Millennials Can’t Just ‘Reject’ Capitalism

What is the result of over three decades of the conservative movement’s failure to fight effectively in and win the information war? One of my favorite examples is that the debate whether socialism can be made to work is still with us.

Here is the subtitle of Michael Munger’s above-titled article: “Socialist Countries Show What Happens When You Try.” Here’s how it opens:

The Washington Post recently blared the headline: “Majority of Millennials Now Reject Capitalism, Poll Shows.”

I suspect, perhaps unfairly, that this is a matter of some pleasure for the Post’s editorial board.

But if you actually read the article, a different picture emerges. In fact, 42 percent of the millennials polled say they support capitalism. In comparison, only 33 percent say they support socialism. So an equally accurate, and less tendentious, headline would have been: “Millennials Favor Capitalism over Socialism by Wide Margin.” At a minimum, by the logic of “rejecting capitalism,” we should say that “Two-thirds of Millennials Reject Socialism!”

You Can’t Just “Reject” Capitalism Any More Than You Can Reject Gravity

Of course, there are some problems interpreting these answers. For one thing, it’s not clear that the millennials in the sample (or folks of any age the Post’s editorial board) can actually define capitalism, or for that matter, socialism.

But more importantly, it’s not clear that you can “reject” capitalism, any more than you can reject gravity. Numerous accounts of the (now-failed) socialist nations document the emergence of market exchange and production even in the most difficult circumstances. Markets happen, often with the tacit consent of states that officially decry exchange, because otherwise society cannot function. The “transition” from communism in fin de siècle Eastern Europe was largely accomplished before it became official.

Oddly, support for “capitalism” may be stronger in countries that pretend to be socialist. In China, more than three-quarters of respondents agree that “people are mostly better off in free market systems.”

Read more: Foundation for Economic Education

Image credit: