Friday, October 19, 2018

Millennials Dream of Socialism – It Will End a Nightmare

Richard Ebeling emails:

Dear Bob,

I have a new article on the website of “The Epoch Times” newspaper on, “Millennials Dream of Socialism – It Will End a Nightmare.”

Opinion polls highlight that those between the age of 16 and 24 say they have positive views of socialism compared to a market-based economy, with the impression that socialism means caring for others and “free stuff.” Socialism-in-practice, however, has demonstrated that free stuff comes with a very high price of loss of liberty, economic hardship, and the end of untold human lives to build a “people’s paradise.”

Few in this younger generation seem to know or appreciate the history of socialist systems in the 20th century:
Up to 150 million innocent men, women and children killed in various ways, the crushing of personal freedom and individual expression, denial of basic civil liberties, government planning that brought stagnation and pervasive shortages of most everyday necessities of life, and brutal political paternalism that made socialist countries a chamber of horrors.

If the millennial generation gets what many of them seem to politically wish for, they will find that their hoped-for heaven-on-earth results in a living hell from which escape will be difficult or impossible.



Millennials Dream of Socialism–It Will End a Nightmare

By Richard Ebeling

Public opinion polls over the last year show that over fifty percent of millennials have a positive view of  socialism compared to a market-based economic system and society. The polls also suggest that when pressed to explain what they mean by “socialism,” these young respondents have nothing but a vague view of a government that “takes care of people” and provides “free stuff.”

This is what happens when a new generation does not know the reality of recent history.

This is unfortunate because the last century offered more than a laboratory experiment with real life devastating consequences when societies accepted or had imposed on them systems of government command and control.

November 7, 2017 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the socialist revolution in Russia, led by Vladimir Lenin. The stated ideal of its leaders and the belief of most of its followers was that it would create a bright and beautiful “new world.” The reality was a chamber of horrors.

The Human Cost of Building Socialism

Political scientist, R. J. Rummel (1932-2014) spent his professional career studying the impact of tyranny and war on mankind in the twentieth century. He calculated that upwards of 64 million people might have been killed by the socialist regime in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1986. In the case of China under Chairman Mao, from the time he came to power in 1949 to his death in 1976, as many as 80 million men, women and children may have perished in the name of a “workers’ paradise” for the Chinese people.

Adding up similar human costs in trying to create socialist societies in other countries, the total for the twentieth century is likely over 150 million people.

These tens of millions of human beings – innocent and unarmed men, women and children – were killed through execution, torture, starvation and slave labor. At the same time, those who lived and survived in these societies experienced the reality and the failure of socialist central planning.

Private property and free enterprise were done away with. Government nationalized or heavily regulated all agricultural production and industrial manufacturing. What was produced, how and where it was produced, and it what quantities and qualities was now determined and dictated by the government’s central planning agencies. From toothpaste to toilet paper, from clothes to canned corn, government bureaucracies determined the availability of everything, and to whom it was supplied.

The Poverty of Government Planning

I witnessed this in the last years of the Soviet Union, when I was traveling there on a fairly regular basis as a consultant on economic reforms. The government retail stores in Moscow were supposed to be the showcase for socialism. They either had empty shelves of those goods people really wanted or untouched shelves of shoddy, poor quality goods nobody wanted and wouldn’t buy.

Having long-ago abolished private businesses and outlawed the profit motive, there were no incentives for the state managers of the government enterprises to be concerned with or interested in producing and selling what the Russian people actually wanted to buy. They were answerable not to the consumers of the society whose demand for things would determine whether they earned a profit or suffered a loss, like under private enterprise.

No, those state enterprise managers merely had to fulfill the production quotas given to them by the central planning agencies. Meet those, and you kept your job, got a bonus, and had access to special stores and choice vacation resorts supplied to you by the government.

This led to corruption and black markets. Since you often could not get what you needed or wanted through the official government retail stores, you turned to “connections,” with those having access to the things you might want, and got them to supply it to you through illegal bribes or some favor you could do for them through informal off-the-books exchanges for what they could do for you.

The Farce of Civil Liberty Under Socialism

At the same time, since the government was responsible for the producing and supplying of everything in society, this also placed matters of art, literature, music and culture in general at the discretion of the same government planning agencies providing shirts, sandwiches, and soap.

The Soviet Constitution spoke of freedom of speech and the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. But in reality the government controlled and restricted all of these, based on its own goals and attempts to limit or prevent any discontent or disagreement with what those in political power set as priorities and plans.

Controlling the supply of paper and the printing presses, the only books, newspapers or magazines published were those planned for and approved by the socialist government leadership. Dissenting or opposing views never were allowed the light of day.

Recording studios for music, and movie and television production facilities were, likewise, under the control and command of the government. The only music, movies and television shows available to people were those the socialist planners considered consistent with a socialist vision and view of a good and healthy society – as decided by the government officials above the central planning bureaucrats.

There was an underground world of forbidden music, books, and films. But getting caught with any of them, as buyer or seller or user could result in a long-term imprisonment, including to a forced labor camp, or even execution as an “anti-social” black marketeer and “enemy of the people.”

The Dictatorial Dead End of Socialism

Rather than the fair, equitable, and “just” society that socialism as an imaginary dream seemed to many people, its reality was a dismal, dirty, and discouraging world in which human beings had to conform to the dictates of the state and the planners. After all, with the end to private enterprise, the government was left as the only employer in town. Your entire future in terms of career, job, salary, living accommodations, and quality and standard of life was transferred from your own hands to that of those in political power.

This was socialism-in-practice in every country that attempted to fully implement that dream of a world without free enterprise, personal liberty, and freedom of association based on voluntary exchange and trade.

It will be no different if the millennial generation gets their wish to live under a future socialism.

Dr. Richard M. Ebeling is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina.

He is also the co-editor of When We Are Free (Northwood University Press, 2014), an anthology of essays devoted to the moral, political and economic principles of the free society, and co-author of the seven-volume, In Defense of Capitalism (Northwood University Press, 2010-2016). 

The above originally appeared at AIER.


  1. Few if any of these Millennials who claims to want socialism want USSR or Mao China. Most of them don’t know enough history to understand socialisms record. They come out of government school propagandized hearing politicians spouting out that healthcare and education are rights, free this free that. And they see for themselves the crony capitalism, rent seeking, regulations that benefit the established and believe (because they have not been educated correctly) that this is a free market.

    You can’t blame them for despising capitalism and wanting socialism when they learn that Scandinavians live in a socialist’s paradise where they have to pay just a little more taxes but get everything for free and they only work 30 hours a week and get a month and a half of paid vacation. That’s the socialism they think they want. Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea along with the socialist states that have already completely failed are ignored or claimed to be mismanaged.

    Millennials are the generation of participation trophies and every childhood activity organized and monitored by adults. Of course they want a nanny state. They don’t know how to operate on their own. They didn’t learn the skills taught to older generations that made up games in an empty lot or canyon, improvising with what was available. Playing video games and being driven from activity to activity by parents does not develop the same skills.

    Fifty percent of Millennials have a positive view of socialism. We are lucky it isn’t 90%

    1. We should all push for Calexit, which would be the socialist society to which they could all flock. Sort of like the inverse of Galt's Gulch. Some of us would be ready to help foot the cost of their move. I'd even volunteer to help them pack.

    2. I might agree if I were not a resident of California and like where I live. I also argue that California is not as lefty as it may seem. You get outside of the Bay area and LA, people are more conservative.

    3. California could break up into several pieces, allowing just SF and LA to secede until President Ocasio-Cortez is elected.