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Debate: Capitalism vs socialism

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Which is the superior system – capitalism, or socialism?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alex Deane. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

Capitalism is the world’s dominant economic system. Within it, the means of production and distribution are owned by individuals: private ownership and free enterprise are believed to lead to more efficiency, lower prices, better products and rising prosperity. Socialism advocates the ownership and control of the means of production and industry by the community as a whole: the community is believed to be both more just and more efficient through central planning. In Marxist theory Socialism represents the stage following capitalism in a state transforming to communism; for many, however, it is a goal in itself. This binary view of potential political and economic systems may be thought simplistic, but it is a debate that is extremely common. Necessarily, many other systems are not touched upon.

Argument #1


Private property is essential to the human race

The right to own property is central to man’s existence. Private ownership of property (including land, businesses and goods) gives individuals security and a means to control their own affairs. Ownership brings responsibility and allows individuals to plan for the future so as to provide for themselves and their families. For example, owning a house, a business or some land makes it possible to borrow against that property so that individuals can invest for the future.

The lack of private property rights in much of Africa makes such borrowing and investment impossible, and is one reason for the continent's lack of economic growth.


Under Marx´s socialism, only the property of the means of production is public.

Capitalism is inneficient and causes inequality, exploitation and misery

The wealth of the earth belongs to all men or to none. Under capitalism, property is concentrated into the hands of relatively few well-off people, leaving the many with nothing and at the mercy of the rich for work, charity, etc. This leads to gross inequality, exploitation and misery. Nor is it economically efficient, as the rich have so much already they have no incentive to use their property productively.

Socialism seeks social justice

Socialism seeks to redistribute wealth and to ensure that the means of production are at the service of the whole of society, so that all can benefit and none will go without.

Argument #2


The drive to succeed as an individual is the strongest motivating factor a human being can feel in their work. When work is uncoupled from reward, or when an artificial safety net provides a high standard of living for those who don’t work hard, society suffers. The fact that individuals are driven to succeed is in all our interests.


Many could be motivated to work by a wish to aid their fellow man. Over time, as the benefits of this better way of life become obvious, all will. The impulse to share wealth and material amongst the community, to support all, leaving none behind, is one of the purest mankind can experience. It is not merely possible – it is a demonstration of the progress of our species to a finer, more humane state of being.

Argument #3


In capitalism, the market determines price, including pay - the price of labour. If some people are paid huge sums, that is because other people believe they have unique talents which are worth paying for. If they fail to perform, then they will stop