What is Socialism?

Discussion in 'West Mall' started by Musburger1, Apr 14, 2016.

  1. Musburger1

    Musburger1 2,500+ Posts


    Interesting essay.

    by Gary Flomenhoft

    This whole Bernie thing has got people debating about what socialism is. Is it New Deal liberalism? Scandinavian welfare statism? State communism? Or what?

    Let me simplify it for you. Socialism is basically anything run by or paid for by government.

    Socialism is what free enterprise needs to operate. You might even call it the operating system for business. Business needs stable government, a strong judiciary to protect property rights and contracts, and good public services for delivery of materials and goods to firms and customers. All are socialist. Business also needs a socialist safety net to cover the failures of capitalism including the many people living in poverty and the enormous unemployment that results from the repeating collapse of the business cycle.

    Let’s look at a typical firm making widgets or delivering services. Employees drive on socialist roads to work, and if they can’t afford a car they ride the socialist bus or socialist train. Trucks deliver materials and goods on socialist highways guarded by the socialist highway patrol. If there is a fire they call the socialist fire department at the socialist city hall where the socialist dispatcher works (except for a town in Tennessee with a private fire department, which lets people’s houses burn down if they aren’t subscribed[1]). For local crime they call the socialist police department usually at the same socialist city hall.

    Their water is delivered through socialist pipes by the socialist water department, and their sewage is removed through socialist sewer pipes to the socialist sewage treatment plant, where it is treated by socialist sanitary engineers and disposed of safely. Their trash is picked up by the socialist public works department and taken to the socialist recycling center where it is separated, and solid waste taken to the socialist landfill. Lighting at the plant is provided by the local socialist or private electric company and delivered over socialist electric lines. Natural gas is delivered by the local socialist or private gas company and delivered through socialist gas pipes. Water, waste, electric, gas, and phone connections are called utility “hook-ups” at the site of an empty lot when something is going to get built. Having hook-ups to the socialist, tax-supported infrastructure (including roads) raises the “free market” property value by quite a bit.

    The company may do their billing through the quasi-socialist postal service, and talk to people through the socialist telephone lines, or private cell phone towers both regulated by the socialist Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Advertising and most communication is through the socialist internet, created by the socialist US federal DARPA agency. They undoubtedly have a company website, using the world-wide web, which was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in his spare time working at CERN, a socialist research laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1993 Berners-Lee ensured that CERN would agree to make the underlying code (html, URL, http) available on a royalty-free basis, for ever, which sounds like a socialist (open-source), not capitalist (proprietary) thing to do.

    [Side-note: I recently went to a talk by the local neo-liberal political party where the speaker said that only business creates innovation, and government suppresses it. Since the internet and world wide web are the two biggest innovations in the last 50 years, and both were created at government institutions, I just wonder how ideologues can be that dumb, but they are]

    If company stock is traded on the private NY stock market, it is monitored for fairness (supposedly) by the socialist Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). If they have a legal dispute they take it to the socialist local, state, or federal courts where a socialist judge or socialist jury decide the case. If it is a criminal case the socialist district attourneys and socialist prosecutors will try the case, and if the defendant can’t afford a lawyer they will provide a socialist public defender.

    97% the money they use is created by private bank loans through the Federal Reserve System, a quasi-socialist private bank, whose profits supposedly go back to the government. The 3% of coins and bills are made directly by the socialist Treasury department.

    On weekends employees walk on socialist sidewalks to socialist parks and lakes for picnics, or hike in socialist forests. They enjoy the clean air and water created by socialist legislation reducing the pollution by “free market” business, who formerly dumped it into the air and water directly to reduce costs and increase profits. If employees get sick they use prescription drugs, most of which were developed by socialist funding to researchers at socialist and private universities. When they retire they get socialist retirement benefits (Social security) and socialist health care (Medicare). Since employees pay for these insurance benefits themselves over their career, you might say they are not socialist, but all the government employees running them are socialist. If they are disabled on the job they get socialist worker’s compensation, and possibly socialist Medicaid if permanently disabled. If they become unemployed they get socialist unemployment insurance. Again this insurance is taken out of their salaries, but the employees running it are socialist.

