Hey, Boomers—Young Americans’ Embrace of Socialism Is Partly Our Fault

March 3, 2020 Updated: March 4, 2020


Whenever politics comes up in conversations with my baby-boomer peers (and you know how often politics comes up these days), one will say something like, “I just don’t understand why Sanders and socialism are so popular with young voters”; or, “Who do those kids think will have to pay for all the free stuff they want from the government?”

The two most obvious explanations for why socialism is attractive to more millennials and Generation Zers than to older Americans are well known.

First, socialism, with its beguiling utopian visions of eliminating poverty and making the world a fairer, happier place has been seducing young, impressionable minds for generations—yours truly included. (Recall the old adage, “Anyone who is not a socialist when he’s 20 has not heart and anyone who is still a socialist has no mind.”)

Second, the much-publicized ideological dominance (hegemony?) of the left in academia means that most college students are marinated in socialistic perspectives for the duration of their college careers.

There is, however, a third major reason that helps to explain the growing popularity of socialism among young Americans. Look in the mirror, my fellow boomers. This is partly on us.

Notice I said “on us,” not “on you.” Individually, you might never have entertained a sympathetic thought toward socialism in your life, but collectively, our generation has set a poor example. Look at the public policies that have proliferated on our watch.

Does it offend you that young voters are embracing socialism in the hope and expectation that the federal government will give them free college, free health care, and other valuable benefits? Where do you suppose they got the idea that the most important parts of our lives are public rather than private matters? From their elders—both our generation and a couple of generations before us.

Social Security, Medicare, and numerous lesser government programs were established for the purpose of having Uncle Sam provide for and take care of us.

Every politician knows that a formidable majority of boomers and older Americans will fight tooth and nail to resist any reduction of promised benefits, even if the programs look like they’ll go bankrupt without such concessions.

Repeated surveys have shown that a majority of young Americans don’t believe that Social Security either won’t be there for them or, at the very least, that future benefits will be pared back significantly, resulting in today’s young workers getting short-changed compared to today’s retirees. Instead, they see their elders living off of younger workers’ FICA taxes while we pile up a humongous national debt and even more humongous unfunded liabilities for the young to pay.

Why should public finance be so one-sided? Why should we boomers receive a wealth transfer from the younger generations? The way to at least partially balance the inter-generational account, so to speak, would be for millennials and Gen Zers to get their own favored subsidy from Uncle Sam. We get their FICA taxes, and they get, say, free college education. Fair is fair, right? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Today, many older Americans want to prevent the socialist virus—the belief that the government’s job is to provide for us even more than it already does—from taking over. Sorry, but that horse is already out of the barn (and the corral and the farm and the county and …).

The socialist principle that the government should take care of us and guarantee each of us economic security is virtually indistinguishable from the progressive principle that it’s government’s job to engineer and guide our economic fortunes.

Progressives have been advocating for more and larger government control over economic matters for over a century. They long ago opened the Pandora’s box of government largess that leads to an ever-expanding role for government. Socialism is what lies at the bottom of that slippery slope.

And while we know that we’ll never have total socialism (Bernie, AOC, and their ideological soulmates notwithstanding) for the simple reason that Vladimir Lenin proved a century ago that total socialism produces total economic collapse, nevertheless, the progressive vision has won.

There’s no party in Washington today that preaches radically trimming back the reach of Big Government, because a majority of “We, the people” wouldn’t tolerate it.

The cronyism that has grown ever more pervasive over the past century has taught younger Americans that the way to get what they want is to demand that government get it for them. Sadly, socialistic political practices inevitably culminate in social discord as various demographic slices of society strive against each other.

We are locked in a perennial political struggle to gain enough political power to gain government benefits that other demographic slices get stuck paying for. It isn’t Marxian class warfare, but instead inter-generational warfare. How tragic!

It’s unrealistic for us boomers to expect millennials and Gen Zers to refrain from trying to use government to get what they want, because they’ve grown up in a society where that’s exactly what they’ve seen so many adults do.

I disagree with young Americans’ embrace of socialism, but I can’t honestly say that I blame them. They’re simply continuing down a trail blazed by older generations.

To be clear, this problem of ever-expanding government isn’t exclusively the fault of us boomers. The foundation and skeletal superstructure of today’s leviathan government were laid before we came of age. But we have done nothing significant to dismantle Big Government or at least to get it to live within its means (i.e., balanced budgets, no unfunded liabilities). And now—platitude alert!—the chickens are coming home to roost and the piper is coming to be paid.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith & Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.