In a day and age where socialism has become a culturally approved and trendy thing to support, people go to great lengths in order to prove that it is already established and working in the United States. One of the more common arguments that has worked its way around the country is that roads, public services, and schools are socialism. This argument is created in an attempt to slap capitalists in the face and make them realize that they do indeed appreciate the things that socialism has established for them in their day-to-day life.
This might be effective if it were an argument that was logically based. However, this argument and ‘winning point’ is far from accurate. Let’s break down the argument, using roads as an example.
To begin, we must have an accurate understanding of what can be classified as socialistic. The Merriam-Webster definition of the word ‘socialism’ is:
1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
2b : 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
Socialist Party USA defines socialism in this way (emphasis added):
“The Socialist Party strives to establish a radical democracy that places people's lives under their own control -- a non-racist, classless, feminist, socialist society in which people cooperate at work, at home, and in the community. Socialism is not mere government ownership, a welfare state, or a repressive bureaucracy. Socialism is a new social and economic order in which workers and consumers control production and community residents control their neighborhoods, homes, and schools. The production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. Socialism produces a constantly renewed future by not plundering the resources of the earth."
Business Dictionary defines a public good as,
“An item whose consumption is not decided by the individual consumer but by the society as a whole, and which is financed by taxation. A public good (or service) may be consumed without reducing the amount available for others, and cannot be withheld from those who do not pay for it. Public goods (and services) include economic statistics and other information, law enforcement, national defense, parks, and other things for the use and benefit of all. No market exists for such goods, and they are provided to everyone by governments.”
Underneath the public good umbrella, you have a couple of subcategories that differ slightly on being non-excludable. A public good that would be considered excludable would be the post office or anything else you have to pay a nominal fee to use. You also have a category called quasi-public goods, meaning that they are not utterly public goods, but still have the nonrivalrous and nonexcludable qualifiers. Our example throughout this argument, public roads, falls under the quasi-public good label as you must obtain a driver’s license in order to drive on a public road.
Summarizing, there are three clear cut points as to why public goods do not qualify as ‘socialism’. First, they typically do not generate wealth; there may be nominal user fees for such things as the post office, but these are not as much wealth generators as they are upkeep fees. The government does not create wealth based on the use of roads, police officers, or public libraries. There is no market for such goods.
Secondly, even though the government oversees the means of production, it does not control the means; the government has not taken over the factories, the companies that help to build and produce public goods. Finally, although the federal government may produce a form of public good, control typically is passed to local bodies of government; from the state legislature down to the taxpayer, the users of the public goods make the decisions about how they operate and are maintained.
Roads and other public goods are not created based on a socialistic system. They are simply public necessities that are produced ineffectively by the private sector based on nonrivalry and nonexcludability, and therefore, the government facilitates the creation and then turns it back over to the taxpayer and local government. Since socialism is a hyped up concept currently, people are desperate to ignore the facts and the basic economic principles of public versus private goods in order to further their agenda. If you hear socialism being used to explain public roads, simply stare the uniformed person in the eyes, say, “Roads are not socialism,” and continue to educate them on exactly why their argument is false.
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