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Millennials are ignorant of history. They also like socialism. Coincidence?

This week saw the release of some worrying numbers. According to a study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany,

Two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll cannot identify what Auschwitz is, according to a study released on Holocaust Remembrance Day that found that knowledge of the genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II is not robust among American adults.

Twenty-two percent of millennials in the poll said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they’ve heard of it — twice the percentage of U.S. adults as a whole who said the same.

Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996 according to the Pew Research Center, are the future. Yet, on the whole, their knowledge of the past seems somewhat threadbare. This is despite it being a “fact”, according to the Huffington Post, “that they are the most educated generation in U.S. history”.

This historical ignorance might also explain why Millennials have such a favorable view of socialism. As the Washington Post reported in 2016,

Millennials are the only age group in America in which a majority views socialism favorably. A national Reason-Rupe survey found that 53 percent of Americans under 30 have a favorable view of socialism compared with less than a third of those over 30. Moreover, Gallup has found that an astounding 69 percent of millennials say they’d be willing to vote for a “socialist” candidate for president — among their parents’ generation, only a third would do so. 

But this might be because they don’t know what socialism actually is.

Yet millennials tend to reject the actual definition of socialism — government ownership of the means of production, or government running businesses. Only 32 percent of millennials favor “an economy managed by the government,” while, similar to older generations, 64 percent prefer a free-market economy. And as millennials age and begin to earn more, their socialistic ideals seem to slip away.

I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old Generation Xer moaning about the kids. We all have our youthful idiocies. When I was a teenager I considered myself a communist. I remember my then girlfriend introducing me to her dad for the first time with the words “This is John, he’s a communist”. Her dad replied “Thats because he isn’t paying taxes yet”.

But we do have to be careful. The children are our future, as Whitney Houston sang. And unless they learn about the dismal record of socialism, and of the horrors of the Holocaust for that matter, Millenials run the risk of repeating them. Socialism can flourish only amid historical ignorance. Learning is essential for a free society.

John Phelan is an economist at Center of the American Experiment. 

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