There is much mischaracterization of the meaning of the word “Socialism” thrown about in the heat of political mud-slinging. In reality, Socialism comes in many forms, all sharing the characteristic of state control of economic activity.
In absolute, or totalitarian, Socialism, on the Soviet and, especially, the Maoist model where all private property was essentially banned, the state owns and controls all means of legitimate production. It should be added, parenthetically, that even in this model, enterprise pokes out its avaricious head by way of the underground economy without which state socialism could not even begin to function. In the mixed, or Western, model — such as for instance practiced in the UK of the 1960s-70s — the state owns some of the means of production and seeks to control the rest through empowering pseudo-statist organization such as trade unions. Both of these forms of Socialism have by now bankrupted themselves into almost complete disappearance, leaving behind only a few starving North Koreans.
The final form to emerge is redistributive, or regulatory, Socialism, where the state seeks to controls economic activity by co-opting a large portion into non-productive government function — including support of a large unproductive contingent of welfare recipients and other clients entirely dependent upon it — all supported by an ever-increasing burden on the productive private economy; by channeling tax resources into unproductive or even counter-productive private activities in the form of corporate welfare through backing commercially non-viable industries such as clean energy; by guaranteeing union contracts that perpetually increase the power and share of income of largely unproductive state employees versus private; by protectionist measures designed to further the interest of the politically-connected at the expense of the bulk of citizenry; by ever-tightening regulation the productive private economy that seeks to minimize its profitability and co-opt its resources for state uses; by privileging access to legislators over market forces as a determinant of economic success; and finally by progressive taxation that redistributes resources from the most to the least productive members of society.
The history of this form of socialism has not yet been written, and so we do not yet know what forms will evolve in response to the inevitable fiscal crises engendered by thus institutionalization inefficiencies. It seems obvious, however, that the cracks in the nation’s solvency revealed by the Great Recession can only become wider as the expiration dates on Medicare and Social Security come due. Perhaps the looming fiscal cliff that so scares the commentariat may in fact begin the necessary readjustment back toward a less-constrained economy. Perhaps that new planet in Alpha Centari has bug-like aliens, too.