By Tel Farendholz
One cannot watch the news, read an opinion column, or sit down for a family dinner without hearing the big, scary buzzword of our political sphere: Socialism. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about socialism? Maybe you see it as a threat, something that will lead to the downfall of America. Maybe you see it as a sort of savior, something needed to keep our country running. But what really is socialism? Is it a domestic threat or a national savior?
Let’s start simply by defining socialism. Socialism is, as defined by Merriam-Webster, “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” An example of this would be factory workers collectively owning the factory where they work. The people who labor also own the tools and infrastructure required to produce the goods. This works to fulfill socialism’s primary purpose: economic equality.
Capitalism is a system designed for the capitalists, the people who have the money and own the businesses. It is undoubtedly the best system for economic growth. Under capitalism, businesses thrive, production increases, and innovation prospers. However, there are clear drawbacks to this system when you take into account morality. In order to make a profit, business owners are incentivized to exploit labor. The owner of the business will reap the benefits, while the workers at the bottom of the chain will suffer. This leads to a wealth gap, something socialism wishes to eliminate.
Socialism is a system designed for the workers. Under socialism, wealth is distributed more evenly among the population; often education, happiness, and well-being all improve. A study comparing data between socialist and capitalist countries of similar economic development found that socialist countries have a higher average physical quality of life (Cereseto & Waitzkin, 1986). It also ensures that everyone has access to basic necessities. Things like healthcare and education are provided to everyone, no matter their contribution or status. Public transportation and social safety nets are put into place. Socialism comes at the cost of slowing the economy. Without a monetary incentive, business growth and production slow down. There is no longer a need to overproduce and expand quickly. Not to say that socialism stops or regresses the economy, it merely slows growth down.
Why are so many people fearful of what socialism entails? Socialism is often equated with communism, which has had strong opposition in America due to the Red Scare. In reality, socialism is more of a middle ground between capitalism and communism. It works to balance the aspects of each, allowing a free market while minimizing exploitation.
Socialism, just like capitalism, has its flaws. If we were able to get past our initial fears and biases, maybe we could blend the best of both worlds. Socialism itself has never worked, but many of the richest and happiest countries on Earth, such as the ones in Scandinavia, use a mix of capitalism and socialism to achieve what capitalism alone cannot. As the world around us changes, we need to be prepared to change as well. We can’t expect old systems and ideas to last forever.
Next time socialism comes up in the news, in an opinion piece, or even at an upcoming family dinner, you will be able to speak with a little more knowledge on the subject. Socialism doesn’t need to be viewed in extremes of savior or saboteur. It can be viewed as what it is: a system that we can use parts of to make our own system work better.
Source: Cereseto S, Waitzkin H. Capitalism, socialism, and the physical quality of life. Int J Health Serv. 1986;16(4):643-58. doi: 10.2190/AD12-7RYT-XVAR-3R2U. PMID: 2430906.
Tel Farendholz is a student at Rushford-Peterson High School. He is one of 17 area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 24th year.