Socialism: Is It Scary or Actually A Good Thing?

Graphic of 4 people holding a sign that says socialism? main

Socialism is based on the idea that common or public ownership of resources and means of production leads to a more equal society. Societies have different degrees of socialism. Some advantages of socialism are its promotion of stability, fairness and equality, and the promotion of the public good.  Disadvantages include an increased role of government, less freedom, reduced incentives, and the danger that businesses will go elsewhere.  

There are many different types of societies. A society always has some advantages and disadvantages.  People always have some reason that they live in a certain society.  But, weighing the pros and cons can be complicated.  Let us try to do this with a socialist society.  

What Is Socialism?

What is “socialism”?  The word is one of those terms that is tossed around, both in positive and negative ways, while many people are sort of confused about what it really means.  

Socialism is based on the idea that common or public ownership of resources and means of production leads to a more equal society. 

The idea is that society itself (society/social, get it?) should regulate the basic things, such as electricity and other public utilities, not leave them in private hands. And, society should also provide basic protections for everyone, including health care.  

This ultimately means a large role for the government.  


Benefits of Socialism 

[1] Stability

The basic idea of the capitalist society is that we should trust the market.  But, the market, like life, has its ups and downs.  And, market failure can lead to a lot of hardship.  

Socialism developed as an answer to the problems of the Industrial Revolution.  The government would manage the economy, providing more stability. An unregulated market is a risky situation, which sometimes will lead to market failures.  This means a lot of hardship.  

The Great Depression is just an extreme example.  The United States in the 1930s responded to the Great Depression with a great expansion of the federal regulation of the economy.  

[2] Fairness and Equality 

The root of the word “socialism” is social and socialism attempts to provide for a good society.  Everyone works together to have a fair and equitable society.  

Equality is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  We fought a Civil War over slavery.  Socialism believes that society should be for everyone and everyone should have a basic equal role.  This includes a basic social safety net to address our needs.

The result is less poverty, a smaller gulf between the rich and poor, and more ability to have a happy life.  Society, including through its government and laws, can promote these things.  

[3]  Public Ownership

The Constitution starts with the words “We the People.”  Governmental power is authorized by the people themselves.  This is a lot of power for you and me and a lot of responsibility.  

Socialism believes that people should have the power to control the basic institutions of society.  When we speak of “public ownership,” we ultimately are not talking about some faceless “government.”  The government is chosen by and made up of people.  You and me.  

For instance, workers have a larger role, including organizations established to protect their interests (unions).  Public schools provide a means for the public at large to come together to be educated.  And, public schools are run by the people, including school boards. 

(I recently saw a conservative activist argue school boards are an important means of having a say in local affairs.  A good point, no matter what ideology you might hold.)  

[4] Social Good

Capitalism can be selfish.  We try to make as much money as possible and take care of our immediate family and friends.  The good of society is far down the list.  

Socialism aims to have society work together.  Socialism promotes positive values.  The people work together for the good of society.  Public welfare, including the environment, is the goal. 

Disadvantages of Socialism

[1]  Government Limitations 

Society needs government but from ancient times governmental power was a mixed blessing. 

There are limits to governmental planning of the economy. The economy is a big complicated thing.  The market provides flexibility to address the ebbs and flows.  Planning sets forth limits on flexibility.  And, planning is only as good as the skill and insights of the planners.  

The government is always imperfect.  It sometimes abuses power. There are imperfections in how we elect and choose governmental officials.  A large bureaucracy exists that the people have limited power to control.  Change is slow and hard, even when the times warrant it.  

Socialism gives additional power to this large clunky entity.  

[2] Less Freedom  

Individual freedom is very important. Who is better able to know how to live their lives than the people themselves? Socialism sets forth a lot of rules that limit individual freedom.  The government always limits freedom.  But, socialism does so more than many others.  

The government needs money.  Socialism requires more taxes.  This also is a form of reduction of freedom.  We use our money to live our lives as we deem fit.  And, more taxes require more work and stress.  Does all this additional work and stress balance out to our benefit?  

Education is one example of the benefits of freedom. Public education is not the only option. Public schools sometimes do not provide the needs necessary for a good education.  Sometimes, people with religious and other beliefs want to raise their children in private schools.  

[3] Fewer Incentives

A government safety net is positive in various respects.  But, socialism is not the only system that provides for the needs of the people.  It is not socialism or nothing.

Socialism provides a certain degree of government regulation.  And, there is a dark side to this heavy hand.  People and businesses have fewer incentives to act well on their own.  If something goes wrong, for instance, why worry if the government will cushion your blow?  

A capitalist system provides many good things in part because there is a level of risk and consequences when wrong choices are made.  Socialism interferes with this process and the result can be less productivity and overall happiness.  

[4]  Business Problems  

Companies often find the regulation and tax burdens of socialism disincentives to do business.  They prefer to run their businesses elsewhere.  

This leads to less employment and opportunities.  Existing workers also can have problems. Socialism encourages greater worker demands, even when their situation is pretty good.  

Increased worker unrest can lead to instability and other difficulties.  

Socialism Today 

There are many degrees of socialism.  Sometimes, socialism can lead to communism.  

Other times, there is a more middle-of-the-road type of socialism, such as in Scandinavian countries and in some ways the United States.  Once a upon time, Social Security and Medicare were deemed dangerous “socialist” programs; now they are quite popular.   

The weighing of advantages and disadvantages will help us determine what type is right for us

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.