Primer: What is socialism (and what is capitalism)?



Normally, I would go about my day assuming that everyone knows what socialism is and what capitalism is. However, yesterday I saw the hashtag #SocialistChecklist trending on Twitter and it was clear that many of the people contributing to it, regardless of their political position, weren't really clear on what socialism is. Then, last night I saw this video (below) and said to myself, "ah, of course everyone doesn't know what socialism is."



It is not that surprising that people in the US are fuzzy on the topic. It hasn't been discussed in a serious way, other than as a right-wing rhetorical device, in many years. However, now that Bernie Sanders is bringing it up in a serious way and doing better than anyone thought he would in the early primaries, it's worth a closer look. Whether you are socialist or anti-socialist, capitalist or anti-capitalist or even undecided, you should know the theory, how it has worked in practice and what it could mean for the United States (or whatever part of the world you live in).

The first video below from TestTube News starts with the question: "What do Scandinavia, Bernie Sanders and the Soviet Union" have in common and then explores the basic ideas behind socialism as well as its history.

The second video from the Brothers Green (a.k.a. Crash Course) looks at the history and underlying philosophies of capitalism vs. socialism.

The third video from AJ+ looks at the history of socialism in the United States and "5 ways America is already socialist"

The forth video is just for fun and takes things to an extreme.

Note: People, in discussing socialism, frequently say things like "free education" or "free health care" - to me this is a terrible way to look at it, from a political-economic point of view. Nothing is free, everything must be paid for, it's just a matter of who pays, how much and when. Thinking of it as "free" diminishes its value and can create some false impressions about economics. For example: In Canada we have single payer health care, but it is not free. When you go to the hospital or visit the doctor you don't need any money but a significant percentage of our tax dollars go to pay for the system.

These videos, while factual and very well done, are only a broad overview. People who are interested and want to learn more should consider a free (to you) online course or two in political science and/or economics.






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