“America will never be a socialist country,” was the declaration by President Trump (The Hill, 2019). Why not socialism? A number of Democratic presidential hopefuls have been promoting socialism. So, why not socialism? What is wrong with socialism?
WHAT IS SOCIALISM?
Let us start with a definition. Socialism can be defined as “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or registered by the community as a whole.” Another ways of stating it is that socialism is, “a system of society or group living in which there is no private property; a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done” (Webster)”
The key words here are “the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or registered by the government”
There are many forms of socialism but full-blown socialism is in marked contrast to capitalism, which is defined as “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market” (Webster). Not every socialist society exercises complete control over the marketplace. It must be noted, however, that socialism is in the Marxist political strategy a traditional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism where the government controls everything.
SOCIALISM IN AMERICA
Millionaire Bernie Sanders, in more recent times, has been the best-known advocate of a socialist position, although recently a number of political figures have also been advocating socialist policies.
Socialism actually began in America in the early 19th century, but it has been relatively weak, compared to how it has progressed in Europe. Socialism has a long history which you can easily check out online. Norman Thomas, a six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America, attracted 188,000 voters in 1936. Socialists have long been involved in labor unions. Socialism has gained considerable popularity in this last decade, within the Democratic Party where according to a Gallup Poll 57% of Democratic responders viewed socialism positively. One of the recent media favorite socialists is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from Brooklyn, New York, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, who was elected to Congress in 2018.
HAS SOCIALISM EVER WORKED?
It is hard to find a lasting example of a full-blown socialist country that has been successful. Most, if not all, have failed, for a variety of reasons, Venezuela being the most recent example. This is because, as economist Thomas Sowell puts it, “Socialism is a wonderful sounding idea. It is only as a reality that it is disastrous” (MSN.com).
The concept of equality and the redistribution of wealth, which is at the heart of socialism, sounds great but it does not usually work out the way it is supposed to in practice.
EUROPE AND SOCIALISM
Often, those who advocate socialism will point to what they consider European models of socialism, especially in northern Europe, such as Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark. However, these countries are not pure socialist countries. It is correct to state that they do not embrace the American style of capitalism. Rather, they have a more compassionate version of it. For example, they have different health care and social programs. However, there are a number of factors that enable the system to work in these countries. Firstly, they respect the concept of profit-driven competition in the business world. They are not anti-capitalism. Also, being smaller countries population wise, there is more social solidarity amongst people, although one wonders if this is not changing with the advent of immigration from the Middle East in places such as Sweden.
At the heart of the European model is the acceptance of “relatively free markets and private ownership of the means of production with expanded welfare states, progressive taxation and other forms of government intervention in the economy and society” (Washington Post).
AMERICA’S ATTITUDE TO ALL THIS
So, what is America’s attitude to questions regarding socialism and capitalism? The answers here are usually a blend of both. In America for example, there are many government programs that one could argue are forms of socialism, including the U.S. Postal Service, public school (although some would put forward the need for a change to allow more school choice – check out Sweden which has complete school choice), social security, Medicare, water and sewer systems, highways and bridges and so on. However, capitalism is still the preferred economic system.
As one writer puts it, “Most Americans feel free enterprise can work quite well and want it to continue. But there is a longing for ways to bridle capitalism’s conspicuous excesses, especially inequitable wealth concentration.” (Star Tribune)
With that in mind, let us look at one issue – health care.
QUESTION OF HEALTH CARE?
Let me include, at this point, my own personal viewpoint. We need some form of national health care system, that provides for the medical needs of all its citizens. We are the only country in the western world that does not have one. So often, people experience financial hardship or even financial ruin when faced with unexpected medical situations. My eldest daughter, who lives in Germany, faced a major medical situation recently. She would have had difficulty paying for all the medical care she needed and received if she had been living in America. I know that it means new forms of taxation, but I believe health care is one of the major challenges that America needs to deal with. Health care is not the right of individuals, but rather it is a responsibility of the community and nation as a whole to help.
I know that people will point out the deficiencies of government health systems, such as long wait times for certain elective treatments. Then, too, the government hasn’t a good track record on social programs, such as the case of Veterans Affairs. However, we need to address this crucial need.
SOCIALISM AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD
One last question relates to socialism and the kingdom of God. There are a number of points to be made.
- The Kingdom of God is not to be identified with any one political system, whether that is capitalism, socialism, democracy, or anything else. It is primarily the rule of the king within a person’s heart. The kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21) So Christians can live under many different forms of government, even in Communist China, albeit with difficulty at times, even to the point of persecution.
- A Democracy/Republic is not the Kingdom of God, but it is the best form of government for a sinful world. I believe that the form of government as conceived by the Founding Fathers, if it is allowed to function as it should, is an incredible one and is unique in world history.
- There is much to examine in the teaching of the Bible related to equality, care of people in need, the poor, and the place of the church in all this. Those subjects will have to wait for with at another time.
I realize this letter could bring some interesting responses. Please send them in. I would, however, say three things:
- Our American way of life is a blend of capitalism and socialism as previously mentioned. The question is always where do you draw the line.
- My main objection to the growth of socialism is the increased place of government in people’s lives. Government begins to take over the place of God as it seeks to meet everyone’s needs. Allied to this is that socialism diminishes human responsibility and curtails one’s initiative. Add to that the fact that often the government is not as efficient as free enterprise due to the lack of incentive to excel (albeit often from a purely selfish motive, such as higher profits).
- The final solution will not take place until Jesus returns and sets up His Kingdom here on earth. Until then, there will be various attempts (even one world government to produce the ideal world; a utopia here on earth). Only Jesus can do that. So ‘Come Lord Jesus!’
Note – This blog post was updated on April 18th to include the word ‘Republic’ in the following sentence – “A Democracy/Republic is not the Kingdom of God, but it is the best form of government for a sinful world.”