Socialism. What does it mean? (2009)
What is socialism? This philosophy has received an unusual degree of attention recently. Initially, it was used as a one-dimensional attack via Joe the Plumber by the McCain forces at the end of the presidential campaign. As a result, it prompted several letters to the Citizen-Times and was the subject of a few local opinion pieces.
In each exposition, the term never received a fair description of what it means. When it is used, it becomes in our slogan-driven public forum a meat ax to pound an opposing candidate or cause. Clearly, an attempt to define socialism in this limited space runs a significant risk of oversimplifying. In taking that risk, let me add that my purpose is not advocacy but clarification.
In a nutshell the major purpose of socialism is to provide the opportunity for each individual in society to develop to his or her fullest potential. Although capitalism may intend that indivudals will develop their talents and capacities, socialism makes it the primary goal.
The first priority of capitalism, on the other hand, is through industry and commerce to create a profit or surplus value through the production and exchange of goods and services. Individuals do benefit and great wealth may be produced through its enterprises. But many individuals do not gain and the cause is not solely attributable to intelligence and motivation. A system that is designed to maximize profit for owners and investors guarantees, regardless of motivation and hard work, that a significant number of citizens will come out with less.
The continuing debate between conservative and liberal capitalists is how much government is needed to lessen the pain of profit-driven economics. The former argue that “big government” gets in the way of the free-market; the latter advocate for government to assist the many who are trampled by the ‘free market.’
The discussion is never about what kind of society do we really want. Capitalism offers an indifferent market that produces by its nature a few haves and many have nots. Socialism develops a society to provide the opportunities for each of us to develop our talents to the fullest. Socialism cannot produce the amount of wealth that capitalism can, but it would not create the extreme artificial inequalities that capitalism inherently spits out.
Democracy can operate just as well in a socialist society as in a capitalitist one. In fact it would be more democratic. The large number of individuals and families in poverty are a blight on the quality of democracy in a capitalistic culture. This would not be the case under socialism. With free education and healthcare, each individual would live in an environment that encourages excellence. Consequently, one could argue, the ethics of an entreprenuriel spirt and service to the community would go hand in hand to create a true practice of community.
So the next time a politician derides his opponent as a ‘socialist,’ it may in truth mean higher praise than intended.