They may of course not know it, but their preferences and behavior tell the tale.
The 2016 election proved a lot of Washington, D.C., insiders wrong. But some pundits continue to perpetuate the myth that millennials are overwhelmingly socialist. Nothing could be further from the truth — millennials love free markets and hate government control.
The first point to keep in mind is that millennials, who did not live through the Cold War, do not know the actual definition of socialism. Only 16 percent can correctly define the term. Perhaps this is why about equal numbers of Americans ages 18 to 29 view the terms socialism and capitalism positively. Yet, changing the terminology to something young Americans can understand yields vastly different results. When choosing between a “government managed economy” and a “free market economy,” millennials’ support for government control plummets and twice as many prefer free markets.
Are these numbers not convincing enough? Just look to Silicon Valley for further proof.
It should come as no surprise that the technology sector, which remains the shining point of the U.S. economy, is the industry least controlled by government. Compare groundbreaking technology companies such as Facebook or Uber to the heavily regulated utility industry. Cable companies consistently anger their customers, but going to an Apple store is something to look forward to.
Speaking of Apple, there would not have been such massive advancement in the quality in smartphones (not to mention the steep drop in price), if a socialist government had to approve each new design and innovation. Alternatively, costs for healthcare and education, two sectors in which the government is heavily involved, have continually increased over the past half century.
Simply put, no millennial wants the government to tell Tim Cook how many iPhones his company can make or what features to include in the iPhone 8. Free markets are the reason why everyone can binge for endless hours on Netflix, find great gifts on Etsy, and share everything from food to travel with friends on Snapchat.
Government bureaucracy is rarely described as innovative, as every visitor to the Department of Motor Vehicles or U.S. Post Office knows. No government bureaucrat could have foreseen the economic appeal of the iPad, let alone designed it. For example, the Post Office’s chief of digital strategy even told a group of Internet entrepreneurs, “Digital is a fad. It will only work in Europe.” So much for that prediction.
Disappointed young Bernie Sanders supporters still realize that free markets can achieve progressive ends that a government-managed economy cannot. Just take the case of ridesharing, a service that millennials of all political leanings love and do not want to see heavily regulated. Since taxi regulations started popping up during the 1930s, New York City’s government has worked to extend taxi service to low-income communities. It had little success, as last year only about one in 20 of the city’s iconic yellow taxi rides started outside of Manhattan or the city’s airports. Then, Uber came along.
By operating around antiquated government regulations, ridesharing companies were able to extend transportation options to underserved communities. Uber’s fastest growth in service was in the low-income, non-Manhattan neighborhoods that taxis ignored for decades.
Just a few years ago, the chance to summon a private driver in a few minutes was truly a service for the 1 percent. But now, thanks to entrepreneurs and the benefits of the free market, private rides are an affordable, accessible option for the 99 percent.
Government never could have designed this system. Innovation arises through entrepreneurs taking chances, making mistakes, and often failing. Individuals must be free to experiment and put their unique knowledge to use, and this is not possible under a government-controlled economy.
Perhaps the government’s often hostile response to the rise of companies such as Uber and Airbnb is why only 18 percent of millennials think regulators primarily have the public’s interest in mind. This lack of faith in government control, again, shows that fears over millennial socialists are overblown.
Although innovative technologies make things easy for consumers, the process of creating new products and services is anything but simple. Entrepreneurs and their investors must take major risks to bring the next big thing to consumers.
Millennials recognize this reality, and their appreciation for how difficult it is to start and run a business extends far beyond their near-universal reverence for the late Steve Jobs. Surveys consistently show that two-thirds of millennials want to work for themselves in the future. Young Americans are truly the “startup generation.” Free market capitalism allows them to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. When it comes to describing millennials’ economic views, Reason magazine’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown argues that socially conscious entrepreneurs, or “hipster capitalists,” is a more accurate term than socialists.
Even though many millennials were clearly “feeling the Bern” this fall, America’s largest generation is not composed of socialists. Every time millennials look down at their smartphones, travel with Airbnb, or buy something on Amazon, they are reminded of just how much they love free markets.