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What do you REALLY know about Socialism?

Updated on December 23, 2017
Carolyn M Fields profile image

Lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, and all around bon vivant.

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Good Ol’ Bernie

I keep seeing Bernie Sanders coming up in the news, as a possible candidate for President of the United States. He is what some have called a “democratic socialist.” For those of you who don’t know what that means, a democratic socialist favors political democracy (okay so far), with social ownership of the means of production and distribution, and a large social safety net paid for by the citizens of the society.

For people in my “age” range, calling someone a “socialist” was an insult. Today, I’ve heard many “person on the street” interviews, where younger people seem to be embracing the idea. So I decided I should give it another look.

Socialism vs. Communism

To be clear, socialism is NOT communism. Communism advocates the equal distribution of resources to all citizens, regardless of their efforts. For example, if there is a bicycle parked in front of my apartment building, and I need to use it to get to work, I do so without regard to “ownership.” There are some exceptions for individual ownership of things like clothing, books, food, and the like. Basically your consumer goods are individually owned. These items are considered to be “personal” property, in that they are an extension of an individual person. They have no productive capacity. They have already been “produced.”

Communism Doesn’t Work

There is well documented evidence that communism doesn’t work in the long run, due to an inevitable lack of incentive to produce. Why should I knock myself out and put in extra hours at work, when all that “extra” production is just going to go into the “pot” for redistribution, based on perceived need. Communism is incompatible with capitalism and the profit motive, concepts upon which the United States was formed. But what about socialism. Is it really so bad?

Socialism and Equity

Socialism promotes cooperation and a sharing of responsibility. It is a way of organizing society so that major industries are owned and controlled by the government, as opposed to individual people or corporations. Socialism advocates the “equitable” distribution of wealth and income. I will admit freely that the concept of helping the “little guy,” and preventing the “excesses” of capitalism does have a certain appeal.

What I don’t agree with, is the concept that I should be controlled and directed by the government in how much and what I produce. My desire for freedom and autonomy kicks in, and frankly, I am not impressed with how politicians are running the country now, even without control over the means of production.

Yes, socialism “sounds” good on paper. No exploitation, where everyone is “equal.” History has taught us, however, that there will still be a hierarchy of politicians and their cronies, leading to mismanagement and the very disparities that socialism is supposed to avoid.

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But What About the Nordic Counties?

First of all, what do you REALLY know about the Nordic Countries? Can you name them without looking at a map? Do you have an substantive reasons to think that they are better off than the United States, or have you just “heard” that they are shining examples of the success of socialism?

For the record, the Nordic Countries would include Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, and Sweden. Taking a broad brush and lumping them together as being economically the same is extremely misguided. It would be like saying any state in the United States is just about the same as any other (yeah, right, we all know how similar New York and Wyoming are).

Also, the “Nordic system” isn’t really socialism at all, but a hybrid of capitalist economics and a large social safety net. Yes, it seems to be working for them. The problem is that the United States is NOT a Scandinavian country, with a strong labor movement. Also, the United States has a large, continuous influx of immigrants in comparison to Nordic Countries. Add to that our history (rugged individualism), and a few other cultural dynamics, and you will quickly realize the large number of factors that would need to be addressed before socialism could begin to work here.

Capitalism in the United States

American Capitalism is by no means a perfect system. But rather than throw it out in favor of socialism, I would rather take the approach of having government deal with market distortion and create impediments so that businesses can’t manipulate the system as much as they seem to at the present moment (what some have called Crony Capitalism).

In the United States, there are already a number of “social” interventions in place, designed to protect the individual, such as a minimum wage, social security, and certain minimum safety standards. It is not a “pure” capitalist economy as it stands now. And yet, it is still capable of producing the greatest prosperity of any economic model.

Taking Care of People in Need

My personal approach to helping those in need, is to form charitable foundations that help the needy, that receive tax breaks from the government to carry on their works. I would not put the government in charge of this activity. The free market is much better suited for this.

