Youth and capitalism as an attitude
by José Azel
Capitalism can be defined, as Karl Marx did, by its work system, where workers do not have their own means of production. It can also be defined by the metaphorical “market” where it is bought and sold, or by private ownership of the means of production prevailing over state ownership. But my interest here is to describe capitalism as an attitude. That is to say, as a mental state connecting a person to a proposition. Consider:
When a socialist sees a luxurious and expensive home, his reaction may be of disgust: “No one should be allowed to live like this.” Or perhaps of envy: “If I can’t live like this, no one should live like this.” By contrast, someone with a capitalist attitude would think, “everyone should have the opportunity to work in order to buy a house like that.”
Capitalism also implies a willingness to take corporate risks. A fundamental thing of capitalism is the modern corporation, which facilitates, through the sale of shares to the public, the concentration of large sums of capital to support an entrepreneurial project. Without this ability to concentrate capital, national economies are confined to small-scale businesses, or are dependent on the government for large capital-intensive commercial operations.
Corporate critics point to the dispersion of responsibility among professional managers, directors, and shareholders, as a fatal flaw in corporations. But alternatives would be a primitive economy, or leave the government with all the activities that require large capital. This would lead to even greater dispersion of responsibility, and inefficiency. Why then do some, particularly young people, seem to hate capitalism so much?
Opinion polls suggest that young people do not think very well about capitalism. A Harvard University 2016 survey of 18-to 29-year-olds found that 51% of respondents responded not to support capitalism. Another, from YouGov, found that 44% of the American “Milenials” said he would prefer to live in a socialist country, compared to 42% who would prefer to live in a capitalist country. These attitudes imply a question: if young people reject the government so much, why would they want more, in the form of greater government or greater governmental control of our lives and economies?
An easy conclusion would be to repeat the criterion attributed to Winston Churchill that “if a man is not a socialist at the age of 20, he has no heart. If he’s not conservative at 40, he has no brains. ”
But there is more to young people’s attitudes about capitalism, and the results of these surveys are difficult to interpret, because capitalism can mean different things to different people. Moreover, this negative attitude is not unique to today’s youth. Young people, for generations, have typically shown less support for their political and economic systems than their elders. It is also clear that they end up changing those views over the years. Most juvenile objections seem to be aimed at crony capitalism where businesses thrive not as a result of risk, but through contubernios between traders and politicians; or situations where state power is used to suppress genuine competition. We should all share that disgust.
Interestingly, young participants in follow-up surveys strongly favor ideas such as employee-owned companies, and benefit-sharing plans, rather than defending state-owned enterprises. These are capitalist ideas used by modern companies to increase yields.
Today’s young people reject capitalism without a clear idea of what should replace it. When we unpack the ideas of the protesting youth we see that they lack intellectual coherence; They really want more capitalism, not less. The concerns of the protesting milenials are mostly related to fairness and impartiality and not to state-owned means of production.
Young people are stubborn about having control of their activities. They don’t want a heavy government presence in their personal affairs. And those are capitalist attitudes. These young people who protest are capitalists: although they do not know it yet.
“The opinions published here are the absolute responsibility of its author”
Dr. José Azel is currently dedicated to the in depth analyses of Cuba economic, social, and political state, with a keen interest in post Castro Cuba strategies as a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAs) at the University of Miami and You have published extensively on Cuba related topics. Dr. Azel is author of Mañana in Cuba, The Legacy of Castroism and Transitional Challenges for Cuba, published in March 2010 and of Pedazos y vacios, a collection of poems he wrote as a young exile in the 1960s. “Reflections on Freedom” and his last book “Freedom for Newbies”.
José Azel – Joeazel@me.com