Any conceivable thing or idea, if carried to the extreme, will invariably produce bad results. The economic systems associated with socialism are no exception. When carried to the extreme, socialism causes things like communism, things which sap personal initiative and create an atmosphere of nihilism. But like all good ideas, socialism can be a very good thing if implemented in the correct way. Ideally, socialism will alleviate extreme levels of inequality, while still allowing plenty of latitude for personal freedom and expression.
Critics of socialism allege that the system will discourage personal initiative. While this may be true of extreme socialist systems, a more appropriate level of socialism will not cause such a deterrent, and will instead cause such initiative to be more balanced in its focus (in other words, not quite so heavily oriented toward greed and materialism).
The negative attributes these critics tend to attribute to socialism are only true in extreme manifestations of the system, most notably communism. Under the communist system, there was no such thing as individual possession – all of the individual’s needs were provided for by the state. As a result, there may have been something of a lack of motivation on the part of communist labourers. This is not surprising. What reason does one have for hard work if it makes no difference to them as an individual?
But the issue with the communist system lay not in the fact that it was socialistic, but in the fact that it was excessively socialistic. Any system will develop these sorts of problems when carried to the extreme. Extreme libertarianism, for its part, certainly has its own problems. Just as radical socialist systems result in lack of personal initiative, radical capitalist systems invariable cause extreme poverty, social degradation, and amorality.
If practised correctly, socialism will strike a balance point between extreme capitalism and communism (i.e. extreme socialism). A well-balanced system would snip the extrema off of the poverty-wealth spectrum, but would not try to force absolute equality, either. This way, the individual would still have control over his own assets, constrained only by the bounds of relative moderation. The ideal system would be more financially efficient than current socialist governments (e.g. Canada, Sweden), and would thus not tax quite such a large portion of the individual’s assets. If this sort of balanced system did end up discouraging personal initiative in any way, the most likely effect would be to cut down on the level of sheer greed and materialism that currently ravages some of the more capitalist-oriented economic systems (namely the United States). Balanced socialism would not, however, discourage a person’s pride and initiative in his work.
While skeptics may brand socialism as detrimental to the individual, their judgment is based only on the most radical manifestations of the said form of government. As with other things, socialism certainly should be balanced by an appropriate amount of its counterpart (libertarianism). If this is done successfully, the balanced system will ultimately prove to be the healthiest of all, both for the collective and the individual.