What is socialism?


(3/31/2021)

From: Talen Rabe

 

There seems to be confusion in our culture over the definitions of different socio-econimic systems.

This confusion prevents productive conversation about policy. Inevitably, there’s a conservative shouting “socialism is evil” and a progressive shouting “no, nah-uh.” What both fail to realize is that they’re operating under different definitions, or variations, of the word, and are thereby not even discussing the same concept. It’s like having a shouting match over the merits of eating nightshades, without clarifying that one person’s talking about potatoes and the other about belladonna, all while forgetting the actual conversation is about feeding the hungry.

“Socialism” is especially sticky because certain parties have spent decades cultivating it as catch-all buzzword to scare people away from any taxation or government spending. This, in turn, makes it a sexy way to attract young progressives who are fed up with the failures of capitalism.

So, what the heck is socialism? Socialism is any economic system in which the means of production is publicly owned. Notice how this has nothing to do with big government takeovers or

charitable welfare.

Socialism can take many different forms. In some cases it’s been used in heavy-handed government takeovers of the market. Such a situation can only truly be called socialism if said government is sufficiently democratic. More often, such a take over is run by an authoritarian regime, which itself is not actually under public control and therefore neither is the means of production.

In other cases it’s been implemented on small scales in individual businesses, such as Mondragon, which is the seventh largest company in capitalist Spain, and is completely worker-owned.

Most successfully, we see situations where a democratically run government takes over certain sectors of the economy which are exceptionally ill-suited for the free market, such as health care or postal

services. In this case, we have a mix of socialism in some markets and capitalism in others.

Properly defined, “socialism” is not synonymous with any of the following: communism, charity, taxation, welfare, authoritarianism, democracy, good, or bad. Thus, to either deride or bolster an idea by invoking the word “socialist” is meaningless and merely acts as a means to avoid discussing

the actual merits of the idea.

Instead of shouting buzzwords back and forth, we might be better suited to actually discuss questions like: How much public money should we funnel to oil magnates versus single mothers? Why do we pay more than twice as much for worse health care than other counties? Why does our economy collapse roughly once a decade? Why have incomes stagnated while capital gains have skyrocketed?

Why do entire cities fall into poverty with the displacement of a single industry? Why is there an exponentially narrowing concentration of wealth? Why do Texans owe $16 billion to energy companies who failed them during a crisis? Why do we have the largest prison population in history? And, most importantly, how can we improve our systems to solve these problems?

 

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