Last summer, two authors asked Fast Company readers a simple question: “Are you ready to consider that capitalism is the real problem?”
For millennials, the answer seems to be increasingly yes. “A lot of young people don’t believe in it anymore,” Ana Garcia, a college junior, told the Wall Street Journal in a recent article on the topic. “We don’t trust capitalism because we don’t see ourselves getting ahead.”
A 2016 poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that just 19% of Americans aged 18 to 29 identified themselves as capitalists; only 42% claimed they supported the economic system. Another Harvard poll, released on December 5, found that two-thirds of that same age group is fearful for the future of the country. Just 14% think we’re headed in the right direction.
It’s not difficult to connect the dots between young Americans’ rejection of capitalism and their concern over the future of the country. The millennial generation is the one, after all, that came of age and entered the job market during or right after the financial crash of 2008, which was precipitated by the failure of the large financial institutions that both symbolize and drive the capitalist system.
It’s also, according to the World Economic Forum, the first generation in modern memory to be on track to be worse off than their parents. The median earnings of millennials in 2013 were 43% lower than someone who was their age and working in 1995. Even though average wages have inched slowly upward in recent years after a long period of stagnation, they’re still 8% lower than they were before the 2008 recession. And average student debt, has, since 2008, climbed from around $24,000 to over $37,000.
Richard Wolff, an economist who’s been lecturing on anti-capitalism for the past 50 years, has witnessed this shift away from trust in the economic system firsthand, and has seen how instrumental young people have been in this movement. The change in consciousness he’s witnessed among his students, he told Fast Company in September, is instrumental in precipitating a move toward a different economic system–a shift he thinks is so far underway as to be too late to stop. “The sheer beauty of this is that nothing fuels this movement more than capitalism’s own troubles, and the displeasure, disaffection, and anxiety it produces,” he says.
So what might that alternative look like? Ask millennials, and they have a strong preference for a more socialist model: According to a 2016 Gallup poll, the popularity of capitalism and socialism is neck-and-neck among younger Americans, while older generations are still distrusting of socialism. Younger people are also the ones driving the surge of the Democratic Socialists of America, which endorsed 15 winning candidates in the November election. And Americans aged 18 to 29, according to a recent WSJ poll, are more likely than any other age bracket to say that they believe the government should be doing more, not less, to help people in need.
If anything, the Trump administration is only serving to galvanize millennials’ beliefs. The president himself is perhaps one of the most extreme products of capitalism, and his success signifies what many feel to be the irrationality of the system. And as the Republican Party inches closer to passing the tax bill that will increase inequality and strip students of their already-limited financial resources, while leaving even less to help people at the lower end of the economic spectrum, the call for a system that prioritizes humanity and equity over inflating the profits of a tiny fraction of the already well-off will only continue to grow.