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Socialism in the United States is an increasingly popular topic. Some argue that the country should actively move towards socialism to spur social progress and greater equity, while others demand that the country prevent this by any means necessary. This subject is often discussed in relation to universal health care and free university education, socialist ideas by definition, or as a general warning against leftist politics.
While some politicians openly promote socialism or socialist policies (Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example), others reject the socialist label (today Vice President Kamala Harris said that ‘she was “not a democratic socialist” during the 2020 presidential campaign) or invoke it as a dirty word contrary to American ideals (in the State of the Union 2019President Trump has declared that the United States “will never be a socialist countrybecause “we are born free, and we will remain free”).
To determine whether the United States should adopt socialism or at least more socialist policies, the relevant terms must first be defined.
Socialism is an economic and social policy in which the public owns industry and products, rather than individuals or corporations. Under socialism, the government controls most of the means of production and natural resources, among other industries, and everyone in the country is entitled to a fair share based on their contribution to society. Individual private ownership is encouraged.
Politically, socialist countries tend to be multi-party with democratic elections. Currently, no country pursues a 100% socialist policy. Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, although strongly socialist, all combine socialism and capitalism.
Capitalism, the current economic model of the United States, is a politics in which individuals and corporations control production that is guided by markets, not government. Capitalism is also called a free market economy or a free enterprise economy. Capitalism operates on private property, profit motive and market competition.
Politically, capitalist countries range from democracies to monarchies to oligarchies to despotisms. Most Western countries are capitalist, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates are also capitalist. However, many of these countries, including the United States, implemented socialist policies within their capitalist systems, such as social security, minimum wages, and energy subsidies.
Communism is frequently used as a synonym for socialism and the exact differences between the two are hotly debated. One difference is that communism provides everyone in the country with an equal share, rather than the fair share promised by socialism. Communism is commonly summed up by Karl Marx’s slogan, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, and was considered by Marx to be the step beyond socialism. Individual private property is illegal in most communist countries.
Politically, communist countries tend to be ruled by a communist party and elections are only held within that party. Often, the military has significant political power. Historically, a secret police also shared this power, as in the former Soviet Union, the largest communist country in history. Civil liberties (such as freedom of the press, speech and assembly) are publicly recognized, but often limited in practice, often by force. Currently communist countries are China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam. It should be noted that some of these countries, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, call themselves democratic or socialist despite meeting the definition of communism and being ruled by communist parties. Additionally, some communist countries, such as China and Vietnam, operate with partially free market economies, which are the cornerstone of capitalism, and some socialist policies.
Given these definitions, should the United States adopt more socialist policies such as free college, Medicare for All, and the Green New Deal?
- The United States already has many successful and popular socialist policies.
- The job of the US government is to enable and protect all of its citizens. More socialist policies can work with capitalist structures to repair the harm caused by unfettered capitalism.
- The American public supports the implementation of more socialist policies.
- The United States already has too many costly socialist rights.
- The job of the U.S. government is to enable free enterprise and then free itself from individual ingenuity and hard work. Government should promote equality of opportunity, not promise equal results.
- The American public supports a capitalist economy.
This article was originally published on January 21, 2022 on Britannica’s ProCon.org, a nonpartisan news source. Go to ProCon.org to learn more.