Socialism VS Capitalism

OK, first off, I don’t know about this in other countries, but here in the USA the word Socialism is used in two ways. People either use it to mean Communism, or they use it to mean an economical system somewhere in-between Communism and Capitalism, and this is the definition I’m going by for this thread.

All right, now that I have defined how I’m using the word Socialism, I have two question about it. And I know that this might vary from country to country. People from Canada might answer somewhat differently than people from England, but I’m guessing that the answers should still be pretty similar.

OK, question one, I’d like a little better explanation of what exactly Socialism is than what I remember being taught. Basically, if I remember right, I was tough that under Socialism, the government controls the more important industries, like for example in socialized medicine, and that the less important industries are privatized. OK, I hope that made sense, I’m having a hard time articulating what I’m thinking.

And question two, what are some advantages of Socialism over Capitalism, and vice versa?


I can’t think of any modern socialist government that didn’t rely on capitalism to raise funds. They might socialized medicine, education, retirement plans, etc. but they all rely on someone out there bringing home the bacon.


All capitalist economies today contain socialist elements. Anytime you have a large redistribution of wealth or social safety net, that’s an element of socialism that the capitalist democracies absorbed and made their own.

Not necessarily. The key component to socialism is the idea that property and income in some way belong to society as a whole, not to any one person. That doesn’t have to mean that the government directly controls the industries at all (that’s more characteristic of communism), though in most practices, that’s been the norm. But there are plenty of other socialist ideas that don’t involve central control (since most economists agree that centralized control, and indeed anything that doesn’t harness the power of markets, is a doomed strategy).

How 'bout by example?

I think in the modern, 21st century context, ‘socialism’ is best practised as it is by the US public school system. That kind of “socialised” provision is a good example to the world. Ditto the police force.

A police force wouldn’t fall under the category of socialism because it’s a known and approved function of government, demanded even in capitalism (enforcement of contracts and prevention of violence in favor of trade and competition). It isn’t, strictly speaking, an attempt to treat property and income as if they were societies to move around at will to achieve a more even distribution of wealth.

Is there a debate in here or are we in GQ?

If you want to compare Sweden with the U.S, all you need to do is to Google your way by typing “Swedish System” + “US System”. And continue doing the same with Denmark, Norway and other civilized countries.

You can then begin to form an opinion backed with some credible cites. After that, you’d be welcome to GD with a thread worthy of debate.

Meanwhile, what do you think about this quote (not mine):

“According to an old theory, people favor the ideology that benefits not their current situation, but their aspirations. A lot of arrogant young people expect to be millionaires some day, and thus find ways to rationalize a system that favors millionaires - even though they’re not millionaires now. I’ve met very few believers in anarchic laissez-faire dog-eat-dog capitalism who didn’t fit that mold”.

Wake up call, a lot of capitalists may fit that pattern, but I haven’t seen so many socialists wanting to change their systems. The Scandanavians I have known, for example, seem to take a great deal of pride in their work – in running a business or in doing a good job. They didn’t seem to be as driven by some of the toys that seem to give Americans so much pleasure.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been there and maybe I’m generalizing too much from my own experience. The families that I knew had wealth, but the emphasis was on doing things together as a family or on being with friends rather than on having big sound systems or flashy jewels. Taste was emphasized, but not abudance.

If this is not typical of Scandanavians, someone please correct me!

It does seem to me that once we pool our resources for the common good – libraries, police departments, fire departments, Medicare, schools – we don’t usually want to give these socialized institutions up. (Socialized as opposed to privatized)

Shenanigans! Shenanigans!

No True Scotsman has been sighted!

Shenanigans! Shenanigans!

The only reason I placed this in GD instead of in GQ is because of the second question. What one person might see as a benefit of Capitalism over Socialism, or Socialism over Capitalism, someone else might disagree.

Well its not a very clearly defined question. You haven’t actually defined what you consider to be socialism other than its a mix of private and government supply of goods and services. By that definition, every country in the world is socialist, including the good ole US of A.

If you’re asking what the advantages of private vs public supply of a particular good or service then that depends on the actual good/service involved. Generally, any good that doesn’t involve significant external costs of benefits is usually best supplied by the private sector. Any good that does involve significant external costs/benefits is best either supplied by the government, or at the very least overseen/regulated by government. Examples of goods which involve external costs/benefits are defense, street lighting, vaccinations, heavily polluting industries etc.

A modern industralized nation like the United States, Sweden, Canada, Germany et al. is a bit too complex to describe with a single word. Some aspects of their economies are capitalist and some are socialist, and it’s not a strict sliding scale.

To use an easy example, Canada has a medical insurance system that is mostly socialist, but capitalist in some specific areas, like dentistry or non-essential services. The United States has a medical insurance system that is partially socialist (for old people) but mostly capitalist. So the extent of “socialism” you will experience in either country is dependent upon your age and what, specifically, you need; if you think Canada’s system is all socialist and free treatment, get a root canal. Won’t you be surprised when they hand you the invoice. On the other hand, if you have appendicitis, you get treatment through a socialized system; the the USA, you need to pay it yourself or have an insurance plan, unless of course you’re old. It’s complicated.

