In my Information Theory class in engineering school, one of the final exam questions was: “Is the English Language a good language in terms of Information Theory?” The answer, of course, is a resounding “No” since, especially in the spoken format, a word may have multiple meanings, and analysis of context is required to understand the word’s usage.
The word “see” may refer to optically processing your environment, or it could refer to the ocean (the seven seas), or refer to the third letter in the English alphabet. Context is everything in our English language.
Socialism is one of those words that have multiple meanings and requires a study of context to parse and understand its usage. Let’s look first at the Merriam-Webster definition of Socialism. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialism
Definition of socialism
1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
2b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
Putting that into plain English, Socialism is a form of government where the state owns all the land, farms, factories, and stores. You work for the government; they pay your salary. Since you can’t own anything, there’s no incentive to work hard; it simply won’t improve your standard of living. In Socialism’s most extreme form, the Prima Ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet makes the same salary as the Novice. This political movement, Socialism, was proposed by the German philosopher Karl Marx, who died in 1883.
Socialism has been tried twice on planet Earth. In Russia (USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and China (PRC – People’s Republic of China). In those early days, Socialism and Communism meant the same thing.
In Russia, at the end of World War One in 1917, the Romanov family ruling Russia was overthrown and killed by the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. They instituted a socialist government called the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). It lasted until 1991, when unrest and economic stagnation caused the Communist government to collapse.
In China, revolutionaries led by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai waged a thirty-year civil war against nationalist warlord Chiang Kai-shek. They set aside their differences to fight the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, but the end of World War Two resulted in the resumption of the civil war. In 1949, Mao and the Communist Party prevailed, and Chiang fled with his followers to the island of Taiwan.
With firm control over mainland China, Mao instituted the “Great Leap Forward” in the 1960s, an audacious plan to convert China from an agricultural state to an industrialized one. The plan resulted in mass starvation and the loss of millions of lives from famine. But today, China is the industrial powerhouse that Chairman Mao wanted. Mao Zedong died in 1976 at the age of 82.
After Mao’s death, the Chinese Government dispensed with many of the precepts of Socialism, allowing private ownership of property and businesses. Today, there are many billionaires in China, while the one-party Government enables the country to advance quickly in our modern world, to plan for decades ahead. They are rapidly overtaking the United States economy and will surpass us in just a few years.
So, Socialism has been a flop in Russia and China. The question is this: Is anybody proposing Socialism here in the United States? Again, the answer is a resounding “No” if you understand what Socialism is.
Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics and a New York Times columnist, describes the United States government this way, attributing the quote to Peter Fisher, undersecretary of the Treasury, in 2002.
The United States Government is an insurance company with an army.
Is Paul Krugman correct? Here’s a pie chart of government spending for 2018.
Add up the Defense (21% for tanks and aircraft carriers), Pensions (25% for Social Security), and Health Care (28% for Medicare and Medicaid), you get 74% of the government’s spending for insurance programs and the military. That leaves just 18% for Education, NASA, IRS, and all other government necessities. Yeah, Krugman’s right – we are an insurance company with an army.
What about this guy, Senator Bernie Sanders? Is he proposing Socialism in the United States? Again, the answer is “No.” Sanders has never proposed government ownership of all land, farms, factories, and stores. He proposes increasing the 28% we currently spend on Health Insurance (Medicare and Medicaid) to a level high enough to insure everybody in the country. That’s not Socialism, as outlined in Webster’s definition above. It’s just decency, pure and simple.
Unfortunately, Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist.” That confuses many people, making them associate “Medicare For All” with Socialism, which it is not. I’d prefer that Bernie identified himself as a “Democratic Progressive” or “Liberal Democrat.”
It’s all a matter of semantics. A social worker is not a Socialist; they work with people. Social Security is not Socialism; it’s just an insurance program, and so on.
So when you hear a Fox News host or a conservative commentator rail about the Democrats trying to impose the evils of Socialism on the country, they don’t understand what Socialism is.