Paul studied Political Philosophy at Leicester University. Born and raised in the UK, he now likes in Florida, USA.
Back when I was first studying political philosophy, during the mid-1980's, the ideas associated with socialism were generally perceived to be on the wane. However, since the 2008 economic crash, there has been a growing amount of interest. As well as concerns over the general stability of the capitalist economic system, there are also worries over the negative social effects of increasing wealth disparities.
This article gives a definition of socialism, and then looks at the main arguments that are used for and against socialism.
Definition of Socialism
The modern concept of socialism has been around since the nineteenth century. People generally define it in one of two ways:
- Firstly, as a way of organizing society in which the means of production (industry etc.) are commonly, or cooperatively controlled by everyone.
- Secondly, the term is sometimes used more generally to mean a political system that generates a more equal society with less divergence in wealth and income and with more equal power relationships between people such as workers and employers.
7 Advantages of Socialism
- Society is more equal in terms of wealth and earnings. Progressive taxes can be used to reduce income gaps between the richest and poorest and the money raised can also be used to create jobs and training for the poor and the unemployed.
- Workers and ordinary people have greater rights, giving them more control over their lives. Wealthier groups like bankers, on the other hand, are more strictly regulated.
- There is universal access to essential services like healthcare and education.
- A more controlled economy with less chance of the cycle of boom and bust that seems to always come with unregulated capitalism.
- Problems such as poverty and homelessness can be reduced or wiped out.
- Vulnerable groups such as the disabled, older people, and the long term sick are looked after better.
- More can be achieved by societies generally through co-operation, rather than competition.
Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.
— Winston Churchill
8 Disadvantages of Socialism
- An increase in the power of the state and big government, who can end up controlling every aspect of people's lives, including workplaces and housing.
- More bureaucracy. Socialism often effectively means more and more political committees and groups to decide how things will be run. The system is slowed down or even stagnated, and special interest groups may dominate or distort with their agendas. Also without profits to be made, the incentive to make processes and services quick, efficient and relevant can disappear, leading to poorer goods and services for the public consumers.
- Less individuality and personal choice, especially in terms of products and services. State-controlled companies can be slow and inefficient when it comes to responding to consumer needs.
- Higher taxes for everyone and the subsequent increase in government spending means more waste and inefficiency.
- A lack of innovation. There is less, or no financial incentive for inventive people to develop new products and services, or for businessmen and entrepreneurs to set up new companies.
- Problems with low motivation. If someone’s life is comfy in an undemanding job, there is less incentive for them to seek to better themselves by working towards a more demanding but better paid job, or through them setting up their own business.
- Economic problems. Socialist economies often tend to be less dynamic and this can lead to stagnation. Alternatively, irresponsible public spending can lead to runaway inflation.
- Increased workers’ rights can lead to more labor disputes, spiraling wage increases that lead to high inflation, more unemployment because employers are less likely to hire, and ineffective workers being kept on in jobs, because it is difficult for employers to fire them.
“The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.”
— Margaret Thatcher, British Conservative Party Leader
Socialism vs Communism: What's the Difference?
One difficult grey area that can cause confusion when looking at the pros and cons of Socialism concerns the difference between Socialism and Communism.
Although the distinction can sometimes be blurred and not helped by Marxist countries such as the old USSR labeling themselves as "Socialist", it is not true to say that the terms are completely interchangeable.
- "Communism" is better used to describe a one party political system where there is an aim of achieving absolute material equality and where state ownership of utilities, factories, and public institutions is pretty much complete.
- "Socialism" is better used to describe a mixed economy system where there is often only partial state ownership of utilities and manufacturing and while there is strong emphasis on the redistribution of wealth, private business and enterprises still exist.
A practical example of a key difference between Communism and Socialism might be found with trade unions. Under communist regimes, independent trade unions (i.e. those that are not under the control of the government) are usually effectively banned; whereas in socialist countries, trade unions often have a lot of power and operate independently from government.
Sources and Further Reading
- Zimbalist, Sherman and Brown, Andrew, Howard J. and Stuart (1988). Comparing Economic Systems: A Political-Economic Approach. Harcourt College Pub. ISBN 978-0-15-512403
- Socialism Britannica webpage (retrieved 12/26/2020)
- Bellamy, Richard (2003). The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-56354-3
- How are Socialism and Communism Different? History.com (retrieved 12/26/2020)
- The Political Economy of Socialism, by Horvat, Branko
- Satyendra, Kush (2003), Encyclopaedic dictionary of political science, Sarup & Sons, ISBN 978-81-7890-071-1
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why is socialism a better economic system?
