Last Friday, I had lunch with some conservative friends, and as you can imagine, much of the conversation centered on the presidential campaign. We remarked on the popularity of self-avowed socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Having been infected by the intellectual virus of socialism during my undergraduate career (my first presidential vote was for George McGovern), I can't say that I was surprised when a friend said that polls show that a majority of the under-30 cohort favors socialism over capitalism. Indeed, they do. Here are the figures.
Other data show that a slim majority of college students favor socialism over capitalism. By contrast, a majority of millennials who either have never attended college or have graduated and been in the work force for a few years do not. Conclusion? College campuses are the seedbeds for socialism.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) jokes around as he speaks during a campaign rally at Bonanza High School on February 14, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The popularity of socialism on college campuses is unconscionable. It is evidence of professional malpractice - of indoctrination masquerading as education in too many American colleges and universities. How could any well-educated person be ignorant of the overwhelming historical evidence that socialism has wrought poverty and devastation wherever it has been practiced? How could any thinking person believe that a system that impoverishes the masses is somehow fairer or more desirable than capitalism - the only economic system that ever has produced widespread affluence, the system that is directly responsible for the high standard of living that we take for granted?
The fact is that too many college professors don't bother to teach students the grim track record of socialism. I wonder how many American college students are aware of the current human suffering in Venezuela stemming from the late Hugo Chavez' socialist policies. Indeed, that unfortunate country is on the brink of collapse.
Venezuela's plight is merely the latest in a long line of case studies that vividly illustrate the same tragic (and tragically avoidable) phenomenon: Wherever a government has imposed socialism, the people have suffered, as photos of empty grocery store shelves in Venezuela and Cuba show.
And check out this video introduction to socialism in Cuba:
Another example: In the 1980s, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua imposed socialism and quickly squashed a functioning, if not thriving, private economy and replaced it with a dysfunctional system that caused Nicaraguans to refer to their country as "la tierra de no hay" or "the land where there isn't any."
I have heard many stories of horrific economic deprivation from my close friend Yuri Maltsev, who was an economist in the USSR before coming to the United States. But you don't need a Russian friend to learn about the dismal everyday reality of socialism in the USSR. A quick Google search (try "empty store shelves in USSR") will lead you to videos, articles, photos, etc.
During his campaign, Sanders has led people to believe that he wants to transpose the socialism-light of Denmark or Sweden to our country. Personally, I doubt that he prefers a watered-down version of socialism. After all, he went to Soviet-era Moscow, not Copenhagen or Stockholm, on his honeymoon, and he made a political pilgrimage to Nicaragua to march with anti-American protestors. Actually, Sanders is clueless about Scandinavian economies. Last fall, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen rebuked Sanders for misrepresenting the economic system of his country. Furthermore, Sanders seems oblivious to the fact that Sweden's government (like many other foreign governments whose examples we should learn from) shrank itself and the Swedish welfare state in order to boost economic growth.
Alas, not only are college students not being shown important facts about socialism, but too many of them have failed to learn critical thinking skills in college. They cheer lustily when Bernie Sanders visits their campuses and rails about the influence of money in politics, and then fail to see the glaring hypocrisy of Sanders pleading with students to vote for him - the candidate who will give them free college tuition.
Have we passed a tipping point? Probably, but not toward socialism. The Reason-Rupe poll linked above shows that the same students who apparently favor socialism over capitalism actually favor a "free market economy" over a "government-managed economy" when the choice is phrased with those words. And the fact that some college graduates do what I did decades ago - namely, outgrow their youthful infatuation with socialism when they get a job and see how the world really works - gives us hope that a majority of Americans will not be out-and-out socialists.
Even if we manage to dodge the socialism bullet, though, we're still in trouble. The fundamental economic and political problem confronting us - a grotesquely indebted, massively sprawling government that has hobbled growth and will some day trigger an economic and social cataclysm accompanied by a political crisis - seems inevitable. There is no way to escape the eventual economic pain resulting from Uncle Sam's $20 trillion of on-budget debt, some additional off-budget debt, and tens of trillions of dollars more of unfunded liabilities. In fact, only the Federal Reserve's pernicious practice of artificially suppressing interest rates has enabled the illusion that the federal government is on a sustainable fiscal path to persist as long as it has. When the bubble bursts and economic reality asserts itself in the form of massive economic dislocations (bankrupt businesses, lost jobs, depreciated currency, etc.) fearful Americans may plead for a bigger government in a state of emergency than they ever would vote for in calmer times.
Although the popularity of socialism on college campuses is a worrisome problem, the larger problem is our society's broken moral compass. Too many Americans - and not just millennials - accept the progressive notion that it is government's job to take care of our economic needs; consequently, they believe that government should redistribute property.
Millions of Americans who know that it is wrong to sneak into somebody else's house and take some of their property are perfectly comfortable with accepting, and even demanding, that government give them an economic boost - benefits that government only can dispense by taking property from other Americans. Why is it that if you take something that isn't yours from someone else, it is "theft," but if the government does it for you, it is "social justice"? And no, this isn't a blanket condemnation of all taxes. There is a fundamental difference between taxes that are used for the common benefit - e.g., national defense, legal system, public highways, etc. - and taxes designed to redistribute wealth from Citizen A to Citizen B. In the latter case, the very government that our founders established to protect our property has been transformed into the leading predator of property.
Bottom line: Yes, we should be concerned and offended by the popularity of "socialism" on college campuses, but until we have a moral revival that reinstates respect for private property and individual liberty, the American economy will fall far short of its potential and millions of Americans will miss out on the American dream.
Mark Hendrickson is Fellow for Economic and Social Policy with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
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