That’s an Overview

I have barely scratched the surface of the whole socialism vs. capitalism debate. There are hundreds of books written on the subject, and hundreds more people who would be willing to debate the topic. My purpose here has been to challenge your thinking. Hopefully, you will do your own research before blindly accepting someone else’s opinion. That includes mine.

And one last thing. Please vote in the upcoming election. I am not advocating any particular candidate. I only ask that you please make it an informed vote. The best way to protect this great nation of ours is to have an engaged citizenry. We have been asleep at the switch for too many years, in my humble opinion.

Would you vote for a socialist candidate for the President of the United States?

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  • wilderness profile image

    Dan Harmon 

    19 months ago from Boise, Idaho

    I'm afraid I'm on your side here - the loss of freedom and personal responsibility for myself that comes with even "Ameicanized" socialism is unacceptable. Yes, we need a safety net, but we don't need it as a way of life.

  • jackclee lm profile image

    Jack Lee 

    2 years ago from Yorktown NY

    Thanks, I was commenting on Kathleen's post at the same time you were replying to her. We are on the same page.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Jack - thank you for your comment. That was what I was trying to say in my post about fire protection. Things that are done in the "public interest" with government money are not necessarily "socialist" in nature. It seems that the original meaning of socialism has been lost, as it is often used as shorthand for "the services that government provides and which are paid for by taxes." That is not the original, pure definition of socialism. In TRUE socialism, the government - not individuals - control the means of production. Did I just muddy the waters more?

  • jackclee lm profile image

    Jack Lee 

    2 years ago from Yorktown NY

    Does everyone know the definition of Socialism? by your definition, building highways and roads and the post office would qualify as socialism... Not everything done for the common good is socialism.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Kathleen, I'm not sure that I agree with your assessment that fire protection is an aspect of socialism. I think that protection of the public - like police, fire, and even the military, can and do exist in a capitalist economy. It is something that is a "public good," since people who do not pay can't be excluded from that service, and whether or not you use it can't affect another person's opportunity to use it. The library system, however, comes closer to an example of socialism, because people can be excluded but are not. Sorry if I made that confusing. Yes, America already has socialist bits here and there. It's a matter of scale I suppose. Good comment. Thought provoking.

  • Kathleen Cochran profile image

    Kathleen Cochran 

    2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Your local fire station and public libraries are also examples of socialism in America.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Thanks for the share, Paula.

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 

    2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Carolyn..."I was trying for a balanced assessment."

    You succeeded, without question. Very well done, informative & properly neutral. Sharing this; Twitter & Pinterest. Peace, Paula

  • bradmasterOCcal profile image

    bradmasterOCcal 

    2 years ago from Orange County California

    Carolyn

    That is so true, We always needed the right people, how do you suggest we get them?

    It is clear to me that what we have been doing in every election is not really working for that goal.

    Not to put to fine a point on it, but in 2008 we had a perfect example of the government being powerless, as I mentioned about AIG.

    What did I miss? In my opinion, the corporations are running the country, as well as the government.

    Thanks

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Okay - I did touch on communism. However, mainly to contrast it with socialism. Still - point taken.

    As for the government being "powerless" - I am not convinced. I think we need the right people - IMHO.

  • bradmasterOCcal profile image

    bradmasterOCcal 

    2 years ago from Orange County California

    Carolyn

    You didn't write about communism in your hub.

    Really-----

    Communism Doesn’t Work

    There is well documented evidence that communism doesn’t work in the long run, due to an inevitable lack of incentive to produce. Why should I knock myself out and put in extra hours at work, when all that “extra” production is just going to go into the “pot” for redistribution, based on perceived need. Communism is incompatible with capitalism and the profit motive, concepts upon which the United States was formed. But what about socialism. Is it really so bad?

    ---------

    Cuba is still working their model, while the US has failed with its capitalism, corporations are out of control, and they are too big to let fail, and too big for the government to have any control over them. In 2008, as in the 1930s, the US government bailed out the failed corporations, but not the people.

