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The Real Reason Millennials Hate Capitalism

Written by Jason Stutman
Posted June 29, 2018 at 8:00PM

It’s no statement of revelation by now to say that many millennials hate the idea of capitalism.

In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement gave the world its first real glimpse into the anti-capitalist angst of today’s youth. Chants of “We are the 99%” shed plenty of light on the manifesting divide between the purported haves and have-nots of American society.

In 2016, widespread fervor over “democratic socialist” and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders only further confirmed the growing anti-capitalist sentiment among millennials. During the primaries, Sanders won more votes among people under 30 than both Clinton and Trump combined.

That same year, a Harvard University survey confirmed what by then seemed obvious enough: only a minority (42%) of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 now supported capitalism. It’s a stunning statistic considering that prior generations widely recognize the economic system as the greatest wealth generator in history.

As a millennial myself, I have to admit I find the sentiment of my demographic bewildering at times. At a moment in history when Venezuelan children are literally dying of hunger en masse and its average citizen is losing 24 lbs in body weight a year, many of my peers are decrying the fact that college and medical treatment are not “free.”

At the same time, I do understand where much of the ire comes from. Millennials undeniably drew the economic short straw of our time, and many are looking for something to blame. Justified or not, capitalism turns out to be an easy target for those who are struggling to succeed within it.

Millennials were hit with a financial crisis in 2008, as many were first entering the workforce. They were corralled like sheep into a system of “higher” education as academic debt doubled between 1996 and 2006. They’re also the first generation in modern history to be worse off than their parents in terms of income.

These factors aside, a long list others have led folks like those at The Atlantic to dub millennials the “Unluckiest Generation,” and, in a relative sense, it’s an accurate characterization.

What gets lost in that framing, however, is the fact that economics is not a zero-sum game. The reality is that millennials are living in what is objectively the most prosperous period in history.

BBC has summarized this point succinctly in its reporting:

Life expectancy has risen more in the past 50 years than the previous 1000; the likelihood of a violent death has never been lower; on average, we’re better educated than ever, and childhood mortality has plummeted. Among the most striking changes, the last few decades has brought remarkable successes in tackling global poverty: in 1981, almost half the people in the developing world lived below the poverty line; as of 2012, that figure had dropped to 12.7%.

Yet despite these absolute truths, many millennials can’t stop comparing themselves to the wealthiest members of society and declaring that something just isn’t right. After all, if Jeff Bezos is worth $139 billion and John Doe is working for minimum wage, there must be something inherently wrong with our economic system, right?

Well, not necessarily.

But if you try to debate these individuals, they simply won’t have it:

The self-imposed blinders should say enough about the legitimacy of the ideology at work here. But rather than bash socialism as a tribalistic bubble, I’m actually going olive branch and recognizing a legitimate grievance these people have with modern capitalistic society: materialism.

Perhaps the epitome of this socialist grievance is the $1,000 24K gold ice cream sundae, a product of capitalism that’s been recently cited by leftist figureheads and activists as a surefire indicator that something is truly rotten with capitalism.

The basic premise is that there really is no reasonable justification for eating gold-covered ice cream, and, quite frankly, I have to agree. You’re either pretentious or just plain dumb (at least in my opinion) if you ever spend that much money on a sundae.

Yet where a socialist sees this as a direct failure of capitalism, it seems more to me that this is a failure of society and individual decision-making. In a free market, the reality is that the only things that thrive are the things we feed.

Another way of putting it is this: Millennials aren’t necessarily upset at capitalism itself; they’re upset with the decisions being made within it.

Ultimately, I think this touches the core hypocrisy of most millennial socialists. They hate on opulence but can’t keep their eyes off the Kardashians. They despise corporate consolidation but only buy Apple products. They decry oil companies but spend significantly more on gas than older generations.

At the end of the day, there really are only two solutions to this problem. Solution #1 is to have the government compel different consumer choices. Solution #2 is to compel those decisions collectively.

As you may have guessed, I bring this all up in part because of the recent victories of progressive candidates in this week’s primary elections, namely Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ben Jealous. The former has called for the complete abolishment of ICE, while the latter is the latest to push for a universal health care system within his respective state.

No doubt these candidates were lifted by young voters who are grabbing more weight every election cycle. And while still few in number, such representatives do pose a potential threat to the free market if this trend is to continue, as they and their constituents are directly against the idea of it.

To be clear, this shouldn’t strike any immediate fear into investors’ hearts, but it’s enough to proceed with a sense of awareness. Should voters ever fully embrace the rising democratic socialist movement, the long-term bull case of U.S. stocks (which has remained solid for two centuries now) would simply fall apart.

For now, though, there are more pressing threats to the free market coming from the complete opposite side as fears of a trade war persist. We’re operating in polarizing times with threats from both ends, so believe me when I say it pays to stay both aware and active as an investor.

Of course, that's why we're here: to help guide you along the way.

Until next time,

  JS Sig

Jason Stutman

follow basic @JasonStutman on Twitter

Jason Stutman is Wealth Daily's senior technology analyst and editor of investment advisory newsletters Technology and Opportunity and The Cutting Edge. His strategy for building winning portfolios is simple: Buy the disruptor, sell the disrupted.

Covering the broad sector of technology and occasionally dabbling in the political sphere, Jason has written hundreds of articles spanning topics from consumer electronics and development stage biotechnology to political forecasting and social commentary.

Outside the office Jason is a lover of science fiction and the outdoors, and an amateur squash player at best. He writes through the lens of a futurist, free market advocate, and fiscal conservative. Jason currently hails from Baltimore, Maryland, with roots in the great state of New York.

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