The Corner

Culture

Do Millenials Dislike Capitalism Because It’s Not a Safe Space?

So it turns out that a majority of millennials claim they dislike capitalism:

In an apparent rejection of the basic principles of the U.S. economy, a new poll shows that most young people do not support capitalism.

The Harvard University survey, which polled young adults between ages 18 and 29, found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Just 42 percent said they support it.

At the same time, however, they’re not exactly fans of socialism:

It isn’t clear that the young people in the poll would prefer some alternative system, though. Just 33 percent said they supported socialism. The survey had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

The results of the survey are difficult to interpret, pollsters noted. Capitalism can mean different things to different people, and the newest generation of voters is frustrated with the status quo, broadly speaking.

Lest we over-interpret the results, a large number of millennials obviously don’t know what the heck capitalism (or socialism) is — so I’m not so much convinced that they’re “against” capitalism as they’re both frustrated and ignorant. Call capitalism a better-sounding name (say, “free markets”), and I bet real money that support would rise.

That being said, there is still startlingly broad opposition to capitalism, and I can’t help but wonder if part of it springs from the same well-spring of risk aversion that gives us safe spaces, micro-aggressions, and trigger-warnings. Actual free markets are risky. Companies can fail. Entire industries can vanish. Entrepreneurial dreams are crushed every single day. Free markets don’t care for your feelings, your ethnicity, or your gender identity. 

Is it any surprise that when millions of people demonstrate an extraordinarily low tolerance for emotional risk that they’d be hostile to an economic system that can so callously disregard their wants and needs? Free markets have brought vast improvements to the human condition, but they always carry risk. If you’re a person who can’t handle hearing that America is a “melting pot” — or if you need a roomful of coloring books and cookies to help you cope with the fact that a conservative woman is speaking on campus — then imagine the shattering effect of a bad performance review or an actual layoff. 

Many of the most fragile snowflakes spend a lifetime avoiding the rough and tumble of the market — staying ensconced in academia or working for the government — but others have to face reality sooner or later, and they don’t like what they find. Free markets are hard — and they can be scary — but they’re also demonstrably the world’s best economic engine for human flourishing. We just can’t flourish without risk, and for some millennials virtually any risk is too much to take.