It’s no secret that anti-capitalist politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have attracted large followings among young voters. “Bernie Sanders got more votes from under 30s people than Hillary and Trump combined,” observes Dr Wolf von Laer, CEO of the pro-liberty organization, Students For Liberty.
Surveys have shown that many young Americans, when asked whether socialism or capitalism is the better system, choose socialism—whatever their precise definition of socialism might be. Could young people’s rejection of capitalism be related to what they learn at their universities?
Liberal Professors Outnumber Conservatives 12 To 1
In his latest book, Panic Attack. Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, Robby Soave, who is also an alumnus of Students For Liberty, writes: “Most people know that professors are more left-leaning than the average American: what they might not realize is that so many professors teach from an explicitly Marxist perspective or at the very least apply critical theory to the subject they teach.” Although there are no recent and reliable figures on the extent to which socialism has become entrenched in America’s educational institutions, Soave cites a study from 2007. According to the study, while only 3% of all college professors define themselves as Marxists, in some subjects, such as sociology, as many as one in four professors are self-described Marxists.
Dr Wolf von Laer cites a study from the National Association of Scholars, which reports that 40% of top-ranked liberal arts colleges have zero professors who are registered Republicans, adding: “The Econ Journal Watch published a study conducted by professors from Brooklyn College and George Mason University, which found liberal professors and researchers outnumber conservatives nearly 12 to 1. Depending on the department, this disparity could be as great as 33:1, as the study found in departments of history.”
It All Comes Down To A Student’s Economic Situation
Soave regards the influence of universities as an important, but not decisive factor: “Many activists were radicalized before they even entered college.” According to Soave, the decisive factor is the economic situation many young people find themselves in after they finish university. Many fresh graduates find themselves confronted by high debts and poor career prospects. And this is especially true for graduates of humanities, psychology, art and similar subjects. As Soave explains, the economic situation these graduates face is no better than it would have been if they had never attended university and had instead got a job immediately after leaving high school. In reality, they are often even poorer. In many cases, their situation is even worse than high school graduates because university graduates are burdened with high levels of debt from their student loans.
“Generation Z and millennials vote for free college and healthcare,” explains von Laer. And because such demands are often equated with “socialism” by the those on the right of the political spectrum, many young people demonstratively and provocatively brand themselves “socialists.” But, of course, very few of them actually want the kind of socialist system once seen in the Soviet Union or other Eastern Bloc countries. Many dream of “Scandinavian socialism” along the lines of Sweden or Denmark. They project their dreams of a better society onto these countries without ever knowing all that much about them. “At the same time, Sweden and Denmark, like the United States, are among the 20 most capitalist countries in the world according to the Index of Economic Freedom, but many young people don’t know that,” says von Laer.
Von Laer and his Students For Liberty are trying to stem the tide of anti-capitalism on university campuses across America. “We are doing our best to change that and we had over 34,000 people at our events just in the U.S. in the last school year. Our approach is to build future leaders of liberty so that the arguments for a freer and tolerant society are represented in media, business, politics, art and culture.”
Capitalism Held In Higher Regard By Young People In Developing Countries
Interestingly, young people in Asia, Africa and Latin America frequently have a more positive view of capitalism than their peers in the United States. Perhaps this is at least partly related to the fact that, over the last thirty years, capitalist globalization—especially in Asia—has lifted more than one billion people out of extreme poverty. “While young people in the USA mainly see their economic problems and criticize rising inequality at home, many young people in Asia, Africa and Latin America also see the opportunities capitalism offers them,” observes von Laer: “Among our members, the fever with which the young generation defends capitalism is often stronger in some developing regions in the world. We have seen a huge influx of members in Africa, Latin American, and especially Brazil. Especially in the latter our student leaders were at the forefront of organizing protests for over 200,000 people in the streets of Brazil. Those former students are now often elected to state congresses and even the federal parliament like Marcel van Hatten. One of our alumni also wrote a piece of legislation that will curtail government’s size and lead to 3.5mn jobs within the next 10 years in the Brazilian economy according to a government estimate. That bill has been signed into law in October last year.”
At American universities, leftist and conservative students often clash—and pro-capitalist libertarians frequently get caught in the crossfire. “The leftist domination on campuses has provoked in several countries and most visibly in the U.S. a populist conservative response. The culture war is fought dirty. Vilifying one another, yelling, ridicule, and aggressive memeing is the norm and it has deteriorating respectful discourse which has a corollary negative effect on free speech (since free speech loses its attractiveness if it is abused through abrasiveness and distastefulness).”
As a result, the battle between “pro-capitalist” and “pro-socialist” students at universities across America is intensifying.