You’ve heard your kids talking about socialism recently. Maybe they didn’t realize exactly what it was, and maybe they didn’t use the proper terminology, but it caught you by surprise. Where could they have learned that? A friend at school? Or even worse, a teacher?
The fact of the matter is that if we don’t talk with our kids about socialism first, they’ll learn about it somewhere else—most likely from someone with their own socialist tendencies.
Everywhere you turn, socialism seems to be gaining popularity with our youth. From popular movies and television shows, to musical lyrics and social media activism, the principles of socialism are being marketed to our youth as the only feasible solutions to the problems they see in society—problems that have been blamed on capitalism.
And herein lies the problem: our children don’t actually know the difference between capitalism and socialism, or any other economic model for that matter.
A recent Pew survey conducted by researchers at Harvard found that more young Americans (ages 18-29) hold favorable views of socialism than capitalism. Yet, among that same demographic, only 27% believe the government should play a large role in regulating the economy. Confusion
What is the socialism that is being marketed to our children?
Promises of universal health care and a debt-free college education lure them in like a moth to a flame. Socialism no longer requires a dictator when an army of well paid, low-level bureaucrats can be just as effective. This type of socialism is not scary to our children. It is the only type of government most of them have ever known.
So what can be done?
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” Ronald Reagan once said. “We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Nearly five decades have passed since Reagan uttered those famous words, reminding us of our obligation to teach the principles of freedom and free enterprise. The situation we face may be different than previous generations, but the responsibility still falls upon us to teach our children how to live free and allow others to do the same. So, how are we going to do that?
- Understand the Dangers of Socialism.
- Rather than simply decrying anything and everything we don’t like as socialism, and expecting that to sufficiently deter our children, we must be able to explain to them exactly why these policies, and the philosophies upon which they are founded, will harm people. Democratic Socialism preaches a message of inclusiveness, but socialism has been much less friendly to marginalized populations when actually practiced.
- When we point out the millions who have been murdered or starved as a result of socialist regimes through the 20th century, our children draw a distinction between the tyrants of the past and a more democratic approach to socialism of the day. Without ignoring those victims of the past, we need to also shine a light on modern examples, like young Charlie Gard, who was not only denied access to medical treatment by bureaucrats and judges in the United Kingdom, but whose parents were barred from attempting to take him out of the country to seek medical treatment elsewhere. Such anecdotes are common, but few receive any media attention. These are modern examples of socialism’s failure.
- Socialism is not dangerous simply because it tends to lead toward political dictatorship, but because it systematically makes bad decisions about how to allocate the scarce resources people use to satisfy our wants, eliminates any possible mechanisms that might provide feedback showing misallocation, then creates barriers to prevent individuals from trying to correct those errors. Austrian Economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek explained this phenomenon in great detail in their discussions of the socialist calculation.
- Clarity of Language
- As was noted previously, part of the appeal of democratic socialism is that it promises to deliver on things that appeal to our natural yearning for self- expression and freedom. It does this by using language that is intentionally deceptive.
- Our best tool to combat such confusion is to consistently and accurately label these ideologies and philosophies. Government interventionism to support business or “protect American interests abroad” are no less socialist because they are embraced by the political right. In many cases, it is the capitalists who are the greatest enemies to a capitalist economic system.
- Intellectual Honesty
- Along those same lines, if we want our children to be able to discern between socialism and capitalism, we must be honest about the different aspects of our mixed economic model, especially those which are socialistic. Which industries are heavily regulated by government bureaucrats? In which industries does the government exercise an effective monopoly? Are these services really so unique that market principles of capitalism could not provide them?
- We must also recognize some of the negative outcomes that have been the result of the more capitalistic elements of our economy. The market really does fail, because the market is made up of the actions of regular humans. People make mistakes. We need to be honest about that when it happens (though there is often an underlying rule or regulation that incentivized such an action).
- Socialists claim that private property rights cannot exist without government intervention, and we often give them intellectual ammunition to support this claim by demanding intervention to protect not only property rights, but property values. Socialism to promote “economic development” is still socialism.
- Allow Them the Benefit of Property Rights
- The best way to teach the positive value of personal property rights is to allow children to experience the benefits of such a system firsthand. Children have a natural tendency to want to protect what is theirs. They quickly learn the power and utility of the declaration, “Mine!” Unfortunately, the lesson soon follows that crying and an appeal to parental authority can supersede the property claims of others, as mom or dad, seeking a simple method to calm a sibling squabble, will force the property holder to share the toy or game in question.
- It only takes a few seconds to appeal to the offended child’s own sense of ownership to help them understand why they would want to have the same rights afforded to them. Encouraging children to share voluntarily, then respecting their decision when they decline, will teach them the importance of consent in other aspects of their lives.