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Does Capitalism Have Competition in the United States?

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
Leadership & Transparency
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The negative connotation baby boomers once associated with the political theory of socialism has evolved with help from the progressively-thinking millennial generation. Socialism to the older American generation is often linked to one of the most panicked eras in American history with the threat of communism creating waves in eastern Europe. Socialism, in a sense, was considered to be the gateway to communism. But now, with the younger generation who never experienced the stronghold of the Iron Curtain -- and an old man with crazy hair and waving arms by the name of Bernie Sanders preaching equality -- socialism is gaining traction.

The rising popularity of socialism begets the declining nod of approval to capitalism. The younger generation has widely associated the American economy with the plight of the 2007 Great Recession. The lavish young professionals who created wealth with investments on Wall Street in the 1990s are largely an enigma that seems to only exist for millennials in movies and history books.

Wages aren’t increasing at a satisfactory rate, and tuition and health care costs are climbing. High-school students are told college is the route to success but are met with remarkable debt and a small, competitive job market. Rent is steadily rising, particularly in major cities. And while the unemployment rate sits at a meager 4.7 percent, it’s a deceiving stat that includes part-time and gig jobs, Foreign Policy reports. So, what’s the answer to all of these problems? It seems like the youth thinks socialism could provide answers. 

An April 2016 poll from Harvard University shows that capitalism is at an all-time low. The poll, which pulled results from adults 18 to 29, found that 51 percent of participants do not support capitalism, while just 42 percent said they like it. A Pew survey four years prior came to a similar conclusion: 47 percent of respondents in the same age group viewed capitalism negatively, with 46 percent noting their approval.

All of this disapproval of capitalism didn’t necessarily translate to the approval of socialism, though. The Harvard and Pew surveys found that 33 percent and 49 percent of the 18- to 29-year-olds supported socialism or viewed it positively. Interestingly, the different age groups involved in the Pew survey showed the greatest disparity in their opinion of socialism. Only 13 percent of those 65 or older viewed it as positive.

The younger, more liberal and progressive generation found solace in a candidate preaching for equality, increased minimum wages, and expanded social security and welfare. They started to “feel the Bern.” But the youth alone couldn’t secure Sanders a bid on the national ticket, with the masses deeming his counterpart, Hillary Clinton, more fit to run the country. But that’s not to say Sanders’ campaign was for naught.

Sanders brought to the table reforms on the educational system to make the dream of going to college not burdensome by the extreme costs. He pushed the conversation on minimum wage increases. But most importantly, perhaps for the progressive and younger generation, he reintroduced and helped popularize socialism.

While capitalism certainly isn’t going anywhere in the United States in the foreseeable future, it may have to take a peek in the rearview mirror if the younger generation’s feelings toward socialism continue to strengthen as economic inequality continues to expand.

Photo by Phil Roeder/Flickr

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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