-jerk socialism”

  1. Posted 16/07/2021 at 12:07 | Permalink

    Spot on! (and reflects my recent anecdotal experience)

    Few typos, particularly: ‘But there is another conclusion that can be drawn the poll’s findings which is equally depressing: lots of people do not very much about economics.’

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