The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

Parsing Socialism

03/07/2019

In the last century, when I took my first course in economics, I learned that socialism was an economic system calling for public ownership of the major means of production and transportation.  The important point was that it was an economic system, not a political system.  Today, Wikipedia describes it as:

Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management,[10] as well as the political theories and movements associated with them.[11]Social ownership can be publiccollective or cooperative ownership, or citizen ownership of equity.[12] There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them,[13] with social ownership being the common element shared by its various forms.[

Also, in the last century, Israel was our example where the economic system of socialism was paired with the political system of democracy.  Of course, the then-Soviet Union was the best example of pairing the economic system of socialism with the political system of fascism.

Today, we have a serious candidate for President and several members of the House who describe themselves as “democratic socialists,” which is defined by Wikipedia as:

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production,[1] with an emphasis on self-management and democratic management of economic institutions within a market or some form of decentralized planned socialist economy.[

Obviously, the democratic portion of Democratic Socialism is not worrisome, but the historical record of socialism is poor indeed.  Nonetheless, there are industries in our country that have performed very poorly under capitalism and might benefit from public ownership.  For example, military defense could never entrusted to commercial interests.  Another example is that air travel used to be worrisome but was made safer, since TSA was nationalized.  When our per-patient cost of medical care is the highest in the world, while our healthcare outcomes are not the best, then a serious examination is appropriate.

At the same time, nationalizing certain industries would be beyond stupid, such as technology, retail, airlines, auto production, clothing, and many others.  No person with even marginal intelligence advocates complete socialization.  Like most everything in life, it is a question of how gray we should be?   Socialized industries already exist in our country.

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