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Are We Reaching Peak Capitalism?
Young people are starting to ask more fundamental questions
I recently came across a study by the UK Institute of Economic Affairs which explored “attitudes of young people towards capitalism and socialism”. These stats caught my eyes:
67% of young people in the UK say they would like to live in a socialist economic system.
Moreover, 75% say climate change is a specifically capitalist problem (as opposed to a side-effect of industrial production that would occur in any economic system). 78% say capitalism caused the housing crisis. 71% say capitalism fuels racism. And 73% say it fuels selfishness, greed, and materialism. - IEA, 2021
The authors of the IEA study link their results to various other surveys that came out over recent years, all bearing similar insights. For example this one here from the US:
In the US, 64% of Gen Z adults (18-24) said they had a negative view of capitalism, while 42% reported having a positive view.
Those aged 18-34 are almost evenly split between those who view capitalism positively and those who view it negatively (49% vs. 46%). However, two years ago, that margin was a gaping 20 points (58% vs. 38%). - Axios, 2021
And then Edelman in its Trust Barometer shows this trend in a similar extent in its global survey:
Globally, 52% agree that capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world - Edelman, 2022
Now, I have to confess that I view stats (particularly polls) very critically. A good researcher can find stats to support almost any theory or opinion. However, I am not saying that the numbers above are meaningless. No, they are definitely valuable and show an interesting trend here. But what’s even more fascinating to me is that these studies are done in the first place. On a meta level, it’s interesting to see that these anti-capitalist questions are asked more frequently. For example, Edelman only started asking the above question for its yearly Trust Barometer two years ago, in 2020.
Edelman itself seems to have been eager to look at things more fundamentally. And that to me is the real game-changer here. Increasingly, I have the feeling that the questions raised, are more and more fundamental. And what is maybe still a diverse, disconnected array of different issues, discussions and opinions, is increasingly merging together into a more connected, systemic, dare I say it: Creative Destruction (🙃) of the entire economic system.
We can also see puzzle pieces of this trend across Gen Z (and Millennial) culture and the internet:
From the growth of the r/antiwork and r/latestagecapitalism subreddits:
As I highlighted in my first issue ‘From Corporation to Self-Actualization’, the r/antiwork subreddit grew massively since COVID and surged from only 13,000 members in 2019 to now over 1.8 million members. But r/latestagecapitalism is also no stranger to growth, going from around 200,000 members in 2018 to 748,000 today.
Here are a few of my favorite posts and top shared pieces from these two subreddits:
To Celebrity Fundraiser meets Tax the Rich:
AOC wearing a “Tax The Rich” dress at the Met Gala, an annual philantropy event for celebrities often referred to as the Oscars of fashion.
To the #eattherich trend on TikTok:
There is one version of this trend that is all about unfollowing social media accounts of celebrities in the sense of let’s reduce their follower numbers and therefore their power and influence.
And there is another version of this, which is about poking fun at the little signs of wealth, such as having a Spotify premium account 🤡, for example.
And if you wanna go down the anti-capitalism TikTok rabbit hole even more, watch this very long compilation here - but don’t say I didn’t warn you. 🤡
To Teen Vogue headlines:
Yep, the same magazine that organizes the above mentioned Met Gala is super anti-capitalist in its teenager focused publication.
And here is what Calla Walsh, a political activist, wrote in a recent Teen Vogue op-ed:
“I’m a 17-year-old socialist. For my generation, a fascist presidential administration, pandemic, economic collapse, and a historic uprising for Black lives have shaped our worldview. These defining events and movements have caused Gen Z to become more disillusioned with capitalism and the white-supremacist, bourgeois state than older generations.”
And lastly, to popular Instagram accounts like ‘Humans of Late Capitalism’ or ‘SluttyforSocialism’:
Now you might say, how can young people call for an economic revolution on their iPhone produced by cheap labor in China, wearing unsustainable, fast fashion clothing from Primark, while they sip their Startups pumpkin spice latte?
Well, if people question the underlying system, then, individual guilt, in the sense of “you, with your everyday actions, are causing the crisis”, makes less sense. Only major system change does.
And lastly, rejecting a capitalist economic system does not equal a rejection of the conveniences that many of us are currently enjoying. It’s simply a rejection of the current system. The IEA, in its above mentioned report, notes:
“Supporters of the market economy find it baffling how someone can enjoy all the comforts and conveniences of modern capitalism, and then still reject it. […] But this is only baffling if we assume that a non-capitalist economy would not be able to produce comparable comforts and conveniences.”
“Non-capitalist economy” is a crucial wording here. Because even though the key stat of the IEA report was that 67% of young people in the UK would like to live in a socialist economic system, the report also states that 75% of young people agree with the statement that socialism is a good idea, but has failed in the past because it has been badly done. To me, there seems to be a romanticization of the idea of socialism in here, and maybe young people are just, in general, looking for a “non-capitalist” alternative, not necessarily socialism as we know it. This is also emphasized by survey respondents associating socialism with very positive topics, such as workers, people, equality, fairness, opportunity, and community. Whereas capitalism was mostly associated with something negative, such as exploitation, greed, and unfairness. And then as stated above, racism, the housing crisis and climate change.
Ultimately, I would even claim that all of this is showing us that young people are increasingly tired of fighting on various fronts (rising rents, climate crisis, stagnating wages, covid, burnout, institutional racism, war, inflation,….) and are therefore focusing more on fighting the alleged underlying system. And as long as capitalist solutions to the problem won’t move the needle, and additional crisis will further increase future uncertainty, the call to ask more fundamental questions will only get louder.
That’s it for this week! Thank you all!