Often called the “entitled generation,” Millennials are making their voice heard on politics and how we view our politicians. During, and after an election that has been called “unprecedented” for many reasons, several issues have come to light that has caused many to sit up and take another look at this young generation.
One that emerged has been the fact that a self-professed socialist and septuagenarian like Bernie Sanders would capture the attention of voters aged 18-30.
A 2014 survey conducted by the Reason-Rupe showed that 52% of young Americans, between the ages of 18-29, favored free markets and capitalism. Yet, a full 25% of the youthful vote went to Bernie Sanders, who captured more of the millennial vote than both Trump and Clinton.
Why would the young people of the most prosperous and strongest nation in the world embrace socialism in a way that would make their parents and grandparents cringe at the thought?
While some say that millennials are “lazy” and favor the thought of re-distributing wealth from the richest to the not-so-rich, the answer is not as simple as that.
To understand them, we have to look back to the ‘80s. This was the decade that saw the rise of big corporations, big banks, and big money. The iconic movie ‘Wall Street’ promoted the idea that “greed is good.” Millennials weren’t born yet or were just babies at the time. Baby Boomers, the parents of millennials, came of age in this decade and most likely believed that “trickle-down economics” was the way to go.
During this decade, the theory that some corporations are just “too big to fail” and thus need special treatment from the government was formed. Big business had to have special treatment from the government. Otherwise, there would be disastrous consequences for the economy, and this had to be avoided at all costs.
Then came the crash of 2007-2008. Millennials watched as their parents lost their jobs and their houses. The Baby Boomers were mired in debt. While ordinary lives were being destroyed, big corporations and banks were bailed. Too big to fail became a reality. Understandably, millennials were jolted into re-thinking the idea that capitalism favors those who work the hardest. They realized that the “trickle-down economics” theory didn’t work.
Their parent’s financial hardships influenced the lives of their children in many ways. Getting an education became more expensive, student loans rose and workers beginning their careers had more debt in their young lives than any other generation before them.
After watching their parents struggle to get ahead, only to end up bankrupt due to job loss or a major illness, they are asking for more out of life.
The financial crash affected the labor market as well. Older workers are choosing to defer retirement, which meant fewer jobs for the younger generation. The combination of increased debt and fewer job opportunities limit the upward mobility of Millennials. The American Dream seemed to be out of reach for those just entering the labor market.
With less disposable income available to them, Millennials are falling short on the American Dream. Many are still living with their parents. Others are putting off big-ticket items like marriage and buying houses as they slowly pull themselves out of debt.
Millennials are also among the generation most adverse to using credit cards, and cash seems to be the way they’re keeping from making the same mistakes their parents did.
Given all these factors, is it any wonder that Millennials are re-thinking their political inclinations?
Born after the Cold War was winding down, most millennials don’t consider the Soviet Union the arch-enemy their parents did, and favor a more liberal view. They are also less religious than other generations and don’t associate the ex-Soviet Union’s anti-religious stance as a bad thing.
But Millennials are also being called “misinformed” or “ignorant” about what socialism or communism means, despite the fact that they are the most educated generation in U.S. history.
Socialism or communism are viewed by Millennials as an alternative to the disasters capitalism has created.
Surveys show that Millennials have a difficult time identifying important socialist and communist leaders of the past, such as Mao-Tse-Tung, Stalin, or Lenin ― or the destruction they’ve caused in their countries.
True socialism and communism haven’t influenced this generation’s life as much as it did their parents and grandparent’s generations. They have, however, been negatively affected by the mishandling of the economy by the capitalist system.
Their inability to be upwardly mobile, through no fault of their own in many cases, struggling to find jobs or having to remain in low-paying jobs while paying off large debts force many to look elsewhere.
When they see that other countries have free college education, they wonder why that can’t work in the U.S. If European countries can make socialism work, how that can be a bad thing, they ask.
Many cast an eye towards Europe and see how universal health care in countries like Norway and Scandinavia actually work, and wonder why health care in the U.S. is so messed-up. Then as they look to the high cost of medications, the blame goes to Big Pharma, and the answer is clear.
Looking at these positive aspects of socialism in other countries, through the perspective of a young person mired in debt, and it’s easy to see why socialism appears so attractive.
Millennials have a more liberal outlook on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and the environment. After watching their parents struggle to get ahead, only to end up bankrupt due to job loss or a major illness, they are asking for more out of life. They are saying to themselves, “There must be more to life than paying debt and buying a house.” They want to live, to enjoy the life they’ve been given. Who can argue with that?
Perhaps the truth lies in the gray areas. With a more liberal outlook on social issues, Millennials are re-defining the word socialism, equating it with a “gentler” way of life, while maintaining the American value of working hard to get ahead. Taking care of each other, while enjoying the life we’ve been given.
They’ve not given up on the theory that everyone should work to get ahead, but believe there is a better way that will benefit the working class as much as the corporations and uber rich have been benefitted.
Bernie Sanders, as well as Donald Trump, have touched a nerve that for some inexplicable reason no other politician identified in these young voters. The notion of promoting “the general welfare of the people.”
The fact that Millennials want a more socially and economically inclusive society doesn’t necessarily mean they are embracing old-school socialism or communism. Perhaps they are really redefining the words in their own terms.
Socialism for them has a drastically different meaning than it did for older generations who have lived through the dangers caused by despots and tyrants like Lenin, Stalin and Fidel Castro. But they’ve also endured the disaster caused by unbridled and unchecked capitalism. Reality for them has been the economic crash of 2007-2008.
They aren’t interested in what happened forty years ago, but what they’re witness to in the present age. What’s affecting their lives now? As someone so aptly put it: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Socialism or communism are viewed by Millennials as an alternative to the disasters capitalism has created. And this generation may be on the verge of re-defining the terms to fit their experience.
Perhaps Millennials are choosing to create a “More Perfect Union, For the People and by the People” in their own way, and in the context of the times they live in.
It is their generation who will ultimately be in charge, it’s their time and they are choosing to shape the world as they see fit.