Socialism is on the rise in the UK – we need radical free-market solutions to issues like the housing crisis to fight it
Last Friday, an underwater oil pipeline burst in the Gulf of Mexico. Spectacular images of a burning oil patch, which looked a lot like the “eye of Sauron” from Lord of the Rings, quickly went viral around the world. What had gone wrong?
It did not take long for Twitter to reach its verdict: the culprit was capitalism. Laura Pidcock, the former MP for North West Durham and Shadow Secretary of State, tweeted: “The sea is on fire but some people still think capitalism can be managed.” Around 8,000 people retweeted her post, alongside 20,000 likes – towards the lower-end of the spectrum on anti-capitalist opinions.
One post claiming “capitalists will literally open a portal to hell instead of going green” was retweeted by 35,000 people with hundreds of thousands of likes. Another still was rewarded with over 50,000 retweets by asking “what stage of capitalism is setting the ocean on f***ing fire?” The creator of a meme which blamed the fire on “unfettered capitalism” got about 180,000 retweets, and nearly 740,000 likes.
The actual event was very poorly suited to that fashionable anti-capitalist narrative. For a start, Pemex, the oil company in question, is a nationalised company, which had been owned by the Mexican state for over eighty years. Secondly, Mexico is not governed by some pro-business, fossil-fuel-loving Trumpite, but by veteran left-winger Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has the official endorsement of none other than Jeremy Corbyn himself.
But none of it mattered. Within a matter of hours, the socialist Left’s interpretation of the event had become the conventional wisdom, and once a conventional wisdom has been established, it is very hard to shift.
“But that is just Twitter”, I hear you say. “It’s an echo-chamber. It is not the real world.”
Unfortunately, in some important respects, it very much is the real world.
The popular stereotype of the “woke, socialist Millennial” is broadly correct, as I explain in a new report. Millennials and members of the subsequent “Generation Z” really do tend to be instinctively hostile to capitalism, and drawn to socialist alternatives of some sort.
Between 70 to 80 per cent of young people agree with Extinction Rebellion that climate change is a specifically capitalist problem, they agree with Black Lives Matter that capitalism fuels racism, and they see Britain’s housing crisis as a failure of capitalism too. They want to see large swathes of industry nationalised, and they see private sector involvement in healthcare as a threat to the NHS. They associate capitalism predominantly with negative terms such as “exploitative” and “unfair”, while associating socialism primarily with positive terms such as “workers”, “people”, “fair” and “communal”.
Does this mean that free-marketeers should throw in the towel, and accept that the future belongs to socialism and progressivism? Not quite. It does, however, mean that we need to become a lot more proactive in explaining the case for capitalism, and in debunking socialist fallacies.
It has long been a common view that people are left-wing when they are young, and then “grow out” of it. However, this doesn’t cut it anymore. Today, people in their early 40s are still just as left-wing as people in their late teens.
One of the biggest breeding grounds for socialism is the housing crisis. It makes sense: young people disillusioned by having to cough up a chunk of their salary for rent while house prices continue to grow makes the idea of everyone having their “fair share” an attractive notion. It really does feel like “the system” of capitalism is rigged against them.
In other to fight the wave of socialism, therefore, supporters of the market economy must be the most strident advocates of radical market-based solutions to issues such as the housing crisis. It may surprise the socialist sympathisers to know that even within the ranks of capitalists, there is a widespread consensus that the current state of housing is unacceptable. The answer to this is not, and has never been, socialism.
Socialism is able to transcend the political narrative because there is an ongoing disbelief that the examples of socialism, such as Venezuela, are not “real socialism”. We need to re-familiarise ourselves with the basic bread-and-butter socialism-vs-capitalism arguments, which we once thought we no longer needed, thinking the battle had been one. The battle will likely need to be fought and refought over and over again.