Millennials like socialism — until they get jobs. Or until a pollster tells them that it would mean tax increases but doesn’t tell them, for example, that the tax increases would replace healthcare insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses. And doesn’t tell them that “more government services” means something other than, say, trash collection twice a week instead of once a week.

Okay, so the title of a Washington Post op-ed piece today by research fellow and director of polling at the Cato Institute Emily Ekins is “Millennials like socialism — until they get jobs.”  She knows that this is do because a recent Reason-Rupe poll—that’s libertarian magazine Reason, and some polling organization they hired—found that:

When tax rates are not explicit, millennials say they’d prefer larger government offering more services (54 percent) to smaller government offering fewer services (43 percent). However when larger government offering more services is described as requiring high taxes, support flips and 57 percent of millennials opt for smaller government with fewer services and low taxes, while 41 percent prefer large government.

Ah, yes; the ole, reliable, generic smaller-government-with-fewer-services-vs.-larger-government-with-more-services polling gimmick. Because of course everyone absolutely definitely, completely understands what the generic “services” are.  Like, say, trash pickup twice a week rather than once a week?

The survey was, by this writer’s undoubtedly accurate account, prompted by a recent Gallup survey that, to quote Ekins, found that an astounding 69 percent of millennials say they’d be willing to vote for a ‘socialist’ candidate for president — among their parents’ generation, only a third would do so.”  Spilling the beans about the motive for the Reason survey, she continues, “Indeed, national polls and exit polls reveal about 70 to 80 percent of young Democrats are casting their ballots for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a ‘democratic socialist’.”

Uh-oh.  And that was before Bloomberg released a poll yesterday showing Sanders’s support with a 1-point lead over Clinton nationally, with almost no undecideds: Sanders has 49% to Clinton’s 48%.

Ekins writes:

Millennials are the only age group in America in which a majority views socialism favorably. A national Reason-Rupe survey found that 53 percent of Americans under 30 have a favorable view of socialism compared with less than a third of those over 30. …

Yet millennials tend to reject the actual definition of socialism — government ownership of the means of production, or government running businesses. Only 32 percent of millennials favor “an economy managed by the government,” while, similar to older generations, 64 percent prefer a free-market economy. And as millennials age and begin to earn more, their socialistic ideals seem to slip away.

I dunno.  Ekins continues:

So what does socialism actually mean to millennials? Scandinavia. Even though countries such as Denmark aren’t socialist states (as the Danish prime minster has taken great pains to emphasize) and Denmark itself outranks the United States on a number of economic freedom measures such as less business regulation and lower corporate tax rates, young people like that country’s expanded social welfare programs.

Coming of age during the Great Recession, millennials aren’t sure if free markets are sufficient to drive income mobility and thus many are comfortable with government helping to provide for people’s needs. Indeed, a Reason-Rupe study found that 69 percent of millennials favor a government guarantee for health insurance and 54 percent support a guarantee for a college education. Perhaps most striking is that millennials favor a bigger government that provides more services — 52 percent of them do, compared with 38 percent of the nation overall.

Then she asks whether this will last.  “Are millennials ushering in a sea change of public opinion?,” she wonders.  “Do they signal the transformation of the United States into a Scandinavian social democracy?”

Her conclusion? That it depends.

Which indeed it does—on what the pollster tells the respondent and doesn’t tell the respondent about what the hell the question is getting at.  And what the question wants the respondent to think the underlying alternatives actually are.  Ekin reveals the answer to the latter:

There is some evidence that this generation’s views on activist government will stick. However, there is more reason to expect that support for their Scandinavian version of socialism may wither as they age, make more money and pay more in taxes.

The expanded social welfare state Sanders thinks the United States should adopt requires everyday people to pay considerably more in taxes. Yet millennials become averse to social welfare spending if they foot the bill. As they reach the threshold of earning $40,000 to $60,000 a year, the majority of millennials come to oppose income redistribution, including raising taxes to increase financial assistance to the poor.

Similarly, a Reason-Rupe poll found that while millennials still on their parents’ health-insurance policies supported the idea of paying higher premiums to help cover the uninsured (57 percent), support flipped among millennials paying for their own health insurance with 59 percent opposed to higher premiums.