    If people are worried about invading communists disrupting capitalism, they rely on the socialist military who have socialist training, socialist pay, socialist health care, socialist housing, and socialist everything else. Since it is a totalitarian system you might even call it communist. No wonder the military hates communism so much, they live in it! Imagine the US military fighting China, North Korea, or the old Soviet Union: communists fighting communists, for democracy, go figure!

    What is the difference between communism, capitalism, and socialism?

    Communism is when government runs business.
    Capitalism is when business runs government.
    Socialism is when people run business and government.
  2. Phil Elliott

    Phil Elliott 1,000+ Posts

    So he is calling anything government related (sidewalks) socialist. "Socialism is when people run business and government." Well, gee, it sounds so peachy when you say it like that. It's just too bad that human nature screws up such a wonderful idea.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. UTChE96

    UTChE96 1,000+ Posts

    So what is it when people run business but the government micromanages them?
    • Like Like x 2
  4. Musburger1

    Musburger1 2,500+ Posts

    I think the extremes, whether it's unbridled capitalism with no restraints, or excessive socialism with ever growing government, that is problematic.

    The country leaned far toward the former prior to the Great Depression. Then it moved far in the other extreme. The deregulation of the financial system which began under Clinton and accelerated under Bush led to the 2008 financial crises. Since then, the capitalists have pushed for more control (TPP, federal reserve policy,etc) and the socialists have added more also, one example being Obama exempting the disabled from paying back student loans. The government now backs almost all housing loans and student loans. You may think of this as Socialism, but the Capitalist banking system is the beneficiary as it takes risk out of the equation; something that shouldn't happen in a capital style, free market.
  5. ShAArk92

    ShAArk92 1,000+ Posts

    LOL ... so driving on a public road makes one a socialist?

    isn't the access opportunity to that road ... equal??? Is the govt dictating who can/can't? ... at least beyond minimal standards of licensing and safety inspection?

    We're not having to "file a flight plan" for approval to access those roadways ... not yet.

    No wonder we're so confused.

    Socialism is the government confiscating wealth from those who created it and sends it to those who didn't earn it ... in accordance with whatever the government deems necessary.

    This "democratic socialism" moniker is simply the people asking for the government to do on its behalf, rather than people determining they will (continue to) self-govern.

    It's the tyranny of the minority (not race/gender necessarily, but actually a numerical minority) ... it's the demand of a few to have the many concede by dictation of the controlling legal authority when logical appeals are either ill-timed or otherwise NONexistent.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Mr. Deez

    Mr. Deez 10,000+ Posts

    I can accept that socialism is anything run by the government but not necessarily anything paid for by government, but that's nitpicking. The problem with these kinds of articles that imply that because we have some socialism already that it's not a big deal to have more is that it ignores the downsides that exist with current socialist programs as well as those that would come with hypothetical future ones.

    Every time something gets socialized, someone (and usually but not always everyone) loses a degree of freedom. It might be money, property, control over one's life, or some combination of these, but it will be something, and that is true 100 percent of the time. Sometimes the loss of freedom is worth the common benefit. For example, we create public/socialized roads, which deny almost everybody of some money and deny some of real property, but the economy could never function without them. However, more often than not, the cost/benefit ratio is far less favorable.

    In addition, people like this author gloss over the fact that, to put it generously, when we socialize things, we don't always get the desired outcome. Or to put it more bluntly but probably more accurately, socialism requires the centralization of power, and when you give that centralized power to people who aren't very smart or very ethical, they **** up. That means we often get something that delivers a poor result but costs a lot of money. In fact, that happens a hell of a lot. (See the DC public schools. See the federal anti-poverty programs.)

