So what is NOT socialism?
Obviously, capitalism isn’t. Well, duh, you say. But it’s important to point that out, because defining capitalism is a useful start towards answering the question. And it’s a lot easier to define than socialism. Specifically: Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned, and which are organized and utilized for the purpose of maximizing the profits of the owners. So any country whose economy largely even if not entirely fits that description is NOT socialist–i.e., almost all of those in the world today. Yes, including Sweden. (I’ll deal with the likes of North Korea later.)
And that leads to another point: A “welfare state” is not socialist–or more precisely, not necessarily socialist. A broad range of tax-supported government benefits is not inconsistent with a capitalist economy. In fact, almost all developed nations with capitalist economies have “welfare state” policies to one extent or another. But are these still socialist ideas? Again, not necessarily, unless you consider public education to be a socialist idea. Or unemployment insurance. Or Medicare. Or social security. Of course, some conservatives do. But most realize that these are policies developed by liberals to modify the inegalitarian effects of capitalism. Actually, maybe I’m giving liberals too much historical credit. It was autocrat Otto von Bismarck who introduced old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance in Germany in the 1880s to steal the thunder from a growing socialist movement.
And with that, on we go…liberalism isn’t socialism, Tea Party obsessions notwithstanding. Liberals believe in capitalism, and want to preserve it. They just want to make it “fairer”–that is, less painful to the losers in the economic competition; capitalism with a smiley face. Hence, the welfare state. So Barack Obama, again contrary to Tea Party invective, is not a socialist. He’s just a plain old liberal, and a not very consistent or effective one at that.
Finally, economic equality and the redistribution of wealth isn’t socialism. Just ask Karl Marx. I’m going to avoid quotes from the sacred texts, so you’ll have to Google that yourself.
So…all the things that make conservatives scream “socialism” are hardly the essence of that philosophy. Now I can move on to struggling with what it actually is…or might be.