Picture the scene. You’re sitting outside a restaurant on a warm summer evening with people you’ve just met. You casually sip at your gin and tonic; your cigarette precariously balanced between two of your fingers. The sunglasses are on, two buttons of your shirt undone – you’ve never felt cooler in all your life.
The conversation gradually drifts away from avant-garde music towards politics. Everyone begins to take turns stating to the group what it is they believe. “I’m a socialist,” says one woman; another across the table nods in agreement. One man raises his hand and admits he’s a member of the Liberal Democrats. The group laughs lovingly at him, giving him an endearing nudge and a playful raise of the eyebrow. Then, the focus turns to you. This is your moment to impress. With a quick sip of your g&t and a puff of your cigarette, you look down your sunglasses and proudly say, “I’m a free market capitalist.” The atmosphere dies in an instant. Some look at you with distaste, others look concerned and tilt their heads in confusion.
Before you have time to recover your thoughts the table has emptied. You find yourself sitting alone, save for one other person. You glance over at the bloke who 5 minutes earlier had said he was an anarchist. You know that his real name’s Adam, but he now only goes by “Lightning”. Turns out no one wants to be with him either. Where did it all go wrong?
As demonstrated by this example, capitalism isn’t exactly regarded as cool by most millennials. Instead, labelling yourself as a free marketer can serve as a warning for some people to avoid you at the party.
While yelling “I’m a capitalist” will hardly make you many friends, it should be trendy to be vocal about capitalism’s record when it has helped to reduce global poverty and boost living standards on an unparalleled level. In just this year alone, neither socialism or communism has helped to bring 137,000 people out of poverty, provided 305,000 people with safer water, supplied 295,000 people with electricity, or accomplished getting 620,000 people online for the first time.
Despite this, a majority of millennials have a more unfavourable view of free market capitalism than they do of socialism. To them, capitalism is the bogeyman of world politics. They are, of course, wrong.
Thanks to mass investment abroad from foreign companies, poverty has collapsed in many places. Shenzhen free zone in China is one clear example of this. In 1979 the global market took a town with a population of 30,000 and developed it into a city accommodating 10 million by 2010. The opening of economic free zones and an average of 40% growth over 12 years is directly correlated to this. By erecting one high-rise per day, it provided housing, jobs, and helped to eradicate poverty in many areas.
Similarly, fifty Indian citizens are pulled out of poverty every single minute due to the global free market. It may never be on a t-shirt, but millennials should be very proud of this.
However, it’s not surprising that a large number of millennials have an unfavourable view of free market capitalism when a senior Labour figure, Clive Lewis MP, tweeted a daunting photo of the aftermath of Grenfell Tower fire with the caption “Burn neoliberalism, not people”. This chilling attempt to connect this devastating disaster to neoliberalism may have been foolish, but it resonated well with the emotions of a lot of millennials. It spread a false message that capitalism doesn’t care about the poorest in society; particularly if they are not Caucasian.
Although I disagree with most of my generation when it comes to free market capitalism, I must applaud them for being a very creative generation; particularly when using the technology available to us. Ironically, their spreading of the anti-capitalist message is achieved through mediums that only exist because of the free market.
I have been impressed by the surge in young entrepreneurs, from various socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds, who have used sites like YouTube for exposure to a larger audience. For many young businesspeople, it has allowed a much greater reach to promote and sell their products. The innovation and passion from millennials to create music, fashion accessories, magazines, apps, games, or food products, certainly doesn’t match their recognised political choices or the attitude of a generation who just wants “free stuff”.
An inventive generation with an abundance of tools at their disposal still fails to recognise that neoliberalism provides them with what can make their dreams a reality. More millennials will have a positive outlook on neoliberalism if the Conservatives put forward a stronger argument for economic liberalism and freedom.
Socialism may provide young people with the dream, but capitalism provides young people with the answers.