Socialism is an economic concept that advocates public ownership of all resources. The production and distribution of resources with a society are then controlled by members of that society collectively or by the government that represents that society. Goods are produced and distributed based on need rather than on market forces such as profitability, price and consumers' purchasing power. In a socialist economy, workers contribute to society based on their ability and receive according to their needs, rather than being paid wages and using that money to purchase what they want. Private possessions are limited to personal-use items such as clothes, and there is no need or ability for individuals to accumulate wealth, so there is equality among the people.
The ideology of socialism developed from the notion that capitalism creates inequality in society. Under capitalism, socialists argue, the wealthy few who own and control the resources and means of production are able to exploit the working masses. These elite capitalists can pay workers less than the value that they contribute, so the capitalists can keep larger profits for themselves to accumulate even greater wealth. The result, socialists say, is a society in which the wealthy are able to oppress the middle and lower classes.
In a completely socialist society, there would be no money. Things such as food, shelter, education and healthcare would be provided to everyone. There would be no poverty and no division of classes based on wealth. Production and distribution of goods and services would be managed by the government rather than being based on market forces, which can fluctuate and lead to recessions in capitalist economies.
Criticisms and Defenses
Critics of socialism say that such a society is impossible to create and sustain successfully. They argue that there would be no incentives for people to work harder — or even hard enough to meet their needs — because they would receive only enough to meet their needs regardless of how much they contribute. In addition, many capable workers would refuse to work at all and still expect to have their needs met. Socialists, however, argue that workers in a socialist society would have much different attitudes from those in capitalist societies because they would not be exploited by their employers. This would create satisfied workers who are more willing to work, they claim.
Another criticism of socialism is that the government would determine the needs of the people in order to meet them. Critics say that this would cause problems because different people have different things that they would consider to be needs — as well as different things that they want, such as forms of leisure and entertainment. If a person's own ideas of his or her needs is different from what the government considers his or her needs, this could create unhappy citizens. Socialists, however, argue that the citizens collectively would be happier because each person would have equal access to everything, whether they are wants or needs, instead of the wealthy elite having greater access to many goods and services and the poor having virtually none.