YOUR OPINION: Misplaced focus on socialism

Dear Editor:

The word socialist is often used these days to refer to whatever policies or politicians a person dislikes. It is simply uninformed name-calling which does little to elucidate political and economic issues.

The dictionary definition is that socialism is a system in which the government owns the means of production and distribution. However, it is a matter of degree. Governments can be more or less socialistic depending on the extent to which they own means of production and distribution.

In the United States we have always had some socialism. Many municipal utilities are government-owned. Public schools and highways are government-owned. The U.S. Post Office and the Tennessee Valley Authority are government-owned.

The pejorative use of the word socialist doesn’t usually mean opposition to someone who favors government ownership of schools and highways. It more often is a misguided effort to object to government regulation of personal or economic behavior. So it is that regulation that should be discussed.

Should the government require drivers of automobiles to be licensed? Should it require doctors and lawyers to meet certain standards and be licensed? Should the law require the parties to a contract to each perform their agreement? Should government regulate the sale of liquor to minors? Should government regulate the way we drive on streets and highways?

Those are easy questions. When the questions get harder opinions start to vary. For instance should government limit their acreage a farmer can plant? Should government require extensive and costly testing before pharmaceutical drugs can be sold? Should government prohibit the sale of complex and risky financial products to inexperienced investors? Should government require everyone to have automobile liability insurance? Should government require everyone to have health insurance?

These questions can be debated. But the debate should focus on whether a proposed regulation promotes or impedes the constitutional goal to “promote the general welfare.” (See the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.)

Simply yelling socialist solves nothing.

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