The socialism scare

Jake Schwebach
Jake Schwebach

Socialism. Just the word causes tension. For a long time it made me squirm.

It still does, but for different reasons. First I’ll mention that I don’t consider myself a socialist – or a capitalist for that matter. I see absolutes as inhibitive. There are degrees of positive and negative effects to both socialism and capitalism. I researched socialism to clear up some of its very ambiguous scare.

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When I look at the political theory’s origin, it’s easy to see why socialism makes people uncomfortable. As an English major, I let the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) do the heavy lifting for me. Socialism (socialisme) at its 1831 French origin was a “doctrine which sacrifices the individual to society.” That is frightening, but what’s misunderstood is its historical context and evolution. Socialism does not mean the same thing today as it did in 19th century France.

Contrary to popular belief, socialism can exist entirely within democracy. The current OED definition is simply “the theory of social organization under the social contract.” A social contract is “a tacit and implicit agreement between members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, usually by sacrificing some individual freedom in return for state protection.” Not as scary. I mean, the police department is an example of socialism.

Therefore, there doesn’t exist a single socialist state in the world. There are only varying degrees of socialism in every country. China is considered the most socialist. This is due to state-owned enterprises accounting for half of China’s workforce and economy. The next slew of the most socialist countries, in consensus, are mostly European. In top–to–bottom order: Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand and Belgium.

It just so happens that Denmark is the happiest country in the world, according to CNN, followed by Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Austria, Iceland and Australia. In the 2012 Legatum Prosperity index, Norway, Denmark and Sweden top the list.

Interpret it how you will, but statistically, the most socialist countries are also the happiest and most prosperous according to world indexes. The key point is that they all use socialism to different degrees and across varying social domains.

I think there are three words in America that people associate with socialism which cause fear. Communism, taxes and constitutional rights (okay, that’s four).

The biggest misconception you can make is that socialism is correlated to communism. It’s likely due to the word’s association with China. It’s no secret that Americans are skeptical of China. Time magazine has used headlines like, “Dawn of a new (Chinese) dynasty” on bright red covers with Mao Zedong or a yellow communist star as the setting sun.

China has a socialist market economy. It’s based on a state-owned sector but has an open market. The state-owned sector is composed of the state owned enterprises I mentioned earlier. China can’t be communist. Today, communism is defined as the “overthrow of capitalism… and the creation of a classless society.” It’s really there for lack of a better term.

The government does follow a communist-like hierarchy of powers. China says they exercise freedom of speech and press. The catch is that this doesn’t apply to the government and they might imprison you if you try to start a new political movement. China is also a very aggressive military power, especially to bordering Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the 1950 incorporation of Tibet.

My overall point is that when we title policies as socialist, we have to be aware of the implications. An example is universal health care. In this case, the sacrifice is higher taxes but not by much. A social health care system doesn’t mean the government can take away private health care, our constitutional rights or become a communist regime.

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Jake Schwebach isn’t as scared of socialism as most. Feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

In Brief:

Socialism causes tension, which stems from ignorance.

When we label things as socialist, we need to be aware of the implications.

Don’t interchange communism with socialism; be aware of the labels that we use.