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100 ?’s for Gov’t: What is a socialist government?

April 13, 2013

This is Question 14 from “100 Questions for Government” series

If the fifties were the era when communism was considered a dirty word, twenty-first century America has a similar distaste for socialism. Whenever a politician (usually a Democrat) proposes:

1)   Business regulation

2)   Environmental regulation

3)   An increase in government spending

4)   Programs to assist the needy

5)   Increasing taxes

6)   Gun regulation

7)   Universal health care

they are immediately branded a socialist or there are accusations “we’re becoming a socialist state”. It’s possible the accusers are right, but knowing what socialism is will probably help. The dictionary defines socialism as:

“a theory or system of social organization  that advocates the
vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production
and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a
whole”.[1]

If this sounds a lot like communism, it appears you’re not far off the mark – a secondary meaning of socialism is a transitional stage between capitalism and communism. Given the poor record of communist states and the United States’ historic conflict with the concept, it’s not surprising cries of “socialism!” are effective ways to rally the voters.

The negative connotations of socialism with US voters appear to have been successfully connected to the issues mentioned at the start of this question, but particularly to “socialized medicine”.

Whether universal health care coverage is a reasonable or admirable goal for a government will be discussed in later questions. However, there is a clear distinction between socialized medicine and socialism – the first is a method adopted by many developed nations to protect the interests of their citizens while the other is a complete domination and control of the economic and social system.

“Most industrialized countries, and many developing countries,
operate some form of publicly funded health care with universal
coverage as the goal. According to the Institute of Medicine and
others, the United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation
that does not provide universal health care”.[2]

While opponents of socialized medicine may have concerns about the effects, efficiencies and costs of such a system, it is a bit of stretch to compare government involvement in this sector of the economy with a fully blown socialist state.

To add to the confusion, many democracies have socialist parties which have had varying degrees of success at the polls. A worldwide representative body for these parties states on its web-site:

“Liberals and Conservatives have placed the main emphasis on
individual liberty at the expense of justice and solidarity while
Communists have claimed to achieve equality and solidarity, but
at the expense of freedom”.[3]

These socialists suggest they are seeking an effective balance between liberty, justice and solidarity – as they point out, communism is not their goal, or something they find attractive.

Initial Opinion:

Socialism as described in the dictionary, doesn’t appear to have much support, even from modern “socialists”. Dismissing more nuanced philosophies from socialist parties and concepts like socialized medicine through attaching the negative connotations of socialism suggests a tenuous grasp of the facts or a preparedness to spread propaganda.  Socialism is probably not the answer but socialists and socialization may be worth further discussion.


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