SOCIALISM – WHAT DOES IT MEAN, ACTUALLY?
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
By Sharmila Khanorka
They See Blue Summary:
•Socialism was effectively weaponized in recent elections to influence voter choices in Florida and races for state and national legislatures.
•What is proposed in America are social programs such as healthcare, and not socialism as an economic system.
The US already has large social programs which are fairly popular.
•American capitalism has resulted in staggering income inequality and wage stagnation.
•Social programs are an imperative safety net for Americans to be productive and employed in a fast-paced global economy.
The spectre of socialism loomed large during recent elections and was a critical factor that influenced voter choices in Florida and races for state and national legislatures.
But what is socialism, actually?
Ask a dozen Americans to define socialism, and you will get varied and inconsistent responses, touching on themes of communism, dictatorship, expanded government control and related loss of individual freedoms.
Social Programs are NOT Socialism
It is important to distinguish between social or public programs, and socialism. Social programs are services available to all citizens, as distinguished from socialism where the economy is owned by society as a whole.
In the US, social programs include our school system, police and fire protection, Social Security and Medicare.
Socialism is NOT Communism
Contrary to popular American thought, Socialism is not Communism. Communist regimes are not democracies, period.
Communist countries include China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea and Laos, which are characterized by their dictatorship or totalitarian form of government and repression of individual liberties.
In the communist revolution in these countries, property was seized by force from the wealthy and transferred to the government, dictatorship regimes were installed, and individual freedoms lost.
Little wonder that America, with its pride in rugged individualism and liberty, is repelled by Communist ideology.
Recently, our national revulsion to communism has extended to socialism because many Americans wrongly think of communism and socialism as being essentially the same, largely due to the misinformation rampant in social media, and select news outlets and radio shows.
This discussion is moot, however, because what is proposed in America are social programs, and not socialism as an economic system.
Is American capitalism the best economic model?
America is a capitalist economy where national wealth is owned and controlled by private individuals or businesses. While the concept of capitalism aligns well with the individualism that America is proud of, capitalism has an ugly underside.
Pure capitalism leads to the concentration of economic power in a small group of wealthy individuals (such as monopolies), and rising economic inequality as the rich become increasingly powerful and able to exploit labor and consumers to their advantage.
The American model of capitalism has resulted in staggering wealth inequality: 10% of US households now control 70% of US wealth, while the lower 50% control less than 2%. Clearly, American capitalism favors only a few at the top.
Should America be afraid of social programs?
No. Our social programs such as the public education system and Medicare are popular, have been around for decades, and have not resulted in America’s decline into socialism.
Clearly, Americans are not afraid of social programs, and further, have evidence that social programs do not lead to socialism. Numerous studies have shown that social programs benefit the economy as a whole.
Why? Because these programs allow people to be productive and contribute to the nation’s economy.
For example, a less educated workforce may be unable to earn sustainable wages and becomes a drain on society. Similarly, a less healthy workforce is less productive and may require state resources.
Looking to the future
Much of the resentment simmering in the American population is at least in part due to stagnant wages, staggering income inequality and a growing fear that greater skillsets are required to remain employed in a fast-paced world.
It has never been more imperative to invest in social programs, whether healthcare, or job training for tomorrow’s workforce.
It is incumbent on all of us to understand clearly that socialism is a boogeyman that is being exploited by certain politicians.
What is proposed in America is not socialism, but social programs, and our need for these programs is real and immediate. The current pandemic has made the importance of universal healthcare very evident.
This safety net can help the country progress on its economic goals while ensuring that the lower strata of the society have basic necessities such as access to affordable healthcare.