In the classic work Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, the character Humpty Dumpty says that “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
Responding, Alice (of Wonderland fame) says, “The question is whether you can make works mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be a master – that’s all.”
The phrase “words mean things” is a hallmark of political communication. It is usually a reminder from a communications staff member to a candidate or elected official to be careful what they say, as the language they use in written and oral communications carries great meaning. Often, it can be construed by the public in a way that is far different than the politician’s intent.
Last week, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona to attend the annual Heritage Foundation “Resource Bank” conference. I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion featuring the well-known pollster and frequent TV commentator Scott Rasmussen on the rise of socialism (you can click here to listen to my interview with Rasmussen on this week’s “Next Round” podcast.)
Much of the discussion centered around how can free market advocates combat the rise of socialism, especially among Millennials and Generation Z.
Rasmussen discussed the issue in a way that I had never thought of it before. Those who are attracted to socialism today aren’t thinking of it like we on the free market side do in the context of the brutality and economic hardship of the Soviet era.
Rather, those who are attracted to socialism view the term as an intrinsic good – fighting for social issues like equality and fighting racism and discrimination.
His recent polling on the subject bears this out. Though 39 percent of voters have a somewhat favorable opinion of socialism, yet just 28 percent consider it an economic ideology. Of those who like socialism, just 38 percent think it leads to more government control and higher taxes while 29 percent actually believe it leads to less government.
Giving me hope that things aren’t all that bad, 87 percent of those who like socialism also have a favorable view of free markets. Even more encouraging, just 12 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of socialism as an economic system.
There is a tendency among those on the free market side that we need to “educate” these young people about the dangers of socialism from throughout history. But Rasmussen’s polling and analysis should have free marketeers questioning their approach.
Emulating an angry old man and yelling at the kids to get off their lawns with lectures about Adam Smith and Edmund Burke isn’t likely to be persuasive. Why? Because these arguments mean nothing for the young people we’re trying to persuade.
Rasmussen reminds us that a more powerful argument may be a friendly reminder that the hundreds of choices that Millennials and Gen Z-ers love every day in the designer jeans they wear, the trendy restaurants they love, and even their job choices at dozens of new startups would all disappear if socialism took hold over America.
While America may be imperfect and is still struggling to overcome decades of problems, free markets and free choices give us far more opportunity to prosper and climb the economic ladder than any socialist system ever has done.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.