    Second post

    Yes, in the 70s the US went from Antitrust, to what is Antitrust. They broke up Ma Bell into pieces, and over the years, all the pieces came back together again. It was only the invention of the wireless phone, and its freedom from the home phone that weakened that phone monopoly.

    As for revisiting the antitrust laws, that can't be put back in the tube. Besides, the government is powerless against these super global monopolies. They couldn't do it to AIG in 2008, and the government had leverage then.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Cuba? Really? First of all, I was writing about socialism, not communism. Secondly, socialism in Cuba is more a pretext than a reality. But beyond that, are you saying that Cuba is a pleasant, thriving place to live? I don't know where to start, other than that "surviving" or "outlasting the ban" are not endorsements in my book.

    As to your second post, we agree that the two political party system isn't working very well. And, too much concentration in too few corporations is not good for the economy. That's why we have anti-monopoly laws, which clearly need to be revisited.

  • bradmasterOCcal profile image

    bradmasterOCcal 

    2 years ago from Orange County California

    The problem with capitalism, American style is that, one percent of the shareholders own seventy five percent of the shares.

    The government revolves around the corporation, and politics works against the wage earner.

    Just a few of the things that need to change to make capitalistic corporations become democratic.

    I suspect that one of the main reasons why we can't seem to cure cancer is because it would ruin the profit goals of the drug companies. A treatment is worth more to them then a one time cure.

    Capitalism, American Style started to fail in the 70s, as the anti monopoly laws were being abandoned, and the monopolies or large corporations started their mergers and acquisitions, and then move their profit centers overseas.

    Capitalism would still work if we didn't have the large, and very large corporation. Small to medium size businesses were the core of the middle class, and as these businesses disappeared so did the middle class start to shrink.

    As long as we have the two political party system, and their loyal party voters we don't have any chance of changing our economy to a better model, of any kind.

  • bradmasterOCcal profile image

    bradmasterOCcal 

    2 years ago from Orange County California

    Actually, Communism is working pretty good in Cuba, and they even outlasted the US ban, which Obama is working on caving into.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Dear Nicomp and Mel Carriere,

    As amusing as it has been, I think that's the last round of comments that I will approve. I don't want to get banned from HubPages. I saw it happen once before with an author named Phoenix (or something close to that).

    Thank you for your input. Now . . . For Something Completely Different (that's a Monty Python reference if you missed it).

  • Mel Carriere profile image

    Mel Carriere 

    2 years ago from San Diego California

    Next time I'll use Mussolini, Nicomp. Is that okay?

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    Mel continues to ignore my arguments. I'd label him a Liberal but that's considered microaggression these days.

    BTW, it's 'snark', not 'stark.'

  • Mel Carriere profile image

    Mel Carriere 

    2 years ago from San Diego California

    Nicomp gave Mel a hearty chuckle with that. I'll try to keep my starkiness in check and do my best to keep from indirectly calling nicomp a goose stepping facist in the future. You bring out the worst in me, or is that my best? Hard to tell.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    Mel gets snarky when he I gainsay his points but I can live with that.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Interesting debate. Just keep it respectful.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    "Nicomp only wants socialism for billionaires"

    Never mind that the lower 45% of income earners pay no income tax at all.

    "As long as taxpayer dollars are being redirected to bailout the failed CEO and board of directors of Fortune 500 companies then he is okay with that. "

    Ignore government giveaways like the EIC and home mortgage deductions.

    " Perish the thought that a Wall Street fat cat's net worth should fall below a billion."

    Have you ever asked a poor person for a job?

    "That's why big business in 1930s Germany was down with Hitler. Hitler was a socialist too, but his income redistribution only swam upstream."

    Mel Carriere proves Godwin's Law in very short order.

