Defining Socialism

For those who failed to recognize the ideological stakes of the recent election, Merriam-Webster Dictionary has revealed that many Americans were well aware of the confrontation between the ideas of capitalism and socialism.

The terms “socialism” and “capitalism” received more searches on Merriam-Webster’s popular online dictionary than any other terms this year. Expectedly, the spikes in interest corresponded with the national party conventions and televised presidential debates. Online users found the below Merriam-Webster definitions:


1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2 a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done


1: 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

As it relates to public policy, it is hard to improve on Margaret Thatcher’s incisive definition of socialism as a system that would rather “the poor were poorer, provided the rich were less rich” (see video above). It is a mistake to focus on the income gap rather than overall economic growth; according to Thatcher, “you do not create wealth and opportunity that way; you do not create a property-owning democracy that way.”

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Even if it were not unjust morally, Thatcher pointed out why redistributionist economic policies don’t work as a practical matter: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

Source material can be found at this site.

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