Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Let's be clear about when we mean when we talk about socialism

Socialism vs. capitalism

Complaints about socialism are really focused on the social safety net, which is part of a capitalist society, writes Malbrough.

Fokusiert/Getty Images
Malbrough is the founder of the Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project, which recruits college students to staff elections.

The 2020 election and subsequent insurrection were new additions to the long trend of political polarization in the United States. Many Americans do not relate to one another and vote to spite the other rather than advance one's self interest. This trend in society has led to political movements built solely on memes and archetypes of an enemy/other.

These movements are not new, but have gained a new prominence in the social media age. One of the biggest casualties of this breaking of society is critical thinking and variable information.

One example of polarization based on a misconception is the difference between socialism and a strong safety net. The difference between these two concepts has been lost in mainstream politics and caused unnecessary divisiveness and a lack of progress.

Webster defines socialism as any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. An example of socialism is ownership of a company by a union of workers as well as employee stock ownership programs. An example of a worker-owned company is WinCo Foods, where employees are able to participate in an employee stock ownership plan after working at least 500 hours in their first six months. The core concept and goal of socialism is the democratization of profits based on work contributed rather than purely the position one holds.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

A social safety net is defined as something that provides security against misfortune or difficulty, which usually translates to government programs and services like Social Security, Medicare and unemployment subsidies. These programs are funded by various taxes and open to eligible Americans. Oftentimes, social safety programs help business directly though programs like low-interest small-business loans, PPP loans, bailouts and product subsidies. The goal of these programs is to help maintain the capitalist economies as the funds maintain consumerism through participation in the market.

We are now seeing a lot of discussion around socialism when it comes to raising the minimum wage and the expansion of unemployment benefits. These issues have come up as a cause of the current labor shortage in the United States. Due to the expanded unemployment benefits many Americans are making more money staying at home than they were working full-time for minimum wage. The debate between our political parties and the media is whether the minimum wage should be raised and when extra unemployment benefits should be phased out. Many politicians on the right are calling these two policies socialist even though they are just aspects of a safety net in a capitalist system.

These two ideologies have often been twisted and confused on both sides of the political spectrum. They both aim to promote general welfare but through different means. Oftentimes, people requesting social safety policies are called "socialist" as a means to discredit the idea and sidetrack the true conversation on the merits of the policy itself. For example, Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee went on Fox News and called the 2021 stimulus package a "Democrat wish list of socialist programs" — a criticism that at its core is unfounded.

The 2021 stimulus does not mandate stock democratization or worker unionization but rather provides support to workers, businesses and municipalities to maintain their current (capitalist) economic systems in a time of global economic fallout. The problem with this mischaracterization is that it increases polarization amongst Americans causing the deep divides we see today. It is OK to argue the merits of socialism and capitalism, but this is something different. This is demonizing capitalist policies using the negative feelings associated with socialism and countries that have attempted it.

The ideas of "unity" and "coming together" are amazing goals that every American should strive for. These ideals of unity are in line with the words of the preamble to the Constitution, which states "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." A more perfect union requires many things but at its core it requires good faith and adequate information. In order to take the ideas of bipartisanship, unity and coming together out of the category of empty political platitudes and into action we must put down petty political weapons.

Debating the merits and externalities of social safety net programs is necessary and valuable in a free and just society, but framing these policies through the lense of socialism as a means to turn the public against a policy only hurts American citizens. Issues like poverty and public health are experiences that millions of Americans on both sides can identify with and can come together on. They just need to be given the correct information to make a critical choice.

When we as a country prioritize good faith over political expediency, we can truly start to advance and unify. The American divide is not between those who love socialism and those who hate it, it's between those fighting for a more equitable society and those who propagate false information to maintain power.

Read More

Podcast: How do police feel about gun control?

Podcast: How do police feel about gun control?

Jesus "Eddie" Campa, former Chief Deputy of the El Paso County Sheriff's Department and former Chief of Police for Marshall Texas, discusses the recent school shooting in Uvalde and how loose restrictions on gun ownership complicate the lives of law enforcement on this episode of YDHTY.

Listen now

Podcast: Why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies

Podcast: Why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies

There's something natural and organic about perceiving that the people in power are out to advance their own interests. It's in part because it’s often true. Governments actually do keep secrets from the public. Politicians engage in scandals. There often is corruption at high levels. So, we don't want citizens in a democracy to be too trusting of their politicians. It's healthy to be skeptical of the state and its real abuses and tendencies towards secrecy. The danger is when this distrust gets redirected, not toward the state, but targets innocent people who are not actually responsible for people's problems.

On this episode of "Democracy Paradox" Scott Radnitz explains why conspiracy theories thrive in both democracies and autocracies.

Your Take:  The Price of Freedom

Your Take: The Price of Freedom

Our question about the price of freedom received a light response. We asked:

What price have you, your friends or your family paid for the freedom we enjoy? And what price would you willingly pay?

It was a question born out of the horror of images from Ukraine. We hope that the news about the Jan. 6 commission and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination was so riveting that this question was overlooked. We considered another possibility that the images were so traumatic, that our readers didn’t want to consider the question for themselves. We saw the price Ukrainians paid.

One response came from a veteran who noted that being willing to pay the ultimate price for one’s country and surviving was a gift that was repaid over and over throughout his life. “I know exactly what it is like to accept that you are a dead man,” he said. What most closely mirrored my own experience was a respondent who noted her lack of payment in blood, sweat or tears, yet chose to volunteer in helping others exercise their freedom.

Personally, my price includes service to our nation, too. The price I paid was the loss of my former life, which included a husband, a home and a seemingly secure job to enter the political fray with a message of partisan healing and hope for the future. This work isn’t risking my life, but it’s the price I’ve paid.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Given the earnest question we asked, and the meager responses, I am also left wondering if we think at all about the price of freedom? Or have we all become so entitled to our freedom that we fail to defend freedom for others? Or was the question poorly timed?

I read another respondent’s words as an indicator of his pacifism. And another veteran who simply stated his years of service. And that was it. Four responses to a question that lives in my heart every day. We look forward to hearing Your Take on other topics. Feel free to share questions to which you’d like to respond.

Keep ReadingShow less
No, autocracies don't make economies great

libre de droit/Getty Images

No, autocracies don't make economies great

Tom G. Palmer has been involved in the advance of democratic free-market policies and reforms around the globe for more than three decades. He is executive vice president for international programs at Atlas Network and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

One argument frequently advanced for abandoning the messy business of democratic deliberation is that all those checks and balances, hearings and debates, judicial review and individual rights get in the way of development. What’s needed is action, not more empty debate or selfish individualism!

In the words of European autocrat Viktor Orbán, “No policy-specific debates are needed now, the alternatives in front of us are obvious…[W]e need to understand that for rebuilding the economy it is not theories that are needed but rather thirty robust lads who start working to implement what we all know needs to be done.” See! Just thirty robust lads and one far-sighted overseer and you’re on the way to a great economy!

Keep ReadingShow less
Podcast: A right-wing perspective on Jan. 6th and the 2020 election

Podcast: A right-wing perspective on Jan. 6th and the 2020 election

Peter Wood is an anthropologist and president of the National Association of Scholars. He believes—like many Americans on the right—that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and the January 6th riots were incited by the left in collusion with the FBI. He’s also the author of a new book called Wrath: America Enraged, which wrestles with our politics of anger and counsels conservatives on how to respond to perceived aggression.

Where does America go from here? In this episode, Peter joins Ciaran O’Connor for a frank conversation about the role of anger in our politics as well as the nature of truth, trust, and conspiracy theories.

Keep ReadingShow less