Haley M Schott
Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, garnered more votes among millenials than both Trump and Clinton combined in the 2016 election. A Reason-Rupe survey revealed that 53% of Americans under age 30 have a favorable view of socialism. Among many older Americans, socialism is the direct antithesis of American values. In fact, many use the word itself as an insult. Why do the generations view it so differently? Are the views of the youth a mix of contrarian idealism?
First of all, it’s important to remember that when people talk about socialism that they want to implement today, they are not talking about the Marxist version of socialism . The Marxist version of socialism is where the government owns the means of production. This was the “original” socialism. Most everybody today supports the free market. They actually mean a government with a robust welfare system- think of Scandinavia. This is often coined “democratic socialism.” However it is important to remember it really isn’t socialism at all, but technically a “social democracy.”
In this type of society the government strives to take care of its citizens- free healthcare, education, childcare, and a robust safety net along with employee unions are seen as ideal. Taxes are higher and there is generally less income inequality. The government might also impose more invasive rules on the citizens for the general good- think gun control. Oftentimes, the negatives of this system purported are higher taxes and lower quality services. Some also think it’s a loss of freedoms. Since there are countries implementing these policies in existence, this discussion does not have to be theoretical. Lets have a look at some current democratic socialist countries to see how they’re doing:
European social democratic countries score among the highest for quality of life. According to the US News and World Report, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are within the five highest. Other reports and studies have been showing consistently similar results. The GDP of Scandinavian countries is within the top twenty while having an average work week of a mere 37 hours.
The overall economy of the country is one of the biggest indicators of whether social democracy will work. Nordic countries are wealthy and are able to afford robust social systems. The Greek economy, on the other hand, is in shambles and not able to afford their social programs. This shows that the social democratic ideal requires money. Even if everybody and every politician in a country is a zealous social democracy supporter, the government will not be able to implement it in an ideal way without sufficient funds. The society may be more equal, but everybody will just be more equally poor. This is not to say that social democracy is not possible in poorer countries- the money the country does have can be spent towards social programs and high taxes, even on meager income, can certainly exist. Technically, this would be as true to social democracy as “ The Nordic Model” is. It would simply provide a much lower quality of life due to limited resources, and would not be seen as a utopia like many people view Scandinavia.
The United States is the richest country in the world, accounting for almost a quarter of the global GDP. The US, by far, has enough money to use social democracy to give everybody a decent standard of living. If the US spent its money in a different way, there could be no poverty. This is probably why many millennials support the system. Millenials were also not alive during the Cold War, a time when Capitalism was understandably praised. During this time, socialism was the Marxist version, which generally had horrible results. Our generation wasn’t traumatized by the Cold War, so the word “socialism”, even if used incorrectly as it is with democratic socialism, isn’t scary to us. Overall, I think the data supports our generation’s support for this new kind of “socialism” and I think we would be making a positive change implementing it.