Socialism, In Brief
The age-old debate over socialism pros and cons has intensified as the gap widens between Republicans and Democrats. Before analyzing opposing arguments, let’s review the basics.
Socialism is a political and economic social organization theory. It calls for public ownership and control over means of production (land, labor, money, and entrepreneurship). Economic output is then given out based on individual contributions.
Socialist ideas are related to other political beliefs, like communism, anarchism, and democratic socialism. Socialist ideas emerged during the French Revolution and gained popularity as a political movement during the Industrial Revolution, Encyclopedia Britannica explains. The Soviet Union became the world’s first Marxist-Communist state in 1921, following the Russian revolution. Although, intellectually, socialism’s roots date as far back as Ancient Greece.
Today, China, Cuba, Lao, and Vietnam consider themselves communist states. Although, their mixed economies increasingly incorporate capitalist policies. The Socialist Party has ruled Venezuelan politics for over a decade. Additionally, some describe Nordic countries — including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland — as democratic socialist states. However, the “Nordic model” is better defined as social democracy with a strong welfare state.
Now, let’s examine socialism pros and cons, starting with the pros.
First, socialism stresses cooperation within a group, rather than individualism and competition for resources. Strong public support for the needs of the group, rather than individuals, can better help a population overcome a national crisis.
In theory, socialism gets rid of economic differences. In a socialist society, all resources are owned by the public, and wealth is made to benefit all. Economic planning determines how wealth is distributed, making it possible to do so fairly. This, according to the theory, impedes social class and wealth distinctions.
Compared to capitalism, socialism may better empower citizens and protect them from ill treatment. As Encyclopedia Britannica explains, socialists believe that capitalism concentrates “wealth and power in the hands of the relative few who emerge victorious from free-market competition.” The rich then make decisions that maximize their own “individual freedom” and “equality of opportunity.” This minimizes that of working people, who must work on their own to survive. In contrast, social control over group resources — “the basis for prosperity” — enables true freedom and equality for all.
Lastly, public ownership of limited natural resources may result in better management and conservation.
Some forms of socialism — namely communism — give rise to one-party rule and supreme leaders. Humanitarian organizations regularly criticize communist countries for human rights violations against minority groups. They also denounce restricted basic democratic ideals of freedom of speech, information, and the press.
Secondly, restricting free market forces may slow economic growth. Economists largely agree that free market competition better spurs innovation, productivity, risk-taking, and ultimately, wealth generation. For example, in socialist China, nearly 90 percent of its population lived in extreme poverty during the 1980s. By prioritizing globalization and adopting capitalist policies, the country lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty in fewer than 40 years.
Economic planning may also hinder economic growth. Without access to supply and demand indicators, planned socialist economies often produce too much or too little of certain commodities and miss opportunities. They’re also more vulnerable to fiscal mismanagement and miscalculations. For example, shortages and hoarding were common in the former Soviet Union, Encyclopedia Britannica notes. Additionally, fiscal mismanagement contributed to rising inflation and left the economy vulnerable to external pressures.
Lastly, no definitive proof exists that socialism gets rid of economic inequality.
Socialism Pros and Cons: What Both Sides Are Saying
Amid the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, debates over socialism pros and cons gained steam. The country’s most prominent democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, campaigned for the Democratic Party’s nomination. For generations, the Vermont senator has advocated progressive policies to reduce inequality and support the working class.
Sander’s efforts are believed to drive Democrats further left. According to Gallup, 65 percent of Democrats reported favorable views of socialism in 2019, up from 50 percent in 2010. In stark contrast, 9 percent of Republicans reported favorable views of socialism, down from 24 percent in 2012. Gallup also found that Republicans are more likely to view socialism as “government ownership of the means of production.” Conversely, Democrats are more likely to view socialism as “government provision of services and benefits.”
Aware of the growing divide, former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign aligned the entire Democratic party with socialism as a key campaign strategy. With Biden now in office, Republican leaders and conservative thinkers continue warning of the dangers of socialism. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has introduced proposals, like The American Jobs Plan and The American Families Plan, which could extend a variety of social assistance benefits.