Chris is scheduled to be our presented and moderator. Chris –are we still on? I’ll do two background posts this week, since I know a fair amount about this. Today: What is “socialism” and do we already have it? Tomorrow: Some of the oft-cited reasons why we don’t have European style socialism here.
Types Of Socialism
As Chris will no doubt tell us, there is no single definition of socialism and different countries that American conservatives call “socialist” have different types of social democracies. IMO, to simplify somewhat, you could say there are four types of socialism:
- State Socialism: The government owns the means of production and big chunks of the economy, and it plans how industries and the economy’s general direction develops. State socialism can be undemocratic, like the Soviet Union, or democratic, like much of Western Europe in the 1940s-1970s before they privatized most state-owned industries.
- Co-Operative Socialism: This is what Ron advocates, where companies are jointly owned by the workers, not the state. This was a major plank of the old Fabian Socialism, which was popular in Europe before Marxist influence got too big. I don’t think anyone does this these days, outside of Israeli kibbutz’s. Germany and maybe others require worker representation on company boards, however.
- Social Democracy: This is now the norm in Western Europe and is probably what American conservatives mean by “socialism.” The means of production are privately owned but generally are more regulated than in the United States. Also, a stronger social safety net is in place (national health care, universal child care, etc.), and taxes are higher to pay for it (say, 40% of GDP compared to 30% here). Scandinavia practically has its own distinct model, where taxes approach 50% of GDP and a “cradle to grave” level of services still exists, including, I believe, free college education.
- Asian Model: Not exactly “socialism,” but it’s one of the “many recipes” for successful development I mentioned earlier. Here, ownership is private, but there’s very heavy government planning of the economy’s general direction, including which industries get public subsidies and private credit. Japan, Taiwan, Korea. These countries usually started out authoritarian, but later evolved into democracies. They also put in place social safety nets when they get rich enough; e.g., Taiwan just created a national health insurance system.
Do We Have Socialism?
Compared to our past, yes; Compared to other countries today, no. In the last 80 years, we’ve created Social Security, Medicare, and a haphazard safety net for the poor. We’ve privatized and/or deregulated many industries, such as utilities, trucking, and (notoriously) banking and finance. The government used to actively support labor unions to the point where they got a seat at management’s table, but not much anymore. Worker health and safety and the environment are regulated for the public good, etc.
On the other hand, we lack many elements of a European-style social democracy; e.g., social insurance and supports for the non-elderly. And, we redistribute less wealth from the rich to the poor than any other industrialized country.
But, why did we stop on the road to serfdom paradise socialism? See here tomorrow, including links.