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Why young people are seeking alternatives to capitalism

The world of capitalism can feel like a double-edged sword for many young people today. On one hand, it offers the potential for individual success, innovation, and a vibrant economy. On the other hand, it raises concerns about inequality, environmental impact, and the growing influence of corporations.

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This leaves many grappling with a fundamental question: how can we manage our anxiety about the current system while still building a fulfilling life within it?

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Ultimately, this article is about finding a balance. It’s about acknowledging the challenges of our current economic system while also recognising the power of individual choices and proactive steps. We can’t change the world overnight, but we can each take steps to create a more fulfilling and less anxious life within it.

The reasons why some young people, namely Millennials and Gen Z may be critical of capitalism are complex and multifaceted, stemming from a variety of social, economic, and political factors. Before the reasons for this recent turnaround, we must first understand what capitalism is.

What is capitalism

Capitalism is an economic system with several key characteristics:

Core principles:

  • Private ownership of the means of production: This includes things like factories, land, and resources. Individuals or businesses, rather than the government, own and control these assets.
  • Profit motive: Businesses and individuals aim to generate profit through economic activity, by producing and selling goods and services.
  • Market competition: Competition between businesses drives down prices, improves quality, and encourages innovation.
  • Supply and demand: Prices of goods and services are determined by the interaction of supply (what producers offer) and demand (what consumers want).
  • Voluntary exchange: Buyers and sellers freely engage in transactions based on their self-interest.


  • Economic growth: Capitalism can foster innovation, efficiency, and productivity, leading to overall economic growth and increased wealth.
  • Consumer choice: Competition leads to a wider variety of goods and services at competitive prices.
  • Individual freedom: Private ownership and market participation empower individuals to make economic decisions and pursue their own goals.


  • Inequality: While some benefit greatly from capitalism, others may struggle to access basic needs, leading to a wealth gap.
  • Environmental impact: Focus on profit can prioritise production over environmental sustainability, leading to pollution and depletion of resources.
  • Market failures: Unregulated markets can create monopolies, externalities (costs borne by society), and lack of access to certain goods and services, especially for vulnerable populations.
  • Social exclusion: Individuals without equal access to resources or opportunities may be excluded from the benefits of capitalism.

Variations of capitalism:

  • Free-market capitalism: Minimal government intervention in the economy, with a strong emphasis on competition and individual freedom.
  • Social market capitalism: Combines free markets with strong social safety nets and government regulation to address inequalities and market failures.
  • State capitalism: The government plays a significant role in the ownership and regulation of key industries, balancing elements of market and command economies.
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Other economic systems:

Traditional economies:

  • Focus: Subsistence living and fulfilling basic needs within communities.
  • Production: Primarily through family units and small-scale farming/crafts.
  • Resource allocation: Largely determined by tradition, custom, and social hierarchy.
  • Distribution: Typically, through bartering and sharing within communities.
  • Examples: Tribal societies, and some rural communities still exist today.

Command economies:

  • Focus: Centralised government planning and control of production, distribution, and prices.
  • Production: Determined by state-owned enterprises or government directives.
  • Resource allocation: Based on national goals and prioritised sectors.
  • Distribution: Rationing, state-controlled markets, or direct allocation to citizens.
  • Examples: Former Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea (to varying degrees).

Market economies:

  • Focus: Production and exchange driven by supply and demand within a mostly free market.
  • Production: Private businesses and individuals driven by profit motive.
  • Resource allocation: Determined by prices and competition in the market.
  • Distribution: Based on income earned through participation in the market.
  • Examples: United States, many European countries, Japan.

Mixed economies:

  • Focus: Combine elements of both market and command systems to varying degrees.
  • Production: The public and private sectors coexist, with varying levels of government regulation.
  • Resource allocation: Mix of market forces and government intervention.
  • Distribution: Combination of market-driven income and social welfare programs.
  • Examples: Most modern economies, including those in Western Europe and Scandinavia.
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These are just some basic definitions, and each system can have many variations and specific characteristics. There are also other emerging forms of economic organisation, such as the cooperative or sharing economy, that challenge traditional categorisations.

It’s important to remember that economic systems are not static, and they evolve due to historical, political, social, and technological factors. Different systems can have their strengths and weaknesses, and the “best” system for any given society will depend on its specific context and values.

