To me, socialism in America and Europe is mostly about the infiltration of government into our private lives. When the government, i.e. the taxpayer, pays for everything in your lifestyle (healthcare, the majority of your income, housing, childcare, etc.) that then gives the government the prerogative to begin dictating how you lead your life. In fewer words, the government can tell you what to do if the government is paying for everything you do. The government provides you with “free” healthcare, well then the government can say you can’t smoke, can’t have unsafe sex, can’t eat junk food, can force you to exercise regularly, etc. In other words, you lose control of your life. If I want to be left alone and do what I want, that will become impossible if the government forces upon us a system where “we’re all in this together” and everyone is responsible for everyone else (and of course, when everyone is responsible for something, is anyone really responsible for it?). This is not “true socialism” (see below), but rather this is the form of socialism we are most likely to encounter or implement in Europe and America. We have the sense to recognize that government-run or planned economies will not work, but we still think we can surrender portions of our freedom so that we may receive government goodies and everything will turn out fine. Those goodies come with strings attached.
But just what does “socialism” mean? As a free market advocate, as a defender of liberty and friend of freedom, and as a skeptic of government, I view ‘socialism’ as my opponent, as the opposite of what I believe, and that my ideas will inevitably clash with the ideas of ‘socialism’, and that there will ensue a struggle, waged through elections and the court of public opinion, to decide whether the United States (and countries elsewhere) will grant their citizens more freedom or decide to give governments more control. But how can I fight my opponent if it is always shifting form and always presenting a different argument? I want to have some kind of grand discussion on what socialism is and what it means to people to be socialist. Of course a blog is not the best way to that, as more often than not you simply end up talking with yourself, it is nevertheless a means of discussing it, albeit the lazy man’s option.
Denmark and other European countries typically thought of as ‘socialist’ are not in fact socialist. They have elements of socialism, some more than others (for instance, I think France is more socialist than Denmark in that France tries to make their economy a bit more rigid, by making it nearly impossible to fire an employee for example), but on the whole European countries are not really ‘socialist’ but are instead massive welfare states. Denmark’s government takes vast amounts of money out of the economy in the form of taxes and then reinserts that money in the form of
government goodies, I mean welfare programs. So the government provides many people with jobs, unemployment benefits, housing, childcare, higher education, medicine, etc. but the government does not in fact own the means of production. If you buy milk, you are not buying Government Milk, you’re buying free market milk; and likewise, you are not buying it in a government store, but a privately owned business. Indeed, people in Denmark are largely free to produce and work however they like; Denmark has a greater degree of economic freedom (aka ‘the right to earn a living’) than does the United States (there are several indices of economic freedom, but this one from the Heritage Foundation is pretty good). So in fact, while Denmark may have a more comprehensive welfare state than does the US, the US is quite possibly more ‘socialist’ than is Denmark.
“TRUE SOCIALISM”: When I talk about a ‘socialist economy’ I mean one where the government controls or plans parts of the economy; perhaps all of it, perhaps only parts of it. Denmark does not meet that criterion. Venezuela, on the other hand, does meet the criteria of having the government plan and run increasingly larger sectors of the economy. So while Venezuela might be a floundering example of socialism, it is a clear example. Then again, is there such a thing as an example of a socialist economy/country which isn’t floundering?