On Socialism

Socialism is defined by Dictionary.com as “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”  Put into more practical terms, it means that the government owns or runs industry and services that it need not own or run because of a belief that it can best provide for the welfare of the people.

Everyone can certainly agree that the federal government must be in charge of some matters. Indeed in the United States that is exactly the purpose of the Constitution—it expressly specifies the powers and responsibilities of government, then in its Tenth Amendment the Constitution vests all remaining powers in the people and the States.  See here.

The question is how much the federal government should do when it has a power. For example, it is the federal government’s right and responsibility to regulate “commerce between the States” and “provide for the common Defense.”  See Article I, here.  Thus, while there were no airplanes flying over the founder’s heads as they ratified the Constitution, clearly Congress has a responsibility to pass necessary safety and commerce-related laws regarding air travel. Many countries, however, have national airlines where the passenger airlines in the United States are private. Does the federal government have the power to take over this section of the economy? Possibly.  Should it?  No.  To do so would clearly be a move from free enterprise and capitalism toward socialism, by any definition. And despite the roller-coaster nature of the airline industry as a business, this can be run by private enterprise.  And so it should.

Traditionally, of course, Europe is more socialist. Not only in fact but in name. In America to call something socialist has distinctly negative implications, while in Europe political parties take on the name socialist prominently and without shame. Quite apart from the connotation (how a word is thought of in a culture), it is sometimes important to take the denotation (the dictionary definition) and apply it. And thus the question: Is America slowly but steadily moving from capitalism toward socialism?  A Newsweek cover piece suggested we have been, and implied that it is not such a bad thing.  See here.  Looking back, the article was right in its first point, but remains profoundly wrong in its second.

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