Free enterprise markets have never been more efficient. At a keystroke, Americans expect goods from around the globe to arrive on our doorsteps in two days or less. With a brief Internet search, we compare prices and reviews for services. At the press of a button, virtually unlimited entertainment options—music, television shows, movies—are ready to stream. Access to all of these markets, to all of this information, and to all of these entertainment options slides right into our pockets.
Because of this, millennials seem to believe some nations – including the United States – are so wealthy they can afford socialism. They take the massive efficiency gains in free markets over the last fifty years for granted. 70% of them say they would even vote for a socialist.
It appears they have either never been taught or have completely forgotten the not so distant past.
F. A. Hayek warned against this phenomenon, saying the prosperity of market societies comes “to be regarded as a secure and imperishable possession,” when in fact it can be squandered by abandoning the principles upon which it was built.1
But while the millennials say they would vote for a socialist, less than half that number of older Americans would. If you grew up in the 1960s or the 1980s, you cannot fail to notice the failures of socialism in stark contrast to the wealth built by free markets.
Just look to Venezuela for our first example: Once the fourth-wealthiest country in the world, Venezuela’s shift to socialism and singular emphasis on its state-owned oil company was its key to a socialist utopia. Now its military struggles to distribute enough food to its dependent people, and long lines of cars line up to empty pumps in Caracas.
In 1970, there was also another stark example of a country who opted out of the global market economy and failed: the Soviet Union. Inefficient socialist economies like the Soviet Union did not produce results: not only did the peoples of the Soviet bloc remain poorer than their Western counterparts, but central-planning projects produced staggering rates of pollution that continue to plague Russia, Ukraine, and other successor states of the Soviet Union. The Cold War is over, but its lessons for us are not.
It’s tempting to look at the free market success of the global economy and be tempted by socialism’s false promises. It’s up to all of us to continue to educate younger generations about the dangers of socialism and the falsehoods that surround it.
1. F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, ed. Bruce Caldwell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 72.