Words are just words, however. We really need to stop and think about what words mean and why we react to them as we do. I think I see a difference between the “F” word, which is often used to communicate disrespect of other people while the “Sh” word is used to communicate frustration and has actually flown out of my mouth on a few occasions, usually at college football games.
Socialism and socialist are two boring words that have come to hold more emotional meaning for people than the dictionary definitions of these words would indicate. These are, after all, words referring to economics, which was a rather boring subject when I was in college. I did take an actual economics class plus classes in economics as it relates to social systems. I’ve read Adam Smith for some class or another, maybe in grad school.
I really don’t get why people get so upset over these words, but since those who are upset use the words wrong and have generally muddled logical processes when using them, I assume the poor dears are confused. Since those using the socialism/socialist words wrong frequently use the “Sh” and “F” words at the same time, I assume these folks are frustrated and angry. Let me explain the words, and what I think is happening.
Socialism is an economic term described by Karl Marx. He also offered a definition of Capitalism so don’t have hysterics over a word defined by Marx. He defined it as an economic system in which the government (actually the people in a collective) own everything in common, particularly the means of production. In practice, this has resulted in the government owning property and business and there is little private property. This hasn’t worked well for the countries that have attempted to practice it. I suspect it is the failure of this economic system that is the source of the fear and anger associated with the word socialism.
What I call Modern Socialism as practiced by many countries is when the government owns stock in a publically traded corporation. We see this in most modern European countries. This seems to work as long as the government does not own the controlling number of shares. Currently, Russia owns controlling shares in Gazprom, but it is a globally traded corporation. We’ll have to wait and see how that works for Gazprom. Currently, political pressure against the Russian government is causing repercussions for the corporation. The influence of politics on the corporation is one reason for keeping the number of government controlled shares to a minority.
Now, we have an emerging definition of Socialism that is totally unrelated to the two traditional definitions. I think some people I’ve encountered consider this definition in the same category as the “Sh” and “F” words, which is confusing to me. Since Bernie Sanders is using this definition in his campaign, I will grudgingly admit to its marginal validity while wishing such people could come up with a better word for what they want to express.
The third and alternate definition of the word socialism can be stated something like, all government money comes from the people and exists to benefit of all the people. This definition has nothing to do with the traditional definition about government ownership. Generally, using tax money to provide services has worked well for this country. We built a freeway system, explored space, provided care for veterans, and cared for our mentally ill and disabled. Politically, we have been moving away from practicing this definition of socialism.
I wish people would come up with a better term than socialism, which is confusing. Perhaps, we could try taxism. Taxism is a good concept to indicate that government money comes from the people. But then, people hate taxes so the word would have negative connotations.
What about Serviceism to indicate a system where the government uses tax money to provide services? I like Serviceism as a term for the government building roads and bridges, caring for the sick and disabled, exploring new worlds and boldly going…. Well, you get the idea.
The reason I’d like a better word for the emerging definition of socialism is that people get so muddled in their thinking. When Sanders says he wants to eliminate or reduce student debt, the clueless listener thinks this is socialism and socialism is bad because the Russian economy collapsed under socialism and people lived in poverty under Chinese socialism. Facepalm time. This reasoning is comparing apples to oranges and concluding that the banana is rotten.
Remember that government ownership of property or stock in businesses is not the same as the government using tax money to provide services to tax payers. These are polar opposite concepts about who owns what. In traditional socialism the government owns everything. In the emerging definition the government owns nothing-not even the money they collect through taxes. In the emerging definition, tax money must be returned to the people in the form of services.
I hope this helps my readers understand that socialism by any definition is not the same as the “Sh” and “F” words. Please be aware that this is one of those words that is being usurped to mean something totally different from its original meaning. The failures of the past are not from the same source as the concepts in use today. Finally, It is time to step-back and realize that all economic theories are concepts. We can change economic systems just as easily as we change the meaning of words.