At the beginning of April, McLaughlin & Associates released the results of a survey conducted with 1,000 2020 general election “likely voters” on the topic of socialism. The results were troubling, although not especially surprising: roughly a third of Democratic voters believe that socialism is “better for most people,” and nearly four in ten believe that socialism delivers more economic equality. Worse yet, a plurality of voters under 40, roughly 43 percent, agreed with the statement that “socialism is fairer than free market capitalism.”
On one hand, this is entirely understandable. Young people tend to be more idealistic, which explains why they would be more inclined to believe in and yearn for an economic system that promises to “level the playing field” and deliver equally outstanding outcomes for all. What’s not to like?
On the other hand, young people tend to be extremely naïve: they tend to trust what they are told, in large part because they don’t have the experience against which to judge the promises made to them. Therein lies the rub. Young people think that socialism is fairer than capitalism, that it will deliver better outcomes for those with fewer resources, but they only believe that because they are being deceived, often by people who don’t know any better themselves.
Take a look at the agenda being pushed by today’s “socialists.” In 2016, when he ran for president as a Democrat, the democratic socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, promised a host of reforms that would, he insisted, make “the system” fairer for everyone. Included among his proposals were two that have taken hold among his fellow democratic socialists and have moved into the Democratic mainstream, now standard planks in nearly all Democratic presidential candidates’ platforms: single-payer healthcare (also termed Medicare for All) and free tuition at public colleges and universities across the country.
On the surface, these two proposals, which form the backbone of our collective “socialist” moment, seem perfectly reasonable and fair. Everyone gets the same. No one gets more, no one gets less. Equality embodied.
The catch is that both of these proposals constitute massive wealth transfers to the middle and upper middle classes. In both cases, programs already exist to help those at the most disadvantaged end of the income chart. By nationalizing these programs, therefore, the primary beneficiaries will be those who currently do not receive benefits—those who have a demonstrated financial capacity to pay for both tuition and health care expenses themselves.
Consider college tuition. The overwhelming majority of low-income students are eligible for means-tested scholarships and grants. Every year, the federal government disperses between $25 and $35 billion in Pell Grants alone. Capable low-income students are rarely denied a higher-education based on finances alone. Middle-class and upper-middle-class students, by contrast, are bearing the brunt of college tuition, which means that they, and they alone, will benefit from abolishing tuition.
The same applies to health care. The truly poor and the working poor are already covered by a variety of programs and subsidies, including Medicaid. By extending these benefits to everyone, the tax pool will be tapped not to pay for the care of the poor, but for the care of the middle class.
Worse still, such a plan would effectively swamp the system, making it harder for those already covered by government programs, especially the elderly, to receive care. All of this means that “Medicare for All” would constitute a wealth transfer to the middle class at the expense of the poor and fixed-income retirees.
It almost goes without saying that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with socialism as envisioned by Karl Marx. Indeed, none of this has anything to with the “working class” or the poor at all. Instead, what the Democrats and democratic socialists are proposing are middle class entitlements. If the young “likely voters” knew the truth about what the socialists’ plans really entail, they might understand just how profoundly they’ve been deceived.
The simple fact of the matter is that today’s “socialists” have little connection whatsoever to the ideas expressed and codified by Karl Marx. They are, rather, the descendants of Marx’s arch-nemesis, Johann Kaspar Schmidt, a.k.a. Max Stirner.
Stirner was an egoist, not a socialist, which means that he was primarily concerned with his own interests, first and foremost. His contemporary heirs—Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the like—are promising not revolution, but creature comforts. They’d deliver the good life to the middle class at everyone else’s expense. And how fair is that?