Australian Millennials have a strangely romanticised taste for socialism.
According to a recent survey for the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies, 58% have a “favourable” view of socialism, and 59% think “capitalism has failed and the government should exercise more economic control”.
Even more troubling are results showing a profound ignorance of history, with a third unaware of who Stalin was, half unaware of Mao and over 40% ignorant of Lenin. Yet together these socialist ‘icons’ were responsible for almost 85 million deaths.
The simple explanation for this is that capitalism has been too successful – and the struggles to fight socialism too far in the past – for many millennials to appreciate what they have.
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The fall of the Berlin Wall, after all, occurred almost 30 years ago – before many Millennials were born. Significantly, the great battles against socialism were fought far away in Europe, well away from an Australia insulated from the Cold War. The lived experience of any number of former Eastern Bloc nations simply doesn’t resonate.
But Australian Millennials also have some justification for their frustrations with the way things currently are. Most complete their tertiary studies saddled with a large student debt that can take decades to pay off. Others feel excluded from Australia’s increasingly unaffordable property markets – surveys show home ownership is a fundamental Millennial aspiration, with 38% aspiring to own a property in the next three years.
Add to this the lowest wage growth in years at 1.9%, and moves to further casualise the workforce and reduce weekend penalty rates, and their skepticism of free enterprise and desire for a more interventionist government look less surprising.
These Millennials have also had their view of what were once regarded as pariah socialist states normalised through the irresistible forces of trade and tourism. These days China is a key trade partner for Australia, a major source of high fees paying international students (many of whom Millennials will have studied alongside) and the source of cheap electronics.
For these passport-wielding Aussie Millennials, nearby socialist Vietnam is also increasingly a right-of-passage. Almost 200,000 Australians visit Vietnam each year, including many Millennials.
And Australian politicians, from both Left and Right, are adding to this impression of a normalised capitalist-socialist relationship. Comfortable engaging with the Chinese government, they have even spoken on their behalf when it suits. One Labor Senator was forced to resign when caught arguing pro-Chinese security talking points while at the same time accepting Chinese donations, and former Liberal Trade Minister and now Chinese business consultant Andrew Robb recently argued the futility of attempting to contain a rising China given they will eventually ‘share’ regional power with the US anyway.
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Typical of this ideological confusion is a debate currently playing out over whether to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei access to Australia’s internet systems, with many commentators arguing free market and technological benefits outweigh any security issues associated with dealing with a centrally controlled communist government.
In an argument likely to resonate with Millennials many also argue questions of privacy and data protection are outdated given the social media age we live in.
A clear articulation of our core democratic and free market values is essential in providing Millennials with a balanced worldview. Unfortunately, Australia’s political leaders have shown a shameless lack of leadership as they trawl a growing Millennial vote, understandably concerned about its future.
Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten now consistently positions his party to the Left of the centre-right consensus adopted by Labor Governments since the 1980s – distancing himself from Labor’s substantial free market legacy created under the 1980-90s Hawke-Keating Government and largely maintained by subsequent Labor Governments.
Shorten regularly uses anti-business rhetoric, attacks Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for his personal wealth, and mocks notions of an aspirational society as a form of greed.
He isn’t alone. Key ally and new Australian Council of Trade Unions leader Sally McManus is a media savvy old school socialist disdainful of the previously successful approach of consulting with business. She has even appeared on national media arguing the right of unions to break laws they consider unjust.
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Adding to this lack of ideological leadership is an education system failing to teach capitalist and democratic beliefs. There is now a growing national debate over whether an emphasis on teaching identity issues in our schools is crowding out more traditional core civic values and history. While some tentative attempts have been made to establish a ‘Western Civilization’ centre at one of our universities this is being fiercely resisted by some academics claiming such a center would celebrate a racist, imperialist past.
In this context, the fact that six in ten Aussie Millennials view socialism as positive doesn’t seem so surprising – today’s socialists don’t look so bad to them, and politicians and educational institutions are not suggesting otherwise.