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Defining socialism - Input Junkie
August 18th, 2012
11:45 am

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Defining socialism

Socialism is..

generally a good thing
17(34.7%)
generally a bad thing
8(16.3%)
a complex thing (please explain in comments)
23(46.9%)
something I have no opinion about
1(2.0%)

Socialism is...

any institutional arrangement with substantial public ownership
28(24.1%)
a market economy with a very strong social safety net
16(13.8%)
a sort of dictatorship
2(1.7%)
a short route to dictatorship
5(4.3%)
a word which has been so coopted that disambiguation is urgent
28(24.1%)
a type of government which can include state communism
17(14.7%)
a type of government which can include Nazism
5(4.3%)
something which I will explain in comments
4(3.4%)
clicky!
11(9.5%)

Is Israel a socialist country?

Yes.
8(18.2%)
No.
15(34.1%)
Cats!
21(47.7%)

(73 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
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From:whswhs
Date:August 18th, 2012 04:21 pm (UTC)
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I personally define socialism primarily as any economic ideology that proposes to replace exchange and markets with some other set of processes and institutions in a society as a whole. I don't limit it to societies that do away with markets entirely; a centrally planned command economy that has small local markets for personal services and consumer goods doesn't count as "capitalist," just as a market economy with co-ops, communes, kibbutzim, or other such arrangements doesn't count as "socialist." I'm looking at the overall organizational principle.

More specifically, I see "socialism" as having three possible manifestations:

all goods, or large numbers of goods, or producers' goods such as factories and farms specifically, are owned by the state, or by smaller collective organizations within the state, and are not bought and sold in a market; or

however they are owned, productive enterprises are included in a centrally planned command economy—this includes not only Soviet style state ownership but German style Zwangwirtschaft or "compulsory economy"; or

whoever owns and controls property (especially productive enterprises), economic outcomes and rewards are not determined by market transactions but imposed by law and regulation—for example, on the basis of some theory of "distributive justice."

Secondarily, I use the term "socialist" for single industries that are organized in the fashion in which all or most industry would be organized in a socialist society, and for ideologies that advocate such organization and seek to impose it through a political process. So, for example, I would call BART "socialist," or the BBC, or any system of single payer health care. I don't call an entire society or political movement "socialist" because it supports some of this.
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From:matgb
Date:August 18th, 2012 05:12 pm (UTC)
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I personally define socialism primarily as any economic ideology that proposes to replace exchange and markets with some other set of processes

I'm a market socialist, also referred to as a mutualist or, in Britain, as a liberal socialist.

To me, socialism is a system of ownership, cooperatives, mutuals and equal partnerships, including Kibbutz, are all socialist, but they all exist and compete with in a market.
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From:subnumine
Date:August 21st, 2012 10:13 pm (UTC)
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"I personally define socialism primarily as any economic ideology that proposes to replace exchange and markets with some other set of processes and institutions in a society as a whole."

This is not an overly useful definition, since it excludes most forms of socialism, including Richard Owen's. Discourse with Humpty-Dumpty is rarely profitable.

Nor is it readily compatible with the third submanifestation below: economic outcomes and rewards are not determined by market transactions but imposed by law and regulation—for example, on the basis of some theory of "distributive justice." But then, it would be difficult to find a human society to which th is last did not apply. (Possibly the aboriginal Australian tribes, on the grounds that they did not have law or regulation; but the code of conduct under which they operate is more binding than the laws and regulations of modern states, not less.)
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From:gwendally
Date:August 18th, 2012 04:24 pm (UTC)
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Socialism is wonderful for providing common goods that individuals alone cannot reasonably manage to get for themselves.

It fails terribly when you go beyond those parameters to starting to provide goods that ARE obtainable by one's own efforts and simple amounts of planning.

For example, socialism is a wonderful way to deal with childhood cancers, but a terrible way to deal with housing.
[User Picture]
From:whswhs
Date:August 18th, 2012 04:34 pm (UTC)
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The market-based way of providing for rarely needed expensive goods is called "insurance." It's actually quite functional, if you charge for it according to the actuarial risk and take measures to limit moral hazard: an intelligently run insurance scheme can achieve income redistribution to people in need while simultaneously making to people who pay for it better off.
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From:st_rev
Date:August 18th, 2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
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I'm OK with economic redistribution in principle, but when it's entangled with state power (i.e. nearly always) the results vary from problematic to monstrous.
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From:gwendally
Date:August 18th, 2012 06:06 pm (UTC)
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This.
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From:bradhicks
Date:August 18th, 2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
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I'm OK with economic redistribution in principle, but when it's entangled with state unaccountable power (i.e. nearly always) the results vary from problematic to monstrous.

