COPELAND: Not Your Grandfather’s Socialism

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Tom Copeland Contributor
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Senator Bernie Sanders is charging $95 for tickets to an event promoting his new book – on capitalism. Capitalism works, even for an old-time friend of socialism.

Bernie became the silver fox of the progressive and socialist Left during his run for the Democratic nomination in 2016, and he was perhaps on his way to clinching the nomination before some backroom deals went down at the DNC. Still popular, his appeal to youth is only overshadowed on the socialist Left by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But why is socialism popular among young people? In the inimitable line from the musical Bye, Bye, Birdie, “What’s the matter with kids today?”

A new cross-national study by the Fraser Institute looks at support for socialism among 18 to 34-year-olds in Canada, the US, Australia and the United Kingdom. They find that large numbers of young people like the idea. In all four countries, that age group prefers socialism as the ideal economic system over capitalism by anywhere from 3% in the US to 26-27% in Canada and the UK.

Problem is, they don’t truly understand socialism. The Fraser study asked respondents to choose among three definitions of socialism. The traditional understanding of socialism as government owning industries and companies and running the economy – the definition a younger Bernie would have endorsed when he honeymooned in Moscow in 1988 – earned the lowest support.

The other two definitions drew 55-65% approval: the government providing more social services or a guaranteed basic income. Perhaps because younger workers often do not see government transfer payments until later in life (other than massive college debt relief), they do not know that among wealthy nations, the United States government actually spends the third most per capita on social welfare.

There’s a reason why this age group is ignorant of the truth about socialism.

In America, young people learn about the horrors of the robber barons. In the UK, they learn about the real crown jewel of England – the National Health System. What they are missing is economics and economic history.

Students are shocked to learn that 20th Century socialism killed more than 100 million people. The author of one of the most widely used American history textbooks, Howard Zinn, was a member of several Communist fronts in the United States, according to the FBI. The compulsory middle school trip to Washington, DC should include the new Victims of Communism Museum, which tells the unvarnished truth about the gulags, Stalin, Mao and more.

Professors teach the vices of capitalism and vilify the economist Adam Smith, but they miss one of his fundamental arguments: the point of accumulating wealth is to enable one to be generous to others. We should protest crony capitalism and other injustices, but generosity, not greed, is the real purpose of free markets. According to the Philanthropy Roundtable, American charities, corporations and churches give more than $44 billion each year in aid to other countries.

The Fraser study also confirms that people really want to soak the rich, but they do not want to pay into a socialist system themselves. No age group in the study was willing to support tax increases that might affect them as well as the rich.

That mentality is amplified by Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and President Biden any time they talk about taxes, “It’s time for the rich to pay their fair share.”

Nobody is sure what that “fair share” is exactly, but according to the IRS, the top 50% of income earners paid 96% of all income tax in 2019. Indeed the top 1% paid nearly 39% of all income taxes. Lower income workers are hurt by sales tax and other regressive taxes, but the overall picture is clear – the wealthy pay far more both in total and as a percent of income.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the early 19th century observer of America, explained why we want to extract more from the rich: envy. In a democracy where we value equality even above justice, the easiest way to achieve perfect equality is to bring down those above us in wealth, power, status, ability or any of the other things that make us unequal. This is the underlying truth of the Fraser report – socialists want to use the government to bring everyone down to the same level of poverty.

So it’s not really a problem of what’s the matter with kids today, it’s the adults who are miseducating them. As Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

Dr. Tom Copeland is Director of Research at the Centennial Institute and Professor of Politics at Colorado Christian University. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Centennial Institute and Colorado Christian University.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.