For the last 10 years, we have sponsored an annual Free Market Series in New Orleans. During this time, there has been a national drift toward acceptance of socialism and socialist ideals. A recent You Gov survey reported that 44% of 16 to 29-year-olds would prefer to live in a socialist rather than a capitalist country. Political candidates speak openly of their support for socialism, and its’ positive impact in other countries.

What is socialism? Socialism is a political system defined by state-enforced centralized economic planning. And socialism has a track record with hundreds of “experiments” over centuries in Russia, China, Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. In every case, the results are the same: oppression, corruption, stagnation and eventually disease and starvation.

Socialist Venezuela is the latest example. Venezuela was once the wealthiest country in Latin America. In 2013, David Siroto, top adviser to socialist Bernie Sanders, praised Venezuela’s “socialist miracle.” Today, Venezuela’s millions grovel through trash cans for food and watch helpless as babies die of malnutrition and of diseases long eradicated prior to socialism. Advocates now explain that Venezuela and the hundreds of other “socialist” failures are not “real socialism.” They cite Scandinavia as a socialist paradise; but Denmark and Sweden state openly that each is “a market and not socialist economy.”

Free markets involve mutual exchange within the rule of law — equal law and equality before the law. Individuals make their own decisions based on mutual benefit, self-control versus state control. Free markets, free trade and the rule of law have created a world of rising material prosperity unimaginable to prior generations, and with billions of people lifted from hunger and desperate poverty. The working class in the U.S. now have access to creature comforts, food choices, health care, information, entertainment, communication and travel unavailable to the richest titans and kings of even a century ago. For over 20 years, The Fraser and Cato Institutes, as well as others, have published reports that find a consistent and direct correlation between economic freedom and metrics of improved prosperity such as improved per capita wealth, birth rate mortality, life expectancy, nutrition, adult literacy and school enrollment.

We are the richest generation ever to walk the earth. Yet many entrepreneurial and freedom-loving millennials so take liberty for granted that they “prefer to live in a socialist country” — a country that would crush the liberties they cherish and crush their entrepreneurial spirit and motivation to innovate and create.

America was founded on the ideal of individual liberty — the moral and inspiring idea that we are each an end in ourselves with the moral right and responsibility to make the best of our lives. After two centuries of progress, America explicitly claims and aspires to equal individual rights for all individuals.

“Real socialism” is the utopian ideal that treats individuals as tools of the state, the means to the “noble” ends of forced “equality” — backed with unlimited government power. Leading historian Lee Edwards well summarizes the case: “This is the reality of socialism — a pseudo-religion grounded on pseudo-science and enforced political tyranny. This is the case against socialism — a god that failed, a science that never was, and a political system headed for the ash heap of history.”

Socialism or free markets? The stakes are high, and the choice is fundamental. We owe it to ourselves to assess the real world results of each system, assess the value of economic and political liberty, and grasp the impact of our choice on each of our unique lives.

Gregory Rusovich is CEO of Transoceanic Development. Jay Lapeyre is CEO of Laitram, LLC. They're New Orleans businessmen.