    I always chuckle when I read a socialist or socialism sympathizer lament that the public is ignorant about socialism and then go on to blab that excess capitalism leads to financial and economic calamity and then cite to things that aren't capitalistic at all. Not to pick on Musburger, but the 2008 financial collapse isn't an example of failed capitalism or extreme capitalism, because the financial system isn't capitalistic and wasn't prior to 2008. In fact, the best description of it would be fascist. It's mostly operated by private entities who accept government regulations in return for the government agreeing to protect them from risk. That's not capitalistic. In fact, it's miles away from capitalism. (By they way, I'm not suggesting that we didn't underregulate the banking industry prior to 2008.)

    I had an accounting professor in college who said the S&L crisis didn't happen because of deregulation. It happened because we only deregulated one side of the balance sheet. I think he was right, and I think the same thing happened in our more recent financial calamity. Deregulate the banking industry but make them face the complete consequences of bad decisions (in other words, inject real capitalism into the equation), and I think the system would look radically different than it has at any time.

    This is bumper sticker fodder for a 1967 Volkswagen Bus with a tie-dyed paint job and not much more than that.
    • Like Like x 5
  7. Musburger1

    Musburger1 2,500+ Posts

    Yes. What you've described in the extreme may be called fascism. Another term might be government capture. When interest groups, in this case the financial industry, obtain disproportional influence over the government (cash contributions, revolving door appointments ), they in essence control the governing process and are thus able to transfer risk or failure onto the general population. Capitalism is intended to reward risk but punish failure. I think one of the arguments the author is trying to make is that it's difficult for the public to guard against capture of the government by powerful business interests.

    Although socialist programs continue to expand, for example Obama recently pardoned people on permanent disability from paying back student loans, business interests continue to offload risk. Nearly all mortgage loans and student loans are now backed by the tax payer. This is corporate capture reaping the benefits of socialist programs in order to profit using government as the vehicle to offload risk.
  8. theiioftx

    theiioftx 2,500+ Posts

    Socialism is better than capitalism in every way except one. It always fails because it removes individual incentives to gain security or to simply improve their way of life. In the end, it always runs out of other people's money.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Musburger1

    Musburger1 2,500+ Posts

    Capitalism can fail too if the safeguards are eroded because the criminals are allowed to abuse and control the government and even the media. Ever vigilent. We haven't been.
  10. theiioftx

    theiioftx 2,500+ Posts

    Always Fails > Can Fail
  11. Phil Elliott

    Phil Elliott 1,000+ Posts

    Please, do tell me where this has existed in the world in the past 100 years?
  12. Musburger1

    Musburger1 2,500+ Posts

    This is what happens to capitalism when the rule of law no longer functions. You wind up with oligarchs and peasants. Two examples are Russia in the 1990s and present day Ukraine.
  13. ProdigalHorn

    ProdigalHorn 10,000+ Posts

    That's seems to me to be an incredibly weak and naive thing to say. Do we really want to take one example in the past 50 years (OK fine, TWO...) and therefore negate all the other ways in which government very clearly and definitely suppresses innovation? Or the way in which in many cases it suppresses only the people or businesses that don't have enough financial or operational bandwidth to manage the labyrinth of government regulation? Not to mention the fact that for the most part, those two innovations took off when they were utilized for non-government uses in a very deregulated environment?

    What he said.
  14. Musburger1

    Musburger1 2,500+ Posts

    No argument here in the totality, but the Soviets did reach outer space first and NASA developed quite a few things outside of rockets, and I believe NASA was government funded.

    Also, I don't know that the invention of the A-bomb was a positive development, but I doubt private enterprise would have done it without a profit motive. In this case the incentive was winning a war.
  15. Phil Elliott

    Phil Elliott 1,000+ Posts

    This is what happens under socialism & communism, despite their lofty promises.

