What is Socialism?
When socialism first entered the Overton Window it was an all-or-nothing proposition. Countries were either socialist or they weren’t. To be fair to the pioneers of socialism, it was totally reasonable, back then, to expect that having the workers own the means of production would be a good arrangement.
After a hundred years of experience, all-or-nothing socialism hasn’t worked out so great and I think it’s time to think about socialism in a different way. Instead of asking “Should my country be socialist?”, we should ask “What’s the best way to solve this particular policy problem?”. For some problems (healthcare, education, road-building), the answer will be “Socialism!”. For other problems (pricing commodities, building mobile phones, setting salaries), the answer seems to be “The Free Market!”.
We have a lot of experience with these two approaches now and we even have cases — like healthcare — where different countries chose different solutions and we can compare the outcomes. We also have cases — British Rail, regional water authorities — where we switched from one approach to the other and things got worse or better.
I think we should be suspicious of anyone who still thinks that socialism (or capitalism) is the answer to every policy question and we should analyse each policy question separately to see whether the best solution is social or market-driven or a mix of the two.