Knee-Jerk Capitalism

Almost a quarter of millennials have a favorable view of Karl Marx, and one MarketWatch writer thinks Donald Trump Jr. needs to educate them on the evils of socialism.

survey conducted by a nonprofit called Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation also found that one in two millennials would like to live under socialism, or even communism.  The group’s executive director said it’s proof of “pervasive historical illiteracy,” suggesting that if they only knew of the genocide and destruction caused by the Bolsheviks, they’d become avowed capitalists.

No, they wouldn’t.

To pretend that capitalism hasn’t failed to deliver the efficient markets and allocation of resources and opportunity needed to fuel our economy is simply stupid; all you have to do is look at economic indicators, like the lack or wage growth or the destruction of job security, or any of the qualitative indicators, such as most millennial’s inability to achieve the lifestyles once common for their parents.

Rapacious, pro-business governance and then doublespeak doesn’t help, either, as the latest tax cuts proposed in Washington will hand huge sums to corporations which will then, somehow in defiance of all of human history, willingly choose to share it with workers.

Oh, and let’s give everyone 0% interest on savings so they can gamble what little savings they possess in the stock markets.

It’s not surprising that millennials look favorably to other economic systems; what is shocking is that they haven’t already started a revolution.

What the Foundation’s survey tells us is that we aren’t equipped to address the underlying driver of their dissatisfaction.

We need to fix capitalism.

It could start with changing the way it’s taught, since it’s often taken for granted and not taught at all. Adam Smith’s ideas about laissez faire economics were all about creating a neutral, open, and just space in which individuals could interact to the best of their abilities.

There are profoundly deep ideas embedded in that political philosophy that have nothing to do with survival of the fittest, winner take all business that destroys anything (like the environment) because it doesn’t have a dollar sign attached to it.

In fact, it sounds a lot like socialism, only there are no pigs more equal than others deciding how the system should work.

Then, we could change how we practice it, starting with how businesses communicate with the marketplace. The foundational premise of consumer branding, if not sales overall, is that people’s deepest wants and needs should be assuaged, irrespective of the truth.

Marketers believe that consumers need to be convinced to buy things, instead of informed so they can make well-reasoned decisions. And then we wonder why millennials don’t trust the promises that companies make?

Imagine if businesses got out of the business of making distinctions without a difference, and instead developed and sold stuff that was self-evidently useful?

It’s what tech companies do, BTW.

Finally, we could stop the posturing of knee-jerk capitalism. Socialism isn’t wrong any more than capitalism is right; every system is a social construct that’s only as good as its participants make it (in the case of the Soviet Union, it was put to the most horrible uses).

We’ve got issues, for sure, but they’re not solvable with propaganda, and no, millennials aren’t about to install a Stalinist dictatorship in America.

So instead of telling them why socialism is bad, how about we redouble our efforts  to make it readily apparent why capitalism is good?

[This essay appeared first at]