Answer: Proponents argue that as well as being fairer, a socialist economy is more economically stable and less prone to the booms and busts of unrestrained free market capitalism. Higher levels of employment also lead to greater tax revenues. A bigger and stronger public sector can mean workers are getting better pensions, childcare, healthcare, and wages, all of which can contribute to a healthier economy. Planning means that an economy can be harnessed to maintain robust and vibrant communities, rather than just catering to the needs of corporation profits, which often has a negative social impact.
© 2011 Paul Goodman
Yo yo on October 09, 2017:
They are all democratic socialist nations.
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on April 09, 2017:
I am a little late to this discussion but can anyone name one socialist country that is a success? I can't. So this discussion of pro and con is moot. You are correct we in the US, do not have a pure capitalism system. We do have a system that is primarily runned by private industry. Our markets are open and free trade is part of this equation.
Our social security and some of the entitlement programs are socialistic in nature. They are there to provide a safety net for citizens. They are not to create an equality of outcome, which is the goal of socialism.
Henry Wordsworth from United States on August 06, 2015:
I liked your Hub. I just would like to add that the cons of socialism do not apply to all socialist governments. There is good socialism, as well as bad socialism. Good socialism would maximize the pros and reduce the cons by being particular about what institutions are owned by the government. Healthcare, prisons, and schools are three obvious ones. The problem in the USA is that these 3 institutions are gradually letting the private sector take more control.
AlexDrinkH2O from Southern New England, USA on March 11, 2013:
Good Hub - it seems that there any more "cons" than "pros" with respect to socialism. I like what William F. Buckley once said: "The trouble with capitalism is capitalists. The trouble with socialism IS socialism."
pramodgokhale from Pune( India) on January 17, 2013:
Backward nations adapted to socialist system because there was emergency to restore order. especially food and employment ,governments think that this will boost developemnt but planning and implementation was the key issue.Communists bloc could achieve because of authoriatarian regimes, no oppostion to block the schemes.
i do not blame socialism but any system requires some repairs then it should be done.
In India we tried under democratic frame and successful partly but later found that socialism forced us to be rigid and without creativity and productivity. We never calculated our public sector enterprises on profit/loss basis .and utopeans at the top always thought everything will get right automatically. It all failed and we waited till 1991 to open our economy and welcome Gloabalization and liberalized our economy.
We grew fast at 8 to 9% , Performance and Governance is important factor for any kind of economy .Poor nations can not replicate bubble economies like South Korea and Japan because they are not prepared to such system due to lack of material and resources.
Sanxuary on December 17, 2012:
Paying into entitlements is not exactly socialism. If it was not for mass greed and capitalism we might have been able to afford health care. When 80 percent of the country does not have the ability to determine their destiny by having a job that provides them with the means of a future, then one should not be surprised by the needs for Social Programs. Are country is at the extremes of two points and the lack of a voice in the middle has not created balance. Taxing people fairly and equally is a good start. I guess it has not occurred to the rich that paying higher wages would result in people buying more goods and might stimulate the economy. Instead making more loans and taking the money of investors remains their business model. Capitalism never works when you stop using it and greed is not capitalism being used wisely.
Hubertsvoice on November 03, 2011:
Stopping bailouts would be a good start, I agree. I also agree that socialism would not be the answer. I also think that whenever people decide to protest something perhaps they should check the background of the group or individual beginning the protest, not just pick up a sign and set to protesting. These people who are trying to condemn and close down Wall Street are doing so at the suggestion of a couple of Canadians and groups like Anonymous. People who want to stir up trouble in other countries but are scared to let people know who they are. Sounds a lot like a group of masked men who in the late nineteenth and eary 20th centuries who murdered a great deal of innocent people who were guilty of being different. If people don't have time to work, at least have time find out who you are trying to destroy your own country for. When people start protesting and carrying out the will of people who are so ashamed of their own faces that they won't even show them in support of their own causes, they are not trying to help solve our nations difficulties they are just trying to fill their day with some kind of activity.
Hubertsvoice on November 02, 2011:
Are you in America now? About the socialism and democracy answer are you saying that after the Democrats give everything away the Republicans need to come in and build it all back up again?
Hubertsvoice on November 01, 2011:
I see no pros in Socialism. There is no redistribution of wealth, there is a dissolution of wealth. The only wealth in socialism is in the hands of the leadership. That wealth will also disappear soon because there is no way to produce more because progess is discouraged. It could help with the so called "overpopulation" disscussed in another hub, in that any disagreement with the leadership leads to death. Stalin made a huge contribution to the problem of "overpopulation". Is this the type of life or death that these protesters want? There are still vacancies created by Stalin and leaders of other socialist countries. Feel free to fill them.