In addition to the basic four types of economic systems (traditional, command, market, and mixed), there are many other interesting and potentially complex models. Here are some examples:

Socialist systems:

  • Communism: Aims for a classless society with common ownership of resources and production based on needs rather than profit.
  • Democratic socialism: Combines elements of socialist principles with a democratic political system and decentralised planning.
  • Anarcho-communism: Abolition of all forms of hierarchical authority, with production and distribution organised through voluntary cooperation and community governance.

Alternative models:

  • Gift economy: Goods and services are circulated through gift-giving rather than monetary exchange.
  • Sharing economy: Access to resources and services is shared collaboratively, often facilitated by online platforms.
  • Cooperative model: Businesses owned and operated democratically by their workers or members, sharing profits and decision-making.
  • Resource-based economy: Focusses on maximising efficiency and sustainability through closed-loop production systems and minimal waste.

Emerging trends:

  • Circular economy: Aims to minimise waste and resource depletion by reusing, repairing, and recycling materials within production cycles.
  • Socially responsible capitalism: Businesses incorporate social and environmental impact into their decision-making, aiming for ethical and sustainable practices.
  • Post-capitalism: Various theoretical approaches question the future of capitalism and envision alternative economic models based on different values and priorities.

There are many other unique and diverse economic systems and sub-models being explored and debated today. The choice of specific models and their implementation are influenced by various cultural, historical, and political factors, making it a dynamic and fascinating area of study.

So, now that we have laid a foundation where we can start to make comparisons, it is time to discuss the subject of this article. Why are young people abandoning capitalism and trying their best to incorporate other economic systems or replace it entirely? 

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The capitalism and inequality: Why rising gap between rich and poor alarms young people

The widening wealth gap is a major concern for young people, painting a stark picture of an economic system tilted towards the privileged. This sense of unfairness stems from several key issues:

Housing: The dream of owning a home seems increasingly distant for young adults. Soaring property prices, often fuelled by investor activity and speculation, push homeownership further out of reach. This can trap young people in cycles of renting, with little hope of accumulating wealth through property ownership.

Education: A college degree, once a reliable ticket to upward mobility, now comes with a hefty price tag. Student loan debt burdens millions of young graduates, hindering their ability to save for essential needs like housing and starting families. This creates a vicious cycle where economic insecurity perpetuates itself across generations.

Healthcare: Access to quality healthcare shouldn’t be a privilege reserved for the wealthy. Yet, rising healthcare costs and inadequate insurance coverage leave many young people vulnerable to financial hardship in the face of illness or injury. This lack of security breeds anxiety and distrust in a system that prioritises profit over well-being.

Precarious work: The traditional career path with stable employment, benefits, and opportunities for advancement is becoming increasingly elusive. Young people often face the reality of gig work, part-time jobs, and insecure contracts, lacking the financial stability and sense of purpose that secure employment provides. This precariousness fuels feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability in the face of an unpredictable economic landscape.

Stagnant wages: While the cost-of-living soars, wages for many young workers remain stagnant. This wage squeeze makes it difficult to afford basic necessities, let alone save for the future. The feeling of working hard yet barely treading water can be deeply demotivating and erode faith in the fairness of the economic system.

These concerns about rising inequality paint a clear picture of why young people are questioning the status quo. They see a system that benefits the wealthy at their expense, and they are demanding change. The fight for affordable housing, accessible education, quality healthcare, secure work, and living wages is not just about economics; it’s about building a fairer future where everyone has a chance to thrive.

It’s important to note that these issues are complex and multifaceted, with no easy solutions. However, by acknowledging the concerns of young people and engaging in open dialogue about alternative economic models, we can work towards building a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

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Why young people challenge capitalism’s social and political footprint

Beyond economic anxieties, young people raise critical questions about the environmental and social implications of capitalism. Their concerns fall into two key areas:

1. Environmental impact

Climate change: As the generation bearing the brunt of a warming planet, young people are acutely aware of the devastating consequences of unsustainable practices. They see capitalism’s focus on short-term profit as incompatible with long-term environmental protection. Issues like deforestation, carbon emissions, and resource depletion raise serious concerns about the system’s commitment to future generations.

