Last year, when my son was a senior in an Illinois high school, he told me he never throughout his education had any class or teacher discuss the meanings of socialism and capitalism, or the debate between the two.
Since then, I’ve held an admittedly unscientific survey by asking other young people about that. I’ve asked maybe a couple dozen, about his age, from a variety of Illinois schools. I have yet to find even one who had a different experience. My daughter, now a high school junior, says the same.
That’s an educational failure of the highest order.
The debate between socialism and capitalism is now among the most pivotal of our time, especially for young people. A recent Harris poll found over 49% of millennials “prefer to live in a socialist country.” The two current front runners in the Democratic presidential primary are Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Sanders identifies himself as a socialist and Biden as a capitalist.
Maybe the mere omission of learning about socialism and capitalism accounts for socialism’s popularity with young people. When they eventually encounter it, the impression undoubtedly is about equity and free things. That’s very appealing for anybody who hasn’t thought it through.
The Democratic presidential primary offers a splendid chance to remedy this educational failure because it goes beyond Bernie Sanders and the traditional definition of socialism, which was public ownership of the means of production.
Today, socialism is commonly seen as something different – a very large public sector providing sweeping public benefits, substitution of government decisions over market mechanisms, heavy emphasis on equality of wealth and income, strict regulation and less concern about individual liberty and individual responsibility. Most of the other Democratic candidates are offering various mixes and degrees of those things, so each can, in a classroom, be considered individually.
That makes it an exceptionally good teaching opportunity.
–Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.