Fixed that for you.
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From:bradhicks
Date:August 18th, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
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Whether or not there ever was a single coherent consistent definition of the term "socialism," it's been politicized all to hell and gone now. Asking whether or not a government, or an economy, or a society is socialist is like asking if it's democratic or if it's free -- completely serious people will completely seriously disagree.

If the non-rich majority can (and do) vote to raise taxes, including (or especially) on the wealthy minority, in order to fund education or policing or fire protection or schools or health care or roads or bridges or Internet access, or if they can (and do) vote to pass laws that apply to everybody, including (or especially) the wealthy minority, is that democracy, or is it socialism? Or both? Is it democracy if they do it a little, socialism if they do it a lot, and communism if they do it all the time? Where do you draw the lines?

Does it automatically become socialism the first time the majority votes to provide a public service that one or more wealthy investors feel entitled to a private-sector monopoly on? If that is your definition of socialism, why is that a good thing or a bad thing? If it can be proven to be better for everybody if it is provided by fairly applied taxes centrally spent, does that prove that socialism is a good thing, or is socialism still a bad thing because taxes are evil? If it can be proven to be better for everybody to have the private sector have a monopoly on some service because it's more economically efficient, does that prove that it's a good thing, or is it still a bad thing because it gives the power to coercively extract rents to people who are not accountable to the citizenry?

I think we can agree that it is a bad thing if government officials seize power without public consent and impose a communist dictatorship; if the voters approve of a communist dictatorship, does their consent suddenly make it a good thing? I think we can agree that if corporations seize power without public consent and impose a fascist dictatorship, that's a bad thing; if the voters consent to corporate takeover of the state, does that suddenly make it a good thing?

Edited at 2012-08-18 07:11 pm (UTC)
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From:subnumine
Date:August 21st, 2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
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Does it automatically become socialism the first time the majority votes to provide a public service that one or more wealthy investors feel entitled to a private-sector monopoly on?

That definition would make Chief Justice Marshall a socialist, or at least a fellow-traveller; see the Charles River bridge case...
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From:st_rev
Date:August 18th, 2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
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Of possible interest to a few people reading this: I sketched an argument that a degree of wealth redistribution is just in a strict utilitarian/right-libertarian framework over here. It doesn't engage with the much bigger problem of what entity can be trusted to do the redistributing, though.
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From:whswhs
Date:August 19th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)
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A utilitarian framework is not going to be of any interest to me. Utilitarianism accepts the propriety of sacrificing the interest of A to attain the (purportedly greater) interest of B. I don't; I believe in the harmony of rightly understood interests, and I don't accept an ethic that calls for sacrificing anyone to anyone.
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From:pickledginger
Date:August 18th, 2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
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Any form of government can and will be distorted beyond all recognition -- the devil is in the implementation.
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From:bemused_leftist
Date:August 18th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
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And that's true of every word, especially those ending in '-ism'.

Personally, I think a mixed system is pretty good -- especially if at every level, the customer has a choice between the 'socialistic' service (ie the US Post Office) and the 'private' service (ie Fedex, UPS, etc). Hillarycare would have been good, with many options, some public and some private.

What we need to beware of, imo, is any single institution wiith some (usually undiscussed) parts private and some parts socialistic. For example, the oil industry which privitizes profit while socializing loss: the oil executives get the profit while the public and other institutions absorb the losses of pollution. (And, also undiscussed, are subsidies to the oil industry much larger than any to green power.)

If the Post Office screws up, the individual customers can now protest by using Fedex or UPS. Ideally, if the insurance industry becomes too monolithic, we could vote for politicians who would expand Medicare or some public option/s.

Imo the worst of both worlds is 'crony capitalism': Fascism in Capitalist clothing OR in Socialist clothing, depending on which paper you read.

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From:mindstalk
Date:August 26th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
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As for the questions... yeah, I think 'socialism' is too murky a term to be pinned down or good for much. It's got a clear core meaning of group or social ownership of the means of production (already there's ambiguity), but sometimes I'll let it extend to social democracy.

Sort of an obsolete question, coming out of a 19th century split between aspirationally laissez faire capitalism and sweeping ideas of socialism. In the real world, everyone is heavily mixed, and not just with universal health care or postal monopolies. The US has eminent domain; are we capitalist, or ultimately socialist because (especially post Kelo) the government can take land for public purpose or even higher tax revenues. (Very left-libertarian and usufruct-y, that!) With eminent domain and property tax, doesn't the government ultimately 'own' the land?

As for what's good, government provision of public goods (a non-empty set) and guarantee of competitive markets (with externality taxation and information asymmetry amelioration) is good; provision of things healthy competitive markets could provide is unnecessary and probably inefficient. "Free markets" are an empty label. Is that socialism? Who cares?

But Romney praising Israel's health care system (hint: socialized) was frigging hilarious.

Edited at 2012-08-26 09:21 pm (UTC)
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