College students do not understand socialism or capitalism. Our research proves it
America’s position as the world’s largest economy, with a reputation as a hub of innovation and a land of opportunity, owes much to its system of free market capitalism. Economic freedom has risen over a billion people out of poverty in the world. And yet, skepticism persists about capitalism in the United States, where people blame economic freedom for everything from COVID-19[female[feminine at fire in the Gulf of Mexico.
Confidence in capitalism has particularly declined among young people, to the point that capitalism and socialism are also popular. While the reasons for such skepticism are varied, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has Assumed that young people react negatively to policies that favor entrenched interests (crony capitalism) and that they favor “hyper-redistribution” rather than true socialism. Others have argued that students are influenced by leftist professors who dominate American college campuses.
We wanted more than a guess. So, to better understand the perspective of young people, we interviewed 1,000 students at 71 four-year colleges and universities across the country. And what we found was surprising.
Our survey found that socialism was viewed more favorably than capitalism among American students. 24% of those questioned had a positive view of capitalism, compared to 32% who had a positive view of socialism.
There were naturally great differences in opinions on capitalism and socialism among students with different political ideologies. Politically conservative students were much more likely to have a positive view of capitalism and a negative view of socialism, compared to politically liberal students.
But the way students conceptualize capitalism and socialism can influence their attitudes. When defining capitalism, 55% of respondents said it was “an economic system in which property is private property, exchange is voluntary, and the production and price of goods / services are determined. by market forces ”- a definition of free market capitalism. The remaining 45% of respondents defined capitalism as “an economic system in which companies use subsidies, special tax breaks, political relationships, and special rules that favor them over their competitors to make a profit” – a definition of crony capitalism. This distinction is important: 42% of students using a definition of the free market, versus 2% using a definition of crony capitalism, have a positive view of capitalism.
We found equally interesting answers when we asked students to choose the appropriate definition of socialism. When defining socialism, 42% of those polled said it was an “economic system in which the types, quantities produced, and prices of goods and services are planned by the government, and property is owned. to “society” “- a definition of central planning. The remaining 58 percent defined it as “an economic system in which individuals and businesses make decisions about the types, quantities produced and prices charged for most goods and services, but the government plays a very important role. active in ensuring that prices are fair and in ensuring that a fair distribution of resources between rich and poor “- a redistributive definition of socialism. Among students defining socialism as redistribution, 45 percent had a positive opinion , compared to 14 percent for those who defined it as central planning.
There is clearly confusion over what capitalism and socialism entail. Students professing support for socialism are not really in favor of what is traditionally seen as socialism (central planning), but rather “hyper-redistribution”. Additionally, students who react negatively to capitalism may not reject the free market, but rather cronyism.
Unfortunately, confusion over the definitions of capitalism and socialism also seems to coincide with a lack of understanding of their implications. While students are right to be skeptical of crony capitalism, their belief in “hyper-redistribution” seems to ignore the fact that less wealth to be redistributed will be created when people are unable to. to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Moreover, the kinds of government involvement they might favor – green energy subsidies, for example, or special benefits in the name of social justice – contribute to the crony capitalism they oppose.
Our research also revealed that university education influences students’ views on capitalism and socialism. Although 56% of students who responded to our survey said their view of capitalism had not been altered by university courses and activities, 36% said that the university had given them a more negative view of capitalism and only 8% said it gave them a more positive view of capitalism. vision of capitalism. On the other hand, while 59% of those polled said that university courses and activities had not changed their view of socialism, 27% said that the university had given them a more positive view of socialism.
Many students do not receive an accurate view of the state of the world from their university experience, which could undermine their ability to see how free markets have supported human flourishing. Only 49% of students surveyed said that based on what they learned in college, the world has improved over the past 50 years, in terms of extreme poverty, life expectancy, hunger and literacy. This comes at a time when all of these factors have greatly improved.
Higher education is increasingly going in the wrong direction. In order to further the cause of human flourishing, colleges need to do a better job of teaching students about the progress humans have made and the important role that free market capitalism has played in that progress.
John Bitzan is the Menard Family Director of the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth
Clay Routledge is Professor of Management at North Dakota State University, Research Fellow at the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth, and Principal Investigator at the Archbridge Institute.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.