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OPINION: Socialism: An Idea that Stays Alive in the Minds of Young People

Updated: Apr 23

By: Om Bhaskar (‘27)

Socialism is usually characterized as an economic system where production, distribution, and exchange of goods are regulated by the government, and the means of production owned by workers and the community themselves. 

According to an article by the Reason Foundation about self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders,“Sen. Sanders notes that many in the U.S. claim they would be willing to pay ‘a little more in taxes’ to receive the benefits of universal healthcare, free education, and greater income transfers.” 

So, under more mainstream definitions of socialism, taxes would rise, and institutions such as healthcare and higher education would be made “free” or “more affordable.” More money would be transferred from the rich to the poor, and the government would expand. Some private corporations and properties would be nationalized and replaced by government programs. 

This ideal of socialism has made the ideology much more popular than it was in previous years, specifically among younger generations, like Millennials and Gen Z. The idea of an extensive welfare system excites many, however, the difference between a free market, capitalist economy with an extensive welfare system and actual socialism is a line that shouldn’t really be crossed.

While a utopian idea of what socialism can be may sound good to many, history has taught the world that attempts at creating a society which runs under these systems end up causing government repression, human rights abuses, and famines mainly because when people give economic freedoms to the government, it is hard to keep political freedoms. The economy is also known to suffer under socialist systems.

A recent example of this would be Venezuela, a country which democratically elected a socialist leader named Hugo Chavez several times and had a democratic system in place, but eventually lost its free democracy and ended up being ruled by a socialist dictator after the country’s economic stability collapsed. Nicolas Maduro, the current socialist president of Venezuela has been accused of human rights abuses and rigging elections, a modern, terrible show of the failure of socialism to protect the rights of citizens. 

Another explanation for younger people’s sympathies with socialism could be the fact that they just don’t understand what actual socialism entails. 

In an interview with social studies teacher Dr.Justin Negraval, he described two “definitions” of socialism in the modern day, one where “there is government confiscation (over the means of production)”, and the other definition, which is more characterized by expansion of government and welfare. “For example, the New Deal was one of the largest creation and expansion of government authority (In the United States)”.

The New Deal was a response to the Great Depression which expanded government and welfare, while also keeping people employed. This, however, isn’t actual socialism. 

One last explanation for younger people being more socialist-friendly could also be because they simply are unaware of the terrors that have been caused by socialist regimes. 

For example, according to a survey done by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), only 36% of Americans know that the Communist Party of China has killed more people than the Nazi party in Germany. 

Supporting this data, when freshman Balaram Srikant was asked which ideology he believed has killed the most people in recent history, he said, “probably the Nazis.” 

When told the correct answer to this question which many get wrong, and asked for his reaction to the true answer, Srikant said, “My reaction is surprised, I thought the Nazis killed more people because of the wide and known influence of the Holocaust and Hitler, unlike the actions done by the Chinese Communist Party.” 

All this goes to show how education of the tragedies that took place under socialism aren’t taught adequately in schools or in media, and how that creates a distorted view of history. Furthermore, the differences between capitalist countries with large social nets and socialist countries themselves has also not adequately been explained in media, and many self-proclaimed socialist politicians in the United States wrongfully call European Social Democracies, like Denmark or Norway, socialist, when in reality they are free-market economies.

When asked if Scandinavian countries could be classified as socialist, Dr. Negraval said, “Generally, no. There are certain countries that have many more social programs”. 

This is a more “socialized” way of living to be sure, however, this isn’t actual socialism. Even the Prime Minister of Denmark said, “Denmark is not a socialist nation, it has a "market economy," in response to politicians like Bernie Sanders saying Scandinavian countries were socialist. 

  This lack of widespread knowledge of socialism when compared to older times might be explained by the fall of the USA’s once biggest rival, the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a socialist dictatorship which collapsed in 1991, and rivaled the United States as the only other world superpower of the time. The Soviets partly fell due to their economic system. 

When asked why the Soviet Union collapsed, Dr. Negraval said, “The economic system was part of it, but more was the corruption and mismanagement.”

  Average Americans were scared of the Soviet Union and socialism due to many different factors, one of which being the knowledge of how bad living standards were in socialist countries. Feelings like this were especially prevalent in the 1950’s during the Red Scare, which was a period of “hysteria over the perceived threat posed by Communists and Socialists in the U.S. during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States,” according to an article by

  The Soviet Union’s eventual collapse ended the largely prevalent phobia of communism and socialism in the United States, proven by the fact that older generations, which lived through the existence of the Soviet Union and most other socialist countries, have a much higher amount of fear and negative connotations of what socialism is when compared to younger people.  

Asked what comes to mind when thinking of socialism, Srikant said, “It’s basically when the power is shared between a group of people so it creates a more even society. The Soviet Union was a really good example of this.” 

When told about the deep political instability in the Soviet Union, Srikant said, “I think that’s logical, it has a very bad legacy and people often compare it with other terrible societies.”

Furthermore, according to the same VOC survey, approximately 31% of Gen Z and 35% of Millenials believe capitalism should be slowly phased out in favor of socialism, while the number is only 18% in Baby Boomers and 16% in the Silent Generation. Millennials only began being born in 1981, the last decade of the Soviet Union’s existence, which proves the correlation between the Soviet Union’s existence training the reputation of socialism, and how the lack of said country left socialism to be looked at as more and more favorably.

This let the idea that socialism is more even, and power is shared more equally gain more roots in the public, whether it be through popular media, frustration with some of the issues with capitalism, or just naivety to what they actually are, since the United States hasn’t really suffered from socialistic policies like other countries have. 

Furthermore, according to an article by The Heritage Foundation, after adopting socialistic policies in the United Kingdom, Israel, and India, all three countries “abandoned socialism and turned toward capitalism and the free market. The resulting prosperity in Israel, India, and the U.K. vindicated free marketers who had predicted that socialism would inevitably fail to deliver the goods.” 

India’s Gross Domestic Product before the reduction of expanded government and more socialist policies under a system known as “License Raj” was a measly $270 Billion Dollars. Once the economy was liberalized and these policies were abolished, the Indian GDP grew to over $3.3 Trillion in the span of 30 years, and the people of India are much better off as their GDP per capita grew from $304 to $2,389 per year.

All of this information paints a dim picture of the policies that are to come in the USA’s future. If capitalism is continuously looked down upon while socialism is embraced by the younger generations, who will eventually take a majority of political power in the United States as other generations age, a transition to some form of socialism could become a legitimate idea if enough support was there among the branches of government and the people. The ramifications of that would be disastrous for the economy, and strain the already rapidly growing debt. If historical issues with socialism are ignored by politicians, the United States would just suffer the same fates as these countries, some of which do not even exist anymore.

 Time and time again, socialism has failed to lift countries up, and instead caused mass suffering and brutal famines. It is important to learn from history and to realize socialism needs to stay dead for years to come.

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3 comentarios

Maria Xu
Maria Xu
05 may

I think the concept of socialism is often muddied up. As you mention, most people look to social democracies, such as Denmark or Sweden, as socialist countries while their own government repudiates the label. The same goes for conceptualizing the New Deal.

I’m ambivalent towards the definition of socialism because one can argue that these countries and legislation contain socialist aspects while also being pro-capitalistic. I don’t really care if a specific legislation is called socialist or not. It’s about whether or not it is good policy that I am concerned about.

I am not sure what my Gen Z peers think about when they think about socialism, but in general I’m very much pro stronger social nets, more cooperatives…

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Well said and true, Om. Btw, I heartily recommend "The Woke Left's Primitive Economics", a short essay by Paul H. Rubin that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on 6 October 2021.

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