Socialism and capitalism are the most widely used economic and political systems in the world today. Many countries opt for mixed economies, which combine financial freedom through private enterprise with government intervention via social safety nets.
What Is Socialism?
Socialism is an economic system characterized by public ownership of the means of production directed on behalf of citizens by a central planning group (usually the government through state control). There are various types of socialism, ranging from countries that provide social services to the poor to pure socialist economies defined by complete government control of the business and labor markets. Socialist states strive to create an egalitarian society by distributing public goods equally and providing basic human needs such as employment, universal health care, housing, food, and clothing.
What Is Capitalism?
Capitalist systems are based on private ownership of the means of production, with the goal of economic growth based on supply and demand in a free market economy. Private individuals own and control the business and labor markets in capitalist societies, with few or no government controls. Though capitalism can accelerate economic development, the purest form of capitalism (also known as laissez-faire capitalism) lacks any social safety nets or protections against income inequality.
8 Key Differences Between Socialism and Capitalism
The debate over capitalism vs. socialism examines whether state ownership in a socialist society outweighs the potential economic benefits of a capitalist economy. Economic theorists in the modern world believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, with many countries embracing aspects of both through democratic socialism. The following are the distinctions between the two purest forms of each system:
1. Business control: In a capitalist society, the economy is based on private enterprise, with individual privately owned companies and industries providing the means of production. The public owns all means of production and natural resources under socialism, and a central planning authority regulates businesses on their behalf.
2. Consumer choice: Because socialist governments provide goods and services to their citizens, there is no market incentive for them to offer a diverse range of goods. Capitalist economies thrive on market forces, which means that different businesses compete against one another and consumers benefit from having multiple options for the same product.
3. Consumer prices: In a socialist country, the government sets the price of goods and services. Prices are set by market forces of supply and demand in a capitalist society, which means you may have to pay a higher price for a product during an economic downturn.
4. Efficiency and innovation: To compete in a free market in a capitalist system, businesses must be efficient and innovative. Without competition, a socialist society's central planning authority has no financial incentive to avoid inefficiencies or innovate.
5. Income equality: Market forces determine how well an individual does financially in capitalism, and economic inequality persists. Socialist systems rely on wealth redistribution to promote a classless society in which no individual earns significantly more than another.
6. Property rights: Anyone who lives in a capitalist system has the right to own private property. Citizens in socialist systems may own personal property, but only as a consumer good.
7. Provision of basic needs: Basic needs are met by the government in a socialist system, such as housing, health care, and food. Individuals in a capitalist system must earn enough money to supply these items on their own.
8. Taxation: To provide citizens with public services, socialist societies rely on high taxes. Privatization of businesses in purely capitalist economies means that individuals do not have to pay as much into the system to support the collective.
5 Examples of Capitalism
Most capitalist countries are defined as mixed economies by economists, with capitalism as an economic structure supported by some social welfare programs. Capitalism examples include:
1. Ireland: Due to its low corporate tax rates and free market economy, some of the world's largest technology companies have established operations in Ireland. Its capitalist approach enables this small country to play a significant role in the global market.
2. Luxembourg: Luxembourg, ranked fifth in the Economic Freedom rankings, has a thriving capitalist economy based on manufacturing and financial services. Because of its stable government and excellent electrical grid, it is an important global information technology hub.
3. New Zealand: The capitalist economy of New Zealand attracts private business ventures through open trade and low tariffs on imports and exports. New Zealand exports agricultural products to China, Australia, and the United States with success.
4. Switzerland: With its low corporate tax rate and free market economy, Switzerland is an appealing country for entrepreneurs. It has a thriving financial services sector and takes pride in its precision manufacturing.
5. United States of America: Although the United States identifies as a capitalist society due to its free market economy, federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare give it socialist tendencies.
5 Examples of Socialism
Socialism has come and gone throughout history, with some slipping into Marxist-Leninist communist regimes. Countries that consider themselves socialist, like capitalism, usually have some capitalist overtones. Here are some examples of socialism:
1. Cuba: Under Fidel Castro, Cuba embraced a Marxist-Leninist socialist economy, but in recent years, its citizens voted to maintain socialism politically while instituting new economic policies, including private property rights and some free market activity.
2. North Korea: A strictly dictatorial Marxist-Leninist communist party economy, North Korea governs its people through a completely closed Marxist-Leninist communist party economy.
3. The People's Republic of China: Although China's Marxist-Leninist communist government controls many of the country's means of production, private companies are permitted to profit in specific economic regions such as Shanghai.
4. The Soviet Union: Prior to its collapse in 1991, the former Soviet Union (also known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR) referred to itself as a socialist country using Marxist-Leninist terminology.
5. Venezuela: Due to poor central planning, government self-interest, and corruption, Venezuela's adoption of a socialist government in 2010 harmed the country's economy. In recent years, the government has begun to reintroduce capitalist economic activity by allowing private ownership of for-profit corporations.