As a society, we have done millennials a disservice. An entire generation of young people in America came of age during a decade of sluggish economic growth, and as a result, many are skeptical of free enterprise and capitalism. A stunning 2016 Harvard University survey of young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Millennial support for avowed socialist Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary was proof that young people today aren’t enamored with capitalism.
During the Obama years, the 18-29 age group heard countless presidential speeches railing against the evils of “crony” capitalism. President Obama told impressionable young voters if only the rich paid more taxes, everyone would be better off. But Obama’s tax and spend policies produced a predictably stagnant economy that stifled economic opportunity for young people.
The Obama agenda also attacked the notion of personal responsibility, killed on the altar of universal “rights” and the politics of victimhood. The Left preached that everyone has a “right” to free child care, free health care, a free college education and a roof over their head. And that the State will provide no matter what, so there’s no need to save, no need to work hard or pay your mortgage or student loans.
This is also the first generation raised by “helicopter parents,” who did their part, however well- intentioned, to undermine personal responsibility. Too many of today’s parents do everything for their children and shield them from learning life’s hard lessons.
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Then they went off to a higher educational system that produces an oversupply of the white-collar soft-science and humanities majors, many of whom have no marketable skills. Not able to put their expensive educations to use, they became unemployed or underemployed. Being highly educated and yet working at Starbucks, waiting tables or living in your mom’s basement can indeed make you cynical about the benefits of hard work and free enterprise.
That cynicism was also fueled by the very humanities and social sciences courses they took in college. The curriculum of too many educational institutions is rooted in anti-capitalist, socialist philosophies that paint free enterprise as inherently unfair. In fact, our very founding principles of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are under withering attack on politically-correct university campuses all across America.
But capitalism and free enterprise, not socialism and welfare, have proven to be the key to prosperity and to reducing global poverty and inequality. As recently as 1980, the World Bank estimated that 50 percent of the global population lived in abject poverty. But with the collapse of Soviet communism in 1988 came the global spread of free market institutions, abetted by freer flows of international trade and private capital. By 2015, the World Bank estimated that less than 10 percent of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty. Capitalism has demonstrably improved the lives and general welfare of millions of people.
With such empirical proof, why aren’t more leaders, academic and otherwise, putting forth a spirited defense of free enterprise? We have the evidence to dispel the notion that socialism is inherently fairer than capitalism in its ability to create jobs and reduce poverty. We can show that success lies with individual opportunity, which in turn leads to wealth creation.
As I said, we have done millennials a disservice. Perhaps a booming economy eventually roaring along at 4 percent growth and churning out jobs by the hundreds of thousands will change the minds of America’s youth when it comes to capitalistic free enterprise. Perhaps not. But socialism is certainly not the answer to America’s woes.
Dowd is chairman of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Company.