Editor’s Blog: Why terms like capitalism and socialism can muddy the waters

Every intellectual debate has to be rooted in a shared understanding of terms. So when I hear words like capitalism and socialism being thrown around and misused, I become frustrated. It doesn’t matter where one is on the political spectrum—you have to get real about the words.

We don’t have pure capitalism here. We have a mixed economy: Some of it’s free, some regulated, and some of it’s subsidized. There’s quite a bit of what some people call “socialism” in it—and not just Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. There are niche government programs that sound tiny and targeted, but actually aren’t, like the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) that enables low-income families to reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient. Twenty to thirty million families are eligible. That’s not niche. And farm subsidies cost more than $20 billion a year. Both Democrats and Republicans benefit from these programs, and both Democratic and Republican administrations and politicians have funded and maintained them. (And I’m not even going to get into corporate bailouts, subsidies and tax incentives, which are decidedly not capitalistic, either.)

My point is not whether or not you think these social programs and safety nets are worthy; my point is that they exist. They shape much of American life, depending on who you are, where you live, and what you do for a living. This is what economists mean by a mixed economy. France, for example, is also a mixed economy. Imagine a continuum, or a slide rule. At one end is “pure” capitalism and at the other end is “pure” socialism. Obviously, the U.S. would fall somewhere in between, and France would fall a bit more to one side, because it has things like universal heath care and undergrad college tuition that’s so heavily subsidized that it costs around $200 a year.

If you think that sounds foreign and freaky, you’d be wrong. For most of its history, the City University of New York has been free. When I taught there 15 years ago, it wasn’t free but it was cheap (though not cheap enough for my working-class students). Now it’s free again, for those with incomes up to $125,000 a year. No one protests it.

And if you’ve traveled to highly developed peer countries in Europe, or Australia, New Zealand or Israel, and had the misfortune to fall ill and have left with a tiny hospital bill, you’ve experienced the fruits of social democracy—or rather, a mixed economy where the mix is somewhat different than ours. I have to admit being sort of baffled by the argument that a stronger safety net would turn the U.S.—the richest country in the world—into Cuba or Venezuela instead of a touch more like other developed nations like France, Germany or the Netherlands. That’s pure demagoguery.

I’m not an economist; I’m a writer, so I believe that being careless with words doesn’t make for a valuable argument. Much of what these political arguments come down to is, Do you want a stronger social safety net, or not? Choose your side, but accept that we have plenty of socialism in our uniquely mixed economy already.

Photos of France taken by the author

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.