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What are some ways in which the United States of America is socialist?

All depends on how you define socialism. There are several versions and the right wing has co-oped the term for anything they don’t like about the left wing. In the broadest (and least precise) sense socialism is anything that involves the Federal Government paying for, subsidizing, or otherwise having a managerial role in programs that are supposed to benefit the citizenary as a whole. If that is your definition, then as others have pointed out there are a lot of such programs. And it is important to note that although many of these programs (e.g., ObamaCare) are attacked by conservatives, most are programs that have broad support (e.g, infrastructure, Medicare, Social Security, etc.). That is not to say that such programs are above criticism or that they can’t be improved, but even conservatives, excepting the real lunatic fringe, are in favor of contiued support, albeit perhaps at reduced spending levels. Given the definition I have just provided even military expenditures are socialistic.

If you want to try for less general and more precise definition of socialism, then good luck. Even classic socialists in the early 20th Century couldn’t agree on what its main foundations and specific proposals were. Those disagreements have widened since. I suppose that any reasonable definition of socialism would include Social Security and Medicare, but most would not include Obama Care because it still depends heavily on private insurance companies. Certainly more precise defintions would exclude military spending and most would also exclude spending for roads, police and fire protection, etc.

The reality is that we have some programs that might be considered socialist and many that are not. In current times it is a term without any useful meaning except as a catchall battering ram to criticize for example Obama four year ago, who for the record, in some respects, is father away from socialism than either of the recent Bushes. Calling a program socialist has about as much meaning as calling a disease virus-caused — not at all helpful except in the broadest terms.

I should be clear that it is perfectly legitimate to criticize programs and proposals from any Presidential administration. Although I am a supporter of Obama, I and most other supporters freely criticize many of his proposals, and sometimes on grounds that conservatives would endorse. But calling them socialistic serves no rational purpose although it may get some emotions stirred up. If a policy seeks to solve a real problem and can do so efficiently then it deserves to be considered without meaningless labels. It may well be that such policies duplicate what the private sector can do and may even do the job less effectively. It is reasonable — indeed important — to debate such matters. But calling a policy socialistic does not contribute to rational decision making. It also interferes with good dialogue and the ability to come to agreement on policies. That’s always the case when people resort to meaningless emotion-laden labels to stand for more rational, fact-based arguments.

Author:
David Schneider is Professor Emeritus and former director of Psychology & Cognitive Sciences in the Department of Psychology at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Schneider’s most important published work deals chiefly with cognitive psychology and organizational psychology, especially bias, prejudice, and discrimination. You can reach Dr. Schneider via email at sch@rice.edu.

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