  • Mel Carriere profile image

    Mel Carriere 

    2 years ago from San Diego California

    Nicomp only wants socialism for billionaires. As long as taxpayer dollars are being redirected to bailout the failed CEO and board of directors of Fortune 500 companies then he is okay with that. Perish the thought that a Wall Street fat cat's net worth should fall below a billion. That's why big business in 1930s Germany was down with Hitler. Hitler was a socialist too, but his income redistribution only swam upstream.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Nicomp - you are right, of course. The Federal Government will never "fix" the problem. The only way to reduce government corruption is to reduce government. Elect new people who are willing to eliminate government programs and yes (gasp) government jobs. Promote the private sector to do things. It's a long, long road, but we must start someplace. Have an engaged and informed citizenry is step #1. That's not to say ALL governmental programs must go. Just the ones that the private sector can do better.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    @Carolyn M Fields -- We also have a dysfunctional Veteran's Health Care system, free housing for able-bodied sentient humans, and a bankrupt Social Security System. Just 'cause we have stuff now doesn't mean it's worth having.

    It tickles me that anyone anywhere believes our federal government can stop fraud and abuse of the systems created by the same federal government.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Nicomp - do I detect a note of skepticism in your comment? Ha! In actual fact, we already have quite a bit of democratic socialism in the USA. Food Stamps, Subsidized Housing, and many other programs. Take from (tax) the well-off and redistribute to those in need. It's okay in theory - to a point. And for people with bona fide diabilities, it makes perfect sense. What gets to me, is the amount of fraud and abuse. But don't get me started. Oh wait, you already did.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    PegCole, it's "Democratic Socialism" -- the people get to vote on how stuff is confiscated and redistributed. That makes it all OK, right?

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Great question PegCole. And, as I see it, a major flaw of any "social engineering" endeavor. Who gets to decide? How can corruption be avoided?

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 

    2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    "Socialism advocates the 'equitable' distribution of wealth and income." The question becomes who decides what is equitable. Is it the people in office for life terms like the Supreme Court? Or Congress whose retirement plans far exceed the norm of the average citizen?

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Good point. More info from Alan Greenspan: "Failure is an integral part, a necessary part of a market system." If a large organization took risk beyond what they would otherwise, they should face the consequences of their actions. It should have been a lesson to motivate them to proceed differently next time.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    Let us be clear about Social Security: it's broke. There's no money there. By law, the Social Security system is required to spend any excess. The federal government borrows that money from the Social Security system and leaves a big ol' IOU in the account.

    To put it another way, there's nothing in the lockbox.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    I'm still whining about it. I won't buy GM or Chrysler products. Both companies should have been permitted to go properly bankrupt rather than bypassing federal law via the Supreme Court.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Interesting counterpoint, Nicomp. Thank you for your perspective. Yes, I too seem to remember the whining. It was over the "too big to fail" theory - which is still debated to this day.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    "On an expanded scale, nobody complains about failing mega corporations getting bailed out with billions by the government,"

    Nonsense. Democrats whined incessantly over the bailouts on Wall Street. I whine incessantly over the bailouts of GM and Chrysler. Chrysler retirees in Indiana who saw their nest eggs wiped out by Obama and the Supreme Court may still be whining if they have not starved to death.

  • jackclee lm profile image

    Jack Lee 

    2 years ago from Yorktown NY

    Carolyn, you nailed in the realization that government programs in the most part are not run well. It comes down to human nature and we can't change it. People are more responsible for their own money and property than when it is the common funds and property. This lesson was learned by the first settlers in Plymouth Ma. It has been repeated many times in the recent history of communism countries such as East Germany, Cuba, Venezuela... The same goes with charity organizations. The ones that are working is usually privately run or by religious institutions. They are doing it because they want to help. Their motivation is different than a bureaucrat from Washington. That is the key to the debate of socialism vs. capitalism.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Thank you, Mel. You may find it interesting, that I started out thinking I would be very negative about socialism, but as I did my research, I discovered the many "socialistic" aspects of the USA. My objection remains that all our social programs need better management. I think that there's a lot of waste currently. I do not, yet, receive a social security check. But when I qualify, I certainly want to receive it. I don't think that makes me a socialist. Just a member of a society that takes care of its "older" citizens.

