Socialism is a noble concept as concept goes – the government caring for those who are less privileged. However, it has fallen out of favour in the recent times, though it was the poster boy until 1960s or 1970s. Most erstwhile socialist countries have all but dumped socialism and adopted many capitalist practices. What is the reason?
The objective of socialism is unexceptionable – it has been so in the past and will continue to be so in the future. However, the ways and means of achieving that noble objective have been the cause for socialism to come into disrepute. Socialism as practiced by communist governments had statism at its core – a very dominant role for the government in many matters of public interest. That has been responsible for stunting growth of private enterprise and hence economic development too. Besides, the government, almost by definition, is corrupt to a varying extent and also lethargic and inefficient. That makes it a double whammy – the government not doing what is required at all well and also not letting private entities do it either!
Also, the practice of socialism by communist governments has often been too bookish and sticking to their own brand of ideology at any cost was their fundamental belief. A rare example of deviation from this ideology-driven approach towards a more practical one is China in the last three decades and the results by way of faster poverty eradication and economic growth are there for everyone to see.
Another problem with socialism as practiced by communist governments has been their emphasis on “equality”. While equality of opportunity for all is a noble objective, communists have distorted it to mean equality of status. It has invariably led to forcible diversion of wealth of the richer to the poorer – by way of doles and subsidies. That has meant encouraging the poor to remain lazy and discouraged the richer from producing more wealth. Doles and subsidies on a large scale also distort the market in a way that doesn’t help the economy at all.
Socialism was adopted by the Indian governments till recently and unfortunately, statism was a dominant aspect of it with all the attendant ills as stated above. The result has been that India has remained one of the poorest countries with a rather sluggish economic growth.
So, what is the correct concept of socialism? My views are as follows –
- The basic philosophy of socialist government should be upliftment of the underprivileged. But it should be by way of their sustainable economic empowerment rather than provision of permanent crutches in the form of doles and subsidies.
- Statism and heavy handed regulation of private enterprise should not be the instrument of helping the underprivileged. On the contrary, private enterprise should be encouraged so that healthy economic growth is possible. The government should primarily aim at collecting reasonable taxes and using them primarily for the upliftment of underprivileged.
- Just as power, water, roads, communications etc are the essential infrastructure for economic development, nutrition, health care, education and justice provide the essential infrastructure for development of human potential. The government should focus primarily on ensuring the latter for the underprivileged in particular.
- The government should be a strong player in certain crucial sectors of public life like education without trying to stifle the private enterprise. By providing a powerful competition to the private enterprise, the government can indirectly force the private players to provide quality at a reasonable price.