When tax rates are not explicit, millennials say they’d prefer larger government offering more services (54 percent) to smaller government offering fewer services (43 percent). However when larger government offering more services is described as requiring high taxes, support flips and 57 percent of millennials opt for smaller government with fewer services and low taxes, while 41 percent prefer large government.

It’s downright shocking to me, a Sanders supporter, that millennials don’t want to pay higher insurance premiums, although since Sanders’s proposal would actually lower premiums and overall healthcare expenditures by individuals and employers I’m not sure what this actually says about millennials .  Or about the lasting appeal to them of Sanders’s healthcare proposal.

And at least to my knowledge (and I’m pretty sure I’m right), Sanders’s tax increases for middle-income people are mostly to pay the healthcare premium, although there is a payroll tax of $1.64 (or something) a week on everyone to pay for guaranteed paid family and medical leave.  I’m just not sure that false factual premises indicate much about how likely millennials are to change their political ideology.

But it does say something pretty clear about Ekins and the Cato Institute.  It says that they either can’t distinguish between apples and elephants, or that they pretend not to.  It also says something—a lot, actually, I think—about the Washington Post’s op-ed editors. The representation that the expanded social welfare state Sanders thinks the United States should adopt, including additional financial assistance to the poor, requires everyday people to pay considerably more in taxes is partly false and partly deeply misleading.  It is a line, however, that the Post’s editorial board and centrist opinion writers have been pushing since last summer, though, so it’s no surprise that that they published Ekins’s piece.

It also, though, says lot about most of the rest of the mainstream press, both in its inattention to Sanders’s campaign—NYT columnist Charles Blow documented this last week—and in its often misleading accounts of Sanders’s proposals, which to a surprisingly large extent relies on gross misrepresentations of the Scandinavian countries’ systems from which Sanders draws some of his proposals.  Including the falsehood discussed in this recent article by Finnish-bron writer Anu Partanen in The Atlantic Monthly titled “What Americans Don’t Get About Nordic Countries” and subtitled “When U.S. politicians talk about Scandinavian-style social welfare, they fail to explain the most important aspect of such policies: selfishness.”

But back to Ekins.  Her conclusion!  Which is that millennials will flip-flop on the big-government-big-taxes-vs.-small-government-vs.-low-taxes-especially-on-the-wealthy thing!  Well, I don’t want to misrepresent her, even slightly.  So here’s what she writes:

Millennials wouldn’t be the first generation to flip-flop. In the 1980s, the same share (52 percent) of baby boomers also supported bigger government, and so did Generation Xers (53 percent) in the 1990s. Yet, both baby boomers and Gen Xers grew more skeptical of government over time and by about the same magnitude. Today, only 25 percent of boomers and 37 percent of Gen Xers continue to favor larger government.

Many conservatives bemoan millennials’ increased comfort with the idea of “socialism.” But conservatives aren’t recognizing that in the 20th-century battle between free enterprise and socialism, free enterprise already won. In contrast with the 1960s and ’70s, college students today are not debating whether we should adopt the Soviet or Maoist command-and-control regimes that devastated economies and killed millions. Instead, the debate today is about whether the social welfare model in Scandinavia (which is essentially a “beta-test,” because it hasn’t been around long) is sustainable and transferable.

Hillary Clinton couldn’t have said it better—although she certainly has tried, repeatedly, in nearly every one of the debates and on the trail, usually in her favored sing-song soundbite style, often with a cutesy play on words or rhyming or alliteration, since she is clueless that this is extremely annoying and off-putting to many, many people.  (Well, to me, but I think probably to many, many others.)

Clinton repeatedly misrepresented the nature of Sanders’s single-payer healthcare plan.  Both she and her daughter told the public that Sanders’s proposal made state participation optional, like the ACA’s Medicaid provision.  Sanders’s proposal instead involves states in exactly the same way that the state-by-state insurance marketplaces that form the backbone of the ACA—the law that Clinton has campaigned on keeping—does: if a state government declines to establish its own setup within the narrow guidelines of the law, the federal government will do that for the state.