  • Mel Carriere profile image

    Mel Carriere 

    2 years ago from San Diego California

    Very well written analysis. My view is that socialism is a matter of perspective. If I am receiving government benefits in my mailbox, that's okay, but if my shiftless dirt bag neighbor is getting checks then it is ugly, creeping socialism in its worst form. On an expanded scale, nobody complains about failing mega corporations getting bailed out with billions by the government, we only complain when little people receive welfare benefits or food stamps. Great hub!

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Nicomp - I agree to a point. I certainly don't want a "Nanny" state - where government takes care of the people (actually uses the money from the better-off half, to take care of the lesser-off half). The thing about social security, is that many of us have paid tens of thousands of dollars into it (matched by our employers), with the promise that it would be there for us when we retired. Of course, we were advised to save for ourselves, too. My social security statement says, "Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire." So yes, I saved and invested, and have a retirement income separate from Social Security. Yet, it would be nice to see some benefit from all that money we paid in. That's all . . .

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    A safety net for any able-bodied person is a moral hazard. The federal government is not charged with insuring anyones retirement, certainly if they have not properly prepared for it.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Thank you, Larry. Yes - the good old USA has socialist bits here and there - social security springs to mind. Having a social safety net can be a wonderful thing. I surely don't want 80-year-old people sleeping on the streets because they didn't save enough retirement money. On the other hand, I personally resent it when 20-something, healthy, capable people sit at home playing video games rather than contributing to society, and just taking a check from the government instead. And don't anyone chime in and say that doesn't happen. It happens all the time. Thank you for "listening."

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 

    2 years ago from Oklahoma

    In my opinion, a bit of socialism is wonderful. Too much is awful. There really has never been a government that hasn't relied on at least some socialist structures. Where we get in arguments is concerning exactly how much is appropriate.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    I agree with you. I am aware of Bernie's duplicity: an "Independent" running for the Democrat Party nomination while representing himself as a Democratic Socialist. Democratic Socialist seems to mean that we would get go vote on who gets gigged by the government. I vote for everyone else but me and you.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    No, nicomp, speaking only for myself, I don't want the government to organize society. That's what community organizers do. Hint, hint. But that's what socialism is all about. Don't trust me. Google it. And, by the way, Bernie Sanders is a "democratic socialist". Don't trust me, Google him. That's what makes me uneasy about his Presidential candidacy. I'm okay with the democratic part. It's the socialist part that has me concerned. Thank you for reading my hub, and for your input.

  • nicomp profile image

    nicomp really 

    2 years ago from Ohio, USA

    Do we actually want the the government to "organize society"?

  • Anna C Taylor profile image

    Anna 

    2 years ago from Around the World

    This was definitely what I would consider a balanced assessment. Pure socialism has significant downfalls. And communism doesn't work.

    I think what I like about Bernie is his views of the social safety net. I wouldn't say he thinks government should control all industry. Instead he's taking a look at these Nordic countries and taking what works, and attempting to adapt that to the social and government constructs in America. Really his views of socialism apply most heavily to health care and education, which are the places the free market fall short and disproportionally support the wealthy.

    He's looking at a hybrid between our system and their existing hybrid.

    Whether people support Bernie or not, everyone should vote! Whoever wins should reflect the views of the people, not just those of us who love the intricacies of politics.

    Great hub and great points!

  • jackclee lm profile image

    Jack Lee 

    2 years ago from Yorktown NY

    I think Margaret Thatcher said it best. The problem with socialism is sooner or later, you run out of other people's money. You also left out our unique Constitution which dictates limited federal government. Very few thing left to government are done well or efficiently. The reason is simple. It is easy to spend and waste money that you don't own. Our current system is some what broken because we have drifted away from our Constitution. Unfortunately, the people who want to fix it believe more government regulation is the way forward.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and your positive remarks about my summation. I was trying for a balanced assessment.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I'm not much for labels. I try to vote for the person who I think will do the best job in office....that being said, you did a good job of avoiding partiality in your summation. Go, Bernie!

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