    If you wanna know what socialism really is, not what it promises to be, you need to go to an expert:

    • Like Like x 2
  16. ProdigalHorn

    ProdigalHorn 10,000+ Posts

    That's actually an interesting distinction and I hadn't really thought about it in those terms. When you think about the things that government has done from an innovation standpoint, it seems like they're all "big goals" - national interest things like "putting a man on the moon" or "beating Hitler" or something like that. Basically the idea that we as a nation have to do something in order to overcome some obstacle. When it's things like that, I suspect maybe we're good at it (or were... seems like we have to go back a ways to find stuff like that now!) because we have the collective will (or the government does) to give people the resources and latitude they need to get it done. But that's just a guess.
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Monahorns

    Monahorns 1,000+ Posts

    The initial article is complete BS. Socialism isn't government and it isn't a prerequisite for a market. It is a complete fabrication intended to convince people that government intervention is necessary. Markets predate governments or at least government oversight of markets.

    Governments can provide public goods according to classical liberalism. They don't have to, but this is the proper role of government according to the types of people that started our country.

    Socialism refers to government owning the means of production in the economy directly. For example Gazprom, Pemex or Petrobras are examples of socialism. Or the government centrally planning production of goods in the economy. That doesn't happen in the US.

    Governments paying for the building of roads are not socialism. That activity is best described as public provision of a public good negotiated/managed by the government.

    What we have in the US and what exists in much of Western Europe is not socialism but national, social democracy, or fascism. In this system the government asserts significant influence over private business by rewarding and punishing certain behaviors and creating entanglements for business to seek favors or allowances from government.
    • Like Like x 1
  18. Monahorns

    Monahorns 1,000+ Posts

    Also much of what the author refers socialism are goods and services that can be provided privately. The government is not the economies operating system. The government is men with guns taking their cut for protection.
    • Like Like x 1
  19. Musburger1

    Musburger1 2,500+ Posts

    Taking the definition in the last paragraph, I guess the United States government as it functions today would properly be termed a social democracy. Projecting Bernie Sanders into the discussion vs whomever else, is just a matter of degree with respect to what we currently practice, right?

    Or taking that same paragraph, and emphasizing the power of business interest groups such as the banking sector and their impact on both the government and federal reserve policy, fascism might be the appropriate definition I would think.

    It's interesting that its so difficult to find any kind of consensus as to what our economic/government system actually is.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2016
  20. Monahorns

    Monahorns 1,000+ Posts

    I agree with Mr. Deez across the board.
  21. HornHuskerDad

    HornHuskerDad 5,000+ Posts

  22. Monahorns

    Monahorns 1,000+ Posts

    I think social democracy as practiced in the West is fascism. If you look up fascism in a dictionary it is clear that we have some, ever expanding form of it in the US.
  23. Musburger1

    Musburger1 2,500+ Posts

    Great discussion. Good thoughts by Deez, Monahans, ShAArk92, and everyone else. Let me go back to one of the repeated statements thrughout the thread stated initially by ShAArk.
    Socialism is the government confiscating wealth from those who created it and sends it to those who didn't earn it ... in accordance with whatever the government deems necessary. ​
    I'll concede that to be true, but not necessarily bad. Let me explain.

    If there is a surplus from the economy, such that the excess resulting from commerce exists and can be expropriated from taxes and distributed to the needy, as well as improve infrastructure and provide for the common defense, I don't have too much of a problem with that.

    However when the charity/distribution of wealth exceeds the surplus generated by the economy, in other words you can no longer expropriate from taxes enough to cover the spending (deficits), then socialism heads down an unsustainable path. The more programs that get added eventually overwhelm the ability of the economy to satisfy the expenditures. At this point you are no longer "distributing the wealth" but robbing from the future to sustain the social programs. And that is where the western world stands now.

    In the 40's and 50's, demographics and the booming US economy were able to generate surpluses that could pretty much be distributed through taxation without stealing from the future. So Socialism appeared to work. For a while. But with changing demographics, and periodic economic slumps, Socialism could only be extended by stealing from the future (running recurrent deficits).

