Jazz wrote yesterday on this, showing a lot of concern about the Harvard IOP poll reporting capitalism has only a 42% approval rating by millennials. He’s got really good points, but only partially mentions the fact socialism isn’t doing that much better with young people. Here’s what the poll found (emphasis mine):

Majority of 18- to 29-Year-Olds Reject Both Socialism and Capitalism. When 18- to 29-year-old young Americans were asked whether or not they support socialism, capitalism, and other political theories and labels, a majority reject both socialism and capitalism. Socialism is supported by 33% of young Americans, while capitalism is supported by 42%. Among those most likely to vote, 41% support socialism and 52% support capitalism. Socialism is typically more supported by 18- to 20-year-olds (41%), Democrats (50%), Clinton voters (54%), Hispanics (38%) and African Americans (39%). Capitalism is more likely to be supported by people who have graduated from college (56%), whites (43%), men (49%), people who live in the South (46%) and the West (45%), and members of the GOP (54%).

But it gets more interesting digging into the actual data and finding out there are a lot of people who reject the Capitalist and Socialist labels.


So if 79% of those polled won’t identify themselves as socialist, and 73% won’t identify themselves as capitalist, how can those in favor of free markets triumph? The first is defining what “capitalism” actually means. For a lot of people (thanks, Democrats and Republicans) capitalism is the ability for big businesses to take advantage of their pals in Washington, DC (or in local and state politics) to get favors. It’s getting massive tax breaks and incentives to move into an area, instead of picking it for location, workforce, and the like. It’s getting a taxpayer-funded bailout when things go sour, instead of letting companies sell off the profitable parts and go under. The “golden parachute” is probably there too. If this is what millennials think the definition of “capitalism” is, then it’s no wonder why they’re rejecting this label. This isn’t capitalism, it’s cronyism and it’s a problem here in America.

What capitalism is supposed to stand for is a free market economy, where government isn’t involved in things, and people can create whatever business they want to create (as long as it isn’t a slave trade). It means the only buying and selling which goes on is when a customer buys something from a business, one business buying product from another business, or when a business buys another business. It’s companies competing with each other for consumer’s money, instead of relying on the government to enforce some sort of monopoly (see the taxi cab industry). It’s new technology being developed to give a greater service to consumers (see Uber and Lyft). This is capitalism.

The cool thing is millennials are okay with this definition. Here’s what Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote at Reason on the poll (emphasis mine):

Millennials also love the idea of “social entrepreneurship”—doing well in business while doing good for others. Unlike anti-capitalists of yore, young people today don’t seem to see a tension between turning a profit and living righteously. It’s just a matter of making that money in an ethical manner, and “giving back” in some way, be it by donating a portion of proceeds or creating a product or service that provides a social good…

The Reason-Rupe Millennial Poll, a national survey of 18- to 29-year-olds undertaken in 2014, found 56 percent of respondents had a favorable view of capitalism, making it slightly less popular than socialism, which was viewed favorably by 58 percent. Asked about “free markets” and a “government managed economy,” however, markets won big time. Only 28 percent of those surveyed saw socialized business positively, compared to 74 percent who view free markets positively. What’s more, 64 percent said they prefer free markets to a gov-managed economy, while only 32 percent said the opposite.

So there you have it. Millennials love the idea of free markets, they just don’t like the term “capitalism” because of what it means to them. Remember, both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street complained about the bailouts, their solutions were just different. Free market fans need to explain to millennials how they hate cronyism with a passion, and the solution isn’t more government involvement but less. It isn’t going to be successful, because there are going to be people who truly prefer socialism (democratic or otherwise) to willy-nilly free markets. But it doesn’t mean we stop promoting the idea of capitalism, because that would be disaster (especially if Bernie Sanders keeps screaming at the top of his lungs about free everything and higher taxes).

There’s also a choice the lovers of capitalism (real capitalism) have to decide: is it worth keeping that word alive, or is it time to start using terms like free markets to get our point across. It’s not an easy decision, because the labels have been around since Karl Marx wrote Communist Manifesto (who I believe actually first used the phrase “capitalist”). But the fact a majority of people wouldn’t define themselves as either capitalist or socialist really isn’t a bad thing.