On the other hand, the United States has a system of agriculture that in terms of most major crop production is substantially more socialist than Canada’s, heavily subsidized and controlled by government price and supply controls. Canada’s is far more free-market detemined, with fewer and more situationally specific government subsidies. Unless, of course, you’re talking fishermen, who in Canada are subsidized out the wazoo… that is, if you usd to fish in the Atlantic. Not so much if it’s the Pacific.

So which country is more “socialist”? Depends who you are. If you need to to to the emergency room for a broken wrist, Canada is a socialist state. If you’re a cattle farmer, the U.S. is vastly more socialist. It can get as exact as specific industries and companies being heavily funded by the taxpayer.

Capitalism provides growth. Socialism uses that growth to achieve goals. They’re both good, and both necessary for a functioning society. Like everything else, it’s a balancing act to get the two to mesh. Interfere too much and you won’t have the economic resources to stay afloat, ala the USSR. Interfere too little, and you wind up with 12 year olds working 20 hour shifts in unsafe factories that poison your water supply.

Police forces are socialism. In a truly capitalist society, all contribution to police forces would be voluntary and not compelled. And government-compelled confiscation and use of wealth is socialism.

In a true capitalist society, one would be billed directly for police services, use of the army, etc. The government would not confiscate wealth.

What constitutes “a known and approved function of government” that cannot be called “socialism” cannot be derived on purely objective grounds.

I challenge anyone to provide a derivation. You must avoid appeal to authority, consensus gentium, appeal to tradition. Show how one form of government confiscation and use of wealth is inherently, utterly, completely, and objectively distinct from other forms of government confiscation and use of wealth that you call “socialism”.

Remember that the police is there to enforce governmental decisions too. Like an armed branch of government. They might be protecting your property… but they will certainly bash you up if you attempt to break the laws you don’t like.

I would say police isn’t an aspect of socialism. Its about government enforcing its power.

Socialism helps out mostly equally everyone… creates a safety net and eliminates the danger of people that lose their jobs or salaries become sick and needy. Benefits are a more peaceful society theoretically and less exempted people. Problems are people over relying on the state instead of being enterprising.

Capitalism doesn't benefits all people... and therefore stimulates competition, job seeking and eficiency. Insurance more or less becomes the safety net of the individual as opposed to the state. (he pays too). By not giving "free lunches" people use the system less abusively... but you create a lot of people who have little to gain from the system. More criminals and heavy poverty. Creates more jobs thou...

I haven’t defined it because, in my first question, I was asking for a definition because I don’t clearly understand everything about it.
For example, the only clear thing that’s socialist that I understand about is socialized medicine, other than that, I don’t know. What is it about countries like Sweden besides that which make it a socialist country?
I have heard plenty of times on TV and radio people who love our capitalistic system and talk about how superior it is to socialistic societies like Denmark or Sweden. But other than the medicine, I don’t know how these countries differ from us in terms of our economic systems. Why are we (supposedly) superior? Or, if you live in Denmark or Sweden, why do you think that your way is superior?

:dubious: :wink:

For the rest it looks like all the good points have already been made. Part of the discussion is what a proper definition of socialism and capitalism is. Except a capitalism in the libertarian sense (as Dogface promotes), most defenders of capitalism do support a certain amount of collective enforced action. Most modern current defenders of socialism support a certain amount of free market force.

Otherwise, socialism in general is supposed to offer more protection and if you will solidarity with the poor/weak. Capitalism without socialist elements would arguably provide more individual freedom and incentive for individual initiative. Whether in fact one or the other would lead to more collective happiness/jobs cannot easily be answered because a lot of factors are involved. The choice for the one over the other may have a lot to do with cultural presumptions.

Joel, the main difference (seen from a Dutch perspective) is that you pay more taxes but have a safety net of social security and basic medical insurance. Since there have been cuts, many people in addition opt for additional insurance. Furthermore, there is extensive public funding of schools and all kinds of other more or less public facilities, such as art institutes. Public funding doesn’t mean that there is no private funding, though, so it’s not a ‘pure’ socialistic system. Lots of organizations live for the main part on contributions and only additionally receive some subsidies.

In general, most people over here are in support of this set-up. The only discussion is the precise things that are covered and the height of the taxes. We don’t feel that a safety net in itself makes significant inroads on individual freedom or has a major negative effect on the economy.

Too capitalistic and the lack of social nets creates way too many criminals and social problems. After all if the govt. helps an unemployed worker for a year and he manages to get back to the workforce… he won’t rob or murder. You create more “waste” in a sense… everytime someone gets shot… its a waste… everytime a worker has no social net and the economic situation is disfavourable you create a potential social problem.

Too socialistic and you hardly have any incentive to be competitive. Business get highly taxed in order to finance government generosity too. People just suck on the government tit instead of being entrepeneurs.

 The US avoids the first case by having extreme competition, strong economy and relying on the dollar being the world currency to finance consumption and government running the money machine. Europe is having trouble in the second example and are becoming to inefficient... people prefer to be students than workers in Germany for example...  Labor laws in Europe (and Brazil) heavily defend the rights of the employee... which in turn means less workers get contracted though.

The problem with pure capitalism is that it takes money to make money and the general result is that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

The problem with socialism is that most people would prefer to collect a check for doing nothing but watch TV all day instead of working.

We are not Ferengis.
We are not Vulcans.
We are humans. :slight_smile:

More seriously: I think extreme ideologies do prevent progress.