    For those of you who curse Socialism and say it will lead to failure, I think some of you don't realize you aren't talking about other nations. It is the United States that is well down that path already.
  24. ShAArk92

    ShAArk92 1,000+ Posts

    In a secular application, yes, socialism is bad bad bad. As was mentioned, it results in a bigger Central Govt ... that is comprised of people, which means despite even their best intentions to be benevolent, the BIG I ... ALWAYS spoils the end.

    You DO make an excellent point about the raging economy masks the effects, but when the music stops, so to speak, borrowing is the only way to sustain that redistribution.

    that, too, is BAD BAD BAD.

    So ... yes, the US is quite a ways down that path, and there are actually proposals to send it FARTHER down that path.

    I guess on one hand, resist with all yer might ... on the other ... do like Claytie Williams; just lay back and enjoy it ...

    and then prepare for the inevitable revolution
  25. Joe Fan

    Joe Fan 10,000+ Posts

    • Like Like x 5
  26. Clean

    Clean 5,000+ Posts

    Whenever I think of Socialism, I think of John Lennon's socialist anthem, "Imagine".

    "Imagine all the people, sharing all the world". He sings about a Brotherhood of Man, existing in a Godless world. That to me is Socialism. It advocates a Godless, nationless, classless society of common ownership.

    Of course, in real life, John Lennon was filthy rich and worked damn hard to get there. He knew Socialism was a beautiful idea that didn't have a snowball's chance of succeeding. Not unlike his dabbling in Buddhism. It didn't last.

    I'm just amazed at how many young people seem to back Bernie Sanders. Don't these people know anything about Socialism's track record?
    • Like Like x 1
  27. Phil Elliott

    Phil Elliott 1,000+ Posts

    No, they don't. We do not teach that in school anymore.
  28. Mr. Deez

    Mr. Deez 10,000+ Posts

    I don't think they get that deep. First, they don't equate or even liken socialism with totalitarian communism. They think Norway, Denmark, or even less socialistic countries like Germany or France. They don't think the Soviet Union, North Korea, or Cuba. Accordingly, they don't see any kind of trade-off of civil liberties in exchange for socialism.

    Second, they like what they hear about the economics of the countries they associate with socialism. They hear about their European counterparts not having to buy health insurance, not having to take out college loans, and being able to get around without buying cars (or gas or insurance), and they're envious. That's a hell of a lot not to have to worry about if you're a young person. They also hear about the fact that you can make a living even if you have a crappy job. Even the guy who takes your order at McDonald's can at least get by.

    (Of course, they don't hear about how high youth unemployment is in most of these countries. Economic growth is slow, so new jobs aren't plentiful. They don't hear about how unbelievably tough it is to start even a very small business, so there's very little entrepreneurship. Therefore, it's pretty hard to go from poor or middle class to wealthy.)

    Third, they like what they hear about the culture in of the countries they associate with socialism. Most of these countries are pretty secular, and that means that a libertine lifestyle is easy to live. If you want to smoke pot, no problem. If you want to have sex without consequences, birth control and abortion are easy to get. Furthermore, nobody will shame you for any of that. They're also very politically correct, so if you're a good liberal who's sorry for being white, socialist countries and their media and popular culture will give you a steady diet of reasons to justify your shame and opportunities to atone.

    Fourth, they don't equate a whole lot of good with capitalism, which they associate with our own country. They see corporate fat cats making colossal amounts of money and getting bailed out when things go badly, which shows that our game is rigged. Furthermore, in the face of that, they have to take care of their own burdens, which are much heavier than those of their counterparts in more socialistic countries and much heavier than their parents' burdens were when they were the same age. When you're worse off than your parents were, that has a way of making you bitter and suspicious of your system.

    Combine all that with the fact that most kids get lectured at school about how great socialism is, and it's no surprise that they'd like a guy like Sanders. Why wouldn't they?
  29. nashhorn

    nashhorn 2,500+ Posts

    Agree with your points Deez but I think this one is far and away the number one.
    • Like Like x 1
  30. Mr. Deez

    Mr. Deez 10,000+ Posts

    It might be the biggest factor. It's tough to defend capitalism when you only practice it selectively.
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