Socialism Begets Socialists

Referencing recent polls and the popularity of Bernie Sanders among the youth, famed economist Walter E. Williams laments the signals that “young people prefer socialism to free market capitalism” in America.

The reason for this, he believes, “is a result of their ignorance and indoctrination during their school years, from kindergarten through college.  For the most part, neither they nor many of their teachers and professors know what free market capitalism is.” 

I have great admiration for Dr. Williams, but it struck me that this doesn’t paint a complete picture. 

First of all, the youth may not have a firm grasp on the virtues and benefits of a free market, but they certainly know what socialism is, economically speaking.  They know it involves the government engaging in the coerced seizure of wealth from some to provide for others.  They just really like that idea.

Secondly, while there is indeed an alarming lack of truthful instruction in schools and universities about socialism’s dark and murderous legacy that Dr. Williams later cites in the article (over 116 million deaths in the twentieth century alone), I find the conclusion that public-school teachers and college professors are to blame for the youth’s affinity for socialism far too convenient and simplistic an explanation. 

Academia is generally the scapegoat we point toward when lamenting our indoctrinated leftist youth. But academia’s tendency to lionize socialism as virtue rather than an evil is not a new phenomenon, to be sure.  It’s been that way for many decades.  There must be something different in these youths’ experience today which might better explain this trend.

Herein lies the more troubling observation that we seem to prefer not to recognize.  Young people are being driven the arms of socialists not solely based upon what they’re being taught in the classroom, but by the example America has set before them.

There are two distinct components to this.

The welfare state, and the collapse of the nuclear family 

There can be no reasonable argument against the fact that our American welfare state is a practical manifestation of socialist economic principles.  It is the coercive seizure of property from taxpayers predicated upon a moral imperative that a government broker must seize and redistribute wealth to those who “need” it more. 

The welfare state is also an all-out assault upon the institution of marriage and the family.  This is because the welfare state is bolstered and grows by this cultivating greater “need” among constituents, and married couples with families “need” the welfare state less than single-parent families.  It should be noted that the data prove beyond a shadow of doubt that marriage promotes financial self-sufficiency.  And as Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation notes: “It is no accident that the collapse of marriage in America largely began with the War on Poverty and the proliferation of means-tested welfare programs that it fostered.” 

“Collapse” is an apt description of what has happened to the institution of marriage in America since LBJ’s crusade to destroy it began.  At just a cursory glance, the number of single-parent homes had increased from 9% in 1960 to 34% by 2013. 

Why?  It’s a simple matter of government-subsidized incentives.  “As means-tested benefits expanded,” continues Rector, “welfare began to serve as a substitute for a husband in the home, and low-income marriage began to disappear.”  As marriage is unquestionably a boon toward a family’s financial stability, this “created a destructive feedback loop: Welfare promoted the decline of marriage, which generated a need for more welfare.” 

Adding to this problem, the welfare state actually penalizes marriage among this demographic, which is in direr need of this financial stability that marriage can provide. “For example,” Rector goes on, “if a single mother who earns $20,000 per year marries a man who earns the same amount, the couple will typically lose about $12,000 per year in welfare benefits.  In effect, the welfare system makes it economically irrational for most low-income couples to marry.”

This was a destructive act against the American family, unquestionably.  The net effect of this government-approved economic prescription for low-income families is that a massively increasing number of Americans, the children of those households, are entering adulthood today with a sense of entitlement to enjoy the wealth that others have provided via hard work and industrial prowess. It is all entirely normal for them to collect this redistributed wealth, as it was normal for their parents. 

This has little to do with what they learned or didn’t learn in the classroom.  It has everything to do with the example that their parents set for them at home.  And it could be argued that their parents set that example because government officials we have elected throughout these past decades have continually incentivized them to do so.

How is it possible that we now wonder why so many among this expanding demographic prefer the idea of wealth redistribution, which is the central tenet of socialism, to the principles of a free market?

And this leads to the second, broader reason.

In the eyes of the youth, our government already practices “socialism”

Again, this isn’t a matter of the youth not understanding that coercive wealth redistribution is the central tenet of socialism.  It’s a simple matter of the youth observing the examples which are laid before them which America has created.

Interestingly, Dr. Williams notes this, but doesn’t seem to recognize that this might be a primary reason as to why so many youths subscribe to the tenets of socialism:

Tragically, two-thirds to three-quarters of the federal budget can be described as Congress taking the rightful earnings of one American to give to another American -- using one American to serve another.  Such acts include farm subsidies, business bailouts, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, and many other programs.

If up to three-quarters of the revenue that the government seizes from individuals is redistributed for the benefit of others, how is it justifiable to not classify our nation as a socialist state?  Like the child of the welfare home, American youths have simply observed that government taking wealth from some to provide for others is simply how the government legitimately works, because that is how the government has worked their entire lives, and for many decades before that. 

Yes, we can and should blame academia for dismissing the virtues of individual liberty enshrined in our Constitution, but what have we done in recent decades to protect and advance those virtues?  The question is the uncomfortable one, and it is why we prefer to simply blame the professors for indoctrinating our children.

We cannot roll back the legislative mistakes of the past overnight, and I fully understand that.  The only question we should ask ourselves is this: what can we do to constrain our federal government in the future from seizing rights which do not belong to it, according to our foundational social contract which was predicated upon the liberty of the individual above all things?

Perhaps our taking bold legislative strides away from socialism today will compel the culture, and our youth, away from socialism in the future.  Only then will we reverse what seems to be a rising tide of groomed socialists poised to swallow all of the ideas and virtues that once defined America.

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter

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