The cover story of The Economist last week stated that millennial socialism, “like the socialism of old, [suffers] from a faith in the incorruptibility of collective action and an unwarranted suspicion of individual vim,” concluding that liberals should oppose socialism. However, this criticism is mislabeled. Left-wing ideas that aim to interrogate rampant injustices and improve the current capitalist model are not necessarily socialist, and grouping them as such while cherry-picking on a few fringe ideas is nothing more than a convenient political tool to distance people from challenging the status quo.
Firstly, it is imperative to understand that there are many different types of left-wing ideas being discussed in the mainstream. From Bernie Sanders’ ideas regarding tuition-free college to Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax plan to the Green New Deal, left-wing ideas exist in many different spheres. The Economist pinpoints universal health care as “less radical” because it is so common in the rest of the developed world. This is hardly an intrinsic justification. Just because an idea has not yet been implemented does not mean it is unreasonable. One country had to be the first to implement universal health care in order for it to be viewed as less extreme in the long term. The U.S. can and should be that country for other policies.
Furthermore, The Economist article dismisses a vital critique of capitalism: It is unaccountable. In response to the idea of having more workers on boards, it argues that this urge is rooted on suspicion of globalization which will ultimately “ossify the economy.” While some might hold this view, many urge democratization of boards because of the potential to strengthen relationships between labor and management, reduce unemployment and increase managerial accountability. Indeed, the Harvard Business Review published an article discussing the potential merits of such a policy, which is probably proof that it is not unreasonably radical.
Additionally, The Economist completely mischaracterizes the environmental objections to capitalism. It writes that millennial socialists “prefer central planning and massive public spending on green energy.” Again, it is unclear how many millennial socialists actually advocate central planning. The Green New Deal advocates public investment in education, community-based projects and working with farmers to cut emissions. Mischaracterizing left-wing environmentalists doesn’t ossify the economy, but it does ossify discourse that is critical to stop climate change.
Economic efficiency undoubtedly matters. Capitalism is our current reality. However, as Vox concisely put it, these things only matter “secondarily, via their effects on people.” To subjugate human rights, the environment and social welfare to the economy is to lose perspective. Demanding more freedom from our work-centered lifestyles is not unreasonable. Labeling objections to capitalism as too extreme stifles any ability to question the status quo. If anything about the current political moment is clear, and there is consensus on this from both the left and the right, it is that our current system deserves deep interrogation. All transformative ideas begin as radical ones. We must embrace visions of a more just world as both feasible and necessary.