Victims of Communism Day is no way to counter disenchantment with capitalism

If you weren’t even aware today is Victims of Communism Day in Utah, you’re likely not alone. Nothing other than rhetoric is planned, apparently, for the day mandated by a new Utah law.

That’s because Victims of Communism Day is little more than a political volley, a manifestation of the Red Scare 2.0 with the stated intention to remind us of the atrocities authoritarian regimes committed in the name of communism in case any of us are inclined to embrace the Democratic socialism presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.

Yes, it’s absurd to draw parallels between Stalin and Sanders, but that’s the approach conservative lawmakers seem to have chosen to address research that indicates young people increasingly are disenchanted with capitalism.  Results of a Pew Research Center survey  released in June showed both Republican and Democratic youth are less likely than older adults to view capitalism positively. A majority (55 percent) of Democrats younger than 30, in fact, view capitalism negatively, according to the survey, the largest percentage of any group.

Victims of Communism was born not of Utah lawmakers, but of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a wellspring of model legislation crafted to advance a corporate-funded conservative political agenda. ALEC conceived of House Bill 116, which sponsor Rep. Kay Christopherson, R-Lehi, and his peers enthusiastically embraced, choosing histrionics over any real attempt to listen or understand why young people increasingly find aspects of socialism alluring.

Clearly, it’s not because they endorse the terror tactics and mass murder of authoritarian dictatorships. If lawmakers were to listen to their reasoning, this is what they would hear:

Young people can’t pay for college. Too often, they find themselves saddled after graduation with debilitating student-loan debt (an average of nearly $34,000, according to credible.com’s analysis of U.S. Department of Education data).

Debt robs them of financial security measurable in accomplishments such as homeownership, but so, too, do economic realities that show inflation-adjusted wages for those age 25 to 34 have barely budged since 1974, while home prices have increased an average of 40 percent during the same period, a Supermoney analysis drawn from U.S. census and U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency data, showed. 

They can’t afford healthcare or save for retirement, and increasingly, their employers help them with neither one. Young people blame unfettered capitalism for growing income inequality, excess and destruction of the environment, and in socialism, rightly or wrongly, they find a ready critique and explanation for everything they see as having gone wrong.  The Pew Research Center explored the reasoning of those who view socialism positively in a survey for which it released results in October.

People with positive views of socialism, Pew said, see it as representing a fairer, more generous society that fosters equality, as in the Democratic socialism of nations such as Finland or Denmark. They see socialism at its best as being able to build upon and improve capitalism.

“I believe a healthy society has a good blend of capitalism and socialism. We have socialized education and libraries … A blend can ensure a thriving productive society for all,” Pew quotes one 42-year-old woman as saying.

“Capitalism tends to lead to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer,” said another 35-year-old participant in the survey. “This is ultimately self-destructive and unsustainable. Socialism is not without its flaws, but at least its stated goal is to provide for everyone who contributes.”

People who view socialism as an answer will not change their minds because today is Victims of Communism Day in Utah. 

Conservative lawmakers would do better to drop the political posturing and listen. They would do better to engage in an active debate devoid of extremes and work across the aisle to achieve real fixes rather than halting any opportunity for understanding with historical reminders that everyone agrees are horrific, yet do nothing to foster positive change.

This guest blog post was written by Better Utah board member, Lisa Carricaburu.

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