I think good-natured competition is a good thing, for ideas and economic systems as well as for companies.

It could be that socialism works better than free-market capitalism in some situations. Maybe full-blown Communism, mercantilism or even feudalism is the right hammer for some unusual nails. If aliens conquer the Earth, you happen to have a nice, alien-proof castle, and you’re open to making me your vassal, I’ll hear you out.

Of course, the economic system the United States has today is much different from the kind of lightly regulated, market-based system that Adam Smith envisioned when he published “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776.

See also: Economics Rule

The ongoing mudfight pitting the current U.S. economic system against the alternatives proposed by the leading Republican and Democratic presidential candidates seems to be a good way for people to clarify what they really think. And maybe one reason the country is having such a hard time developing a realistic strategy for preparing for the baby boomers’ long-term care (LTC) needs is that, before we can make a long-term care plan for LTC needs, we have to have some kind of broad agreement about how our economy should work.

Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders may have similar visions of how America’s oldest old people should live, but they and their supporters are bound to have drastically different ideas about how to convert those visions into action.

I think one alarming obstacle is that it’s not clear that many young people have much of an idea of what private companies are; how successful, rule-abiding owners are supposed to get their money in a capitalist system; or why people who support capitalism think free markets can be useful.

Many of the young people who support socialism seem to think that a socialist government is a government that imposes few annoying rules on young people; minimizes young and broke people’s tax bills; and uses taxes on evil, system-rigging rich people to generate the revenue needed to pay for just about everything young and broke people need.

In July 2014, for example, Emily Ekins, an analyst at Reason.com, says she found that 42 percent of the participants in a Reason-Rupe poll claimed that they favored socialism, even though only 32 percent said they favored a government-managed economy. In other words: At least 10 percent of the participants, and about one-quarter of the participants who said they favored socialism, had no idea what socialism is.

Ekins cited a 2010 CBS/New York Times survey that found that only 16 percent of millennials could define the word “socialist,” compared with 30 percent of older Americans.

The other day, I was talking to a bright high school student. (Many details were changed to conceal the student’s privacy.) He’s politically aware enough to know that he’s supposed to hate Trump and Hillary Clinton, and love Sanders, because that’s what everyone around him does. The word “Communism” came up. The student said, “Oh, that’s that system that was good but didn’t work out, right?” 

I’m even (a little) open to the idea that the experiences of Russia, North Korea, Romania, Maoist China, East Germany and Cambodia are a fluke, and that some amazing country could, possibly, make Communism work, but I don’t think that student’s definition of Communism would have been adequate even from a fiery Marxist-Leninists’ point of view.

My sense is that the typical young person’s definition of “capitalist” is: That villain in a James Bond movie who sits around stroking a cat and uses evil henchmen to gain and preserve wealth by manipulating some incomprehensible something or other, and then puts James Bond in a tank with hungry sharks. Or, possibly: Those guys in suits in the “Iron Man” movies who keep the Robert Downey Jr. character from doing the nice, sensible things he wants to do. Or, at very, very best: Those fabulously rich people who hoard billions and billions of dollars in their lavish palaces and cackle gleefully at how broke most young people are.

Both Republicans and Democrats can use the “Candidate X has been in the lobby of Goldman Sachs!!!!” as the ultimate indicator of pure evil because many voters, and, especially, young voters, have absolutely no idea what a bond or a share of stock is, let alone what Goldman Sachs is. They’re assuming, as a given, that holding a pleasant conversation with someone from Goldman Sachs is the equivalent of marrying Satan.

And these are the people in charge of picking the national and state leaders who will, or will not, figure out how to pay to make the last years of the baby boomers comfortable.

A lot of political action committees (PACs) and super PACs have huge amounts of cash. Right now, they’re using the cash mainly to imply that various candidates for office would eat babies for breakfast if you provided the cutlery.

See also: On the Third Hand: The Convention

Instead: Why not run some cute ads explaining how capitalism is supposed to work?

For extra credit: Run ads about how democratic socialism is supposed to work, and what could go wrong with capitalist systems and democratic socialist systems.

But at least give voters some idea of what the words they’re using mean, so that a large minority of the voters who vote in November aren’t, actually, deciding between supporters of the Evil Mumblety Jumblety System and the supporters of the Good Mumblety Jumblety System. 

See also: 

Fiorina slams health insurers at GOP debate

Education getting squeezed

  

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