Jennifer Schubert-Akin: Growing support for socialism shapes today’s public policy ideas
A Gallup poll released last month finds that 43 percent of Americans favor socialism. This is just one of many recent surveys finding that Americans are increasingly enchanted by socialism, an economic system where the government controls resources. A majority of Millennials and Democrats, for instance, now support it.
The growing support for socialism is reflected by recent public policy proposals. “Medicare for All,” which would nationalize the country’s healthcare system under a single-payer, government-run system, is supported by many leading Democrats, including 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Democratic politicians are united in their calls for the government to collect far more taxes from top earners, with some presidential candidates calling for top income tax rates in the 70-percent range. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren even wants to confiscate some of the wealthy’s property in order to fund various social programs.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, wants to nationalize vast swaths of the American economy, including energy production and higher education, while providing government jobs to those who want them, under her proposed “Green New Deal.”
Socialist policies aren’t limited to Democrats. Leading Republicans no longer seem willing to call for reform to existing floundering socialist programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Meanwhile, support for capitalism, an economic system that allows individuals to control resources, is waning. It has been unfairly blamed for the financial crisis, Great Recession and skyrocketing healthcare and college costs.
Though the political news cycle may suggest otherwise, the essence of today’s political debates — from energy to fiscal to healthcare policy — are rooted in a broader disagreement over capitalism vs. socialism.
I am not an unbiased observer in this battle of ideas. I believe that capitalism is largely responsible for making the U.S. the most prosperous country, with the largest middle class, in the history of the world. I think that to the extent socialist policies are adopted, opportunity and prosperity for ordinary people will diminish.
Capitalism is the only economic system conducive to economic growth, i.e., rising living standards. It’s the best system for people to rise up and improve their lot in life through hard work, trade, and entrepreneurship.
That’s because capitalism is based on mutually beneficial exchange, where people voluntarily trade value for value. Both the purchaser and the seller gain through the voluntary trade of products and services. Only under capitalism can you truly “make money” — and you do so to the extent you help others.
While capitalism grows the size of the economic pie, socialism merely distributes it, with unlimited interest groups fighting over the scraps. Burdensome taxes and regulations reduce the number of mutually beneficial exchanges that fuel economic wellbeing.
Extracting money from communities through higher taxes means fewer resources for investment, consumer spending, and small business creation. As a result, there’s less economic activity and opportunity for everyone, especially for those who need it most.
Capitalism’s critics claim that this economic growth is unequal, with most of the benefits going to the rich. Yet, historically, it’s ordinary people who benefit most during economic expansions. Ever wonder why America’s middle class is so much wealthier than its developed-world counterparts? Because of its relatively free market and the economic opportunity it fosters.
The marvel of compound interest reinforces the importance of an economic system that fosters economic growth. At three percent annual economic growth, which was reached last year and is the American historical standard, living standards double every 24 years, or every generation. Yet at one percent growth, typical in socialist countries, it takes 72 years — or about a lifetime — for living standards to double.
Don’t take my word for it. Two of the leading proponents of capitalism and socialism, respectively, will debate the issue at the Steamboat Institute’s 11th annual Freedom Conference in Steamboat Springs, Aug. 22 to 24. Stephen Moore, a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and economic advisor to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, will face off against Bhaskar Sunkara, the founding editor of Jacobin Magazine and author of The Socialist Manifesto, with viewers encouraged to come to their own conclusions about the relative merits of each economic system.
Part of the reason why socialism’s popularity is growing is because societal pillars such as media, pop culture and academia support it. By offering the alternative perspective, we hope to persuade people that capitalism is the only system that allows people to freely pursue their dreams and enjoy the fruits of their labors. It’s time for liberty-loving Americans to help push socialism back into history’s dust bin.
Jennifer Schubert-Akin is the chairman and CEO of The Steamboat Institute.
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