Craig Ruttle, AP
People arrive for a rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., before Sanders kicked off his political campaign Saturday, March 2, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Debate about socialism is already a big part of the presidential election currently underway. Bernie Sanders has doubled down on embracing Democratic Socialism and polls show many Democrats and young people prefer socialism over capitalism. We’re happy to join the argument.

Most Democratic candidates for president are advocating greater government control over large sectors of the economy. Does this indicate the country is moving toward socialism and rejecting capitalism?

Pignanelli: “Capitalists failed to defend the system that made them rich. They dummied up, hunkered down and waited for (the Recession) to pass." — Peggy Noonan

Socialism today is like yogurt, with various flavors and multiple perceptions of quality (nutritious or unhealthy) depending upon age of the customer. A majority of Americans are suspicious of too much government control. But many have a positive view of socialism as indicating equality or a Nordic style safety net. Further, polls indicate a majority of younger Americans (millennials and Generation Z) favor socialism and capitalism equally.

These trends are creating consternation. But the capitalists have only themselves to blame. Their public defense of the free market is wimpy. The fear of negative reactions by the New York Times or liberal lawmakers has silenced full-throated advocacy.

A classic example is the revisionist history of the Great Recession. With the best intentions to increase home ownership, Democrats and Republicans pushed government agencies to lower lending standards, fostering creative financing instruments. Although left-wing activists were privy to this behavior, they successfully molded public perception that greedy financiers were entirely at fault. Consequently, companies and organizations who should be defending the free market shiver in fear. No wonder young adults possess mixed, confusing, views. (The Pignanelli children are weary of my ranting on this topic.)

The good news is while millennials do not abhor “socialism,” they overwhelmingly express concern with too much government intrusion. So, in 20 years we may squint at the label used to describe the national economic yogurt, but it will have a tasty, healthy dose of capitalism.

Webb: Whether we call it socialism or just Big Government, we’re suffering an expansion of statism in virtually every aspect of our lives. And the Democratic presidential candidates would dramatically accelerate the trend.

We now look to government to solve every problem, large or small, which is why we have a $22 trillion national debt and the federal government spends (and borrows) about $3 billion more each day than tax revenues bring in.

As a society, we have concluded (and I don’t disagree) that a government-funded safety net is necessary. Thus, we have free public education, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and myriad additional welfare and other support programs. It would be politically impossible to eliminate or even scale back most of those programs.

But at the very least, we ought not to throw gasoline on the socialism fire by allowing nationalization of the entire health care system, by providing even more handouts like free tuition, and by mandating draconian control of most of the economy to fight climate change.

Margaret Thatcher was right that, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” But we’ve been out of other people’s money for a long time. So we continue to borrow and spend ourselves into oblivion.

Bernie Sanders won over 80 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary in Utah in 2016. So, will Utah Democrats be pegged as socialists in 2020?

Pignanelli: Much depends on the how the Democratic nominee defines his or her policies early next summer. Although the majority of Utahns supported Medicaid expansion in 2018, they would reject anything labeled as “socialistic.” So local candidates will need to adhere to the principles of a strong social safety net, but openly distance themselves from national Democrats the GOP have successfully targeted with this moniker.

Webb: It’s worth remembering that what distinguishes government from other institutions in society is that government can employ the power of force and coercion. Bigger government, higher taxes and more regulation expand the amount of coercion and reduce the amount of freedom in our lives.

Certainly, some amount of coercion is needed and tolerable to ensure a well-ordered society. But voters ought to decide what level of taxation, debt, regulation and government coercion they’re willing to accept, and reject candidates at all levels who go beyond that point.

Republicans overwhelmingly reject socialism as a philosophy, but have they been consistent in their governing?

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Pignanelli: Historically, Republicans encountered difficulty in scaling back entitlement programs, even when controlling Congress. They have greater success in reforming agency regulations.

Webb: I believe free enterprise, the profit motive, competition, capitalism, the magic of the marketplace, private ownership, success based on performance – whatever we want to call it — provides maximum freedom, happiness, jobs and economic vibrance.

However, capitalism is easily corrupted as gigantic corporations deploy hordes of lobbyists to influence government to tip the scales in their favor. Capitalism becomes crony capitalism when government picks winners and losers.