…Consider Arizona State University, a school not exactly known for campus radicalism. When I was teaching there in the 1980s, I would often start a new semester by asking the class who among them considered themselves to be socialists. The hands would go up—including a majority in many cases. In 20 years of teaching, whether at Indiana, Michigan, or ASU, this never changed.
When I asked my students what they thought socialism meant, they would generally recite some version of the Marxist chestnut “from each according to ability and to each according to need.” Many said that they were driven to socialism by the inequities of capitalism—and there were few on the faculty to disabuse them of the notion…
…When the majority of a class would declare themselves to be socialist, I would offer to run the class along socialist principles, such as the mandate to take from the able and give to the needy. Specifically, I offered to grade the class on a sort of reverse-curve: Those with the highest GPAs would receive the lowest grades and those with the lowest GPAs would be given the highest grades. This would be one small step to level the playing field for those less endowed with academic ability or motivation. After all, those with less academic ability or motivation were surely the victims of a rigged system in which social factors including prior education and income inequality disadvantaged the many in favor of the privileged few.
This socialist grading scheme was invariably met with outrage, especially, if unsurprisingly, among high-performing students (who made up a disproportionate number of the self-declared socialists). Some would remind me that some things are simply meant to be a matter of merit. And I heard every argument imaginable for allowing fair competition to determine outcomes. Grades, it turned out, were a currency college kids could understand.
You get the same response among students if you offer them the prospect of taking the money that subsidizes their education and using it to feed people in developing nations. Surely the potential deprivation of the students is insignificant compared with that of the individuals to be fed. Students are quick to point out that things don’t work that way, which is true, but contrary to their socialist infatuation.
Students are attracted to socialism because they have no skin in the game. To some extent, the same applies to other young people who do not yet have a significant stake in the system. Capitalist beliefs quickly come to the surface when the young are no longer playing with funny money….