Pollution and toxins: From plastic pollution choking oceans to industrial waste poisoning communities, young people witness the tangible effects of environmental degradation first-hand. They question the prioritisation of corporate profits over the health and well-being of people and ecosystems. Concerns about air and water quality, chemical spills, and toxic waste disposal highlight the need for more responsible and sustainable practices within the current economic model.

Resource depletion: The finite nature of Earth’s resources is a growing concern for young people. They see the relentless extraction of non-renewable resources like fossil fuels and minerals as unsustainable and ultimately destructive. This raises questions about dependence on resource-intensive industries and the need for transition towards renewable energy sources and circular economies.

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2. Corporate influence

Lobbying and political influence: Young people perceive the vast resources and lobbying power of corporations as wielding undue influence over government policies and regulations. They feel that corporate interests often take precedence over the needs of ordinary citizens, leading to policies that favour environmental polluters, exploit worker rights, and exacerbate social inequalities.

Consumerism and materialism: The pervasiveness of consumer culture within capitalism raises concerns about its impact on social values and individual well-being. Young people question the relentless pressure to acquire material possessions and the emphasis on individual success over collective well-being. They see the focus on consumerism as contributing to social alienation, environmental degradation, and a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction.

Power asymmetry and exploitation: Concerns extend beyond political influence to include broader issues of power asymmetry and exploitation within the capitalist system. Young people express anxieties about workers’ rights being undermined, communities being displaced by corporate interests, and marginalised groups facing systemic discrimination. This raises questions about the ethical implications of the current economic model and the need for greater corporate accountability and social responsibility.

These concerns highlight the growing tension between the profit-driven nature of capitalism and the social and environmental values increasingly championed by young people. Their activism and critical perspectives push for a re-evaluation of economic priorities, demanding a system that prioritises social justice, environmental sustainability, and well-being over unfettered profit growth.

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A generation reshaped: Values, technology, and the reshaping of capitalism

Young people today are not simply inheriting the world shaped by their predecessors; they are actively questioning and reshaping it. This reshaping is driven by two key factors:

1. Shifting values

Social justice: Compared to previous generations, young people today are more vocal about social justice issues like racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and disability rights. They see capitalism’s focus on individual success as often neglecting the needs of marginalised communities and perpetuating systemic inequalities. This leads to a call for economic systems that prioritise fairness and equity, where everyone has an equal chance to thrive.

Environmental protection: The urgency of the climate crisis and environmental degradation has galvanised young people into action. They value environmental sustainability and hold corporations and governments accountable for their actions. This leads to a demand for economic models that prioritise ecological well-being alongside economic growth.

Meaning and purpose: Young people are increasingly seeking meaning and purpose beyond the traditional materialistic goals of capitalism. They value community, collaboration, and shared experiences over individual achievement and wealth accumulation. This leads to a desire for economic systems that prioritise collective well-being and social connection.

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2. Technological change

Adaptability and innovation: Young people have grown up with technology as an integral part of their lives. They are more comfortable with digital tools, adaptable to new technologies, and open to innovative solutions. This can lead to a more flexible and dynamic approach to economic models, embracing new technologies like automation and sharing economies.

Awareness of downside risks: However, young people are also more aware of the potential downsides of technological change, such as job displacement due to automation and the widening digital divide. This leads to a demand for economic systems that ensure equitable access to technology and mitigate the negative impacts of technological advancements.

Demand for transparency and accountability: In an age of information transparency, young people are less accepting of corporate secrecy and opaque decision-making processes. They demand greater transparency and accountability from corporations and governments, especially regarding the ethical implications of technological advancements.

These shifting values and technological awareness are leading young people to envision alternative economic models that prioritise social justice, environmental sustainability, and meaningful work. They are pushing for a system that rewards cooperation, innovation, and shared prosperity over individual competition and profit maximisation.

This generational shift is not without its challenges. Integrating these values into existing economic structures requires careful consideration and ongoing dialogue. However, the potential for a more just and equitable future driven by young people’s values and technological savvy is undeniable. The reshaping of capitalism has begun, and it is driven by the voices of a generation demanding a better world.

It’s important to note that not all young people hold negative views of capitalism. Many recognize its benefits, such as its ability to generate wealth and create jobs. However, the concerns outlined above offer some insight into why some young people may be critical of the system and advocate for reforms.

Remember, this is a complex issue with diverse perspectives. It’s important to approach the topic with an open mind and engage in respectful dialogue to understand the different viewpoints involved.


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