Conservatives in the US often use the word "socialism" as a kind of put-down, carrying the implicit assumption that all socialism is bad due to the horribly abusive nature of governmental systems such as Soviet Russia, which was supposedly built around socialism (although it was far more intensively totalitarian than socialistic).
It is only extreme, centralist-authoritarian socialism which becomes oppressive, however. Many essential American institutions are essentially socialist in nature. It is necessary to have some socialistic elements in order to avoid the opposite problem, a kind of harsh social Darwinism which, though seemingly the most fiscally conservative option (and hence often advocated by fiscal conservatives), ends up costing society as much or more than a less extreme approach.
Any institution where service is delivered free of charge, or according to ability to pay, is arguably based in socialism. In the US, this includes the following items:
- free universal grade school education was pioneered by America in the 1850s, and soon emulated by the rest of the world. Education is essential for a functioning democracy, so this is just good basic maintenance. Prior to the 1850s most of our society was illerate because most people couldn't pay for a private teacher.
- free public lending libraries became common at about the same time, in the US and other places
- Medicare provides medical insurance to older people
- Social Security
- public fire departments (many of them volunteer-run)
- public police departments
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