And, most important, Clinton intimated for months that the increased taxes that would pay for Sanders’s system would not replace the insurance premiums that employers, employees and those using the ACA’s marketplaces pay, as well as out-of-pocket expenses.  Clinton and her daughter both are very wealthy women, so they don’t sweat the cost of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.  So it was fine for her to obfuscate on this to prospective Democratic primary voters, on the theory that they too find it easy to pay private healthcare premiums and sometimes large deductibles and co-payments.

In the last debate, Clinton used a favorite line of her father’s: that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.  The problem, though, is that it hasn’t been too god to be true in northern, central and most of southern Europe, in Australia, in Canada, in England, in Scotland, in Israel, in Taiwan, or in Japan.  All of them which have market economies.  None of them which fund their political campaigns through legalized bribery.  Clinton failed to mention that the reason why it nonetheless has been too good to be true in this country is the political power—i.e., the campaign funding—of private insurers and the pharmaceutical industry.

Ekins, for her part, closed her op-ed piece with this:

Millennials like free markets, and most already accept that free markets have done more to lift the world out of poverty than any other system. Instead, what this generation has to decide is whether higher education and health-care innovation, access, and high quality can be best achieved through opening these sectors to more free-market reforms or through increased government control. This is a debate we should be glad to have.

Actually it’s not their decision, any more than the scientific existence of man-made climate change is their decision.  Facts are facts, and in fact that fact itself is what they have decided.

A critical reason why social mobility has stalled almost completely in this country is that higher education is financially outright foreclosed to so many or requires the incurring of huge debt.  And, as the many Americans who died in, say, the last 20 years because of lack of access to healthcare can attest from the grave—and as the many millions who have struggled mightily (or are doing so now) to pay medical bills although they had insurance when they had the care, or who find it very difficult to pay the premiums even under the ACA, and the many millions who have found themselves paying large bills for out-of-network this or that, can discuss in live voices—health-care innovation, access, and high quality cannot be best achieved through opening these sectors to more free-market reforms.

Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland and the UK, among others, innovate.  Just as public grants in this country produce much of the medical innovation here.  And it’s not like the pharmaceutical industry would go broke if their profit margins were cut a bit.  They all also have high quality.  The difference is that everyone has access to it.

Ekins says she wants a debate on this, but what she really wants are poll results obtained through poll questions that offer fake alternatives and that impart false information.

We already have the answers to the questions she says she now wants to debate.  And maybe Reason’s next poll should mention that Medicare is a government service that people back in 1967 had to begin paying for through a tax.  And that unleaded drinking water and safe bridges are two other government services.  Sometimes.


UPDATE: Reader Jason and I just exchanged the following comments in the Comments thread:

Jason/ March 25, 2016 6:24 pm

“Raising taxes to increase financial assistance to the poor”? What program is Ekin referring to? Pretty much everything Sanders has proposed is universal, and the $15 minimum wage does not involve a tax increase. Sanders has gone after Clinton on welfare reform, but AFAIK, he hasn’t said anything about undoing it.


Me/ March 25, 2016 7:33 pm

Exactly, Jason. One of my pet peeves is major old-media, and therefore highly respected, publications that allow their op-ed columnists to make false statements of fact in their opinion pieces. They just slip in some false statement. The Washington Post is a routine offender on this, the NYT less so these days, but it still occurs. David Brooks used to do this often, but I think the Times put a stop to it when it became commonplace with him. Thomas Friedman did it about a month ago.

But what’s different here is that this writer is not a Post staffer. Didn’t an editor read the piece before accepting it for publication? Or was it just automatically accepted as submitted, regardless of blatant errors of fact, because she’s, well, a bigwig at a high-profile think tank?

Or maybe it’s just that, as I said in my post, they liked the idea of getting an additional voice onto their opinion pages that will make misrepresentations about Sanders’s policy proposals. Apparently no one on their staff had thought of this particular falsehood, or maybe it’s just easier to get away with it when the writer is a guest rather than a staffer.

Thanks for commenting.


Added 3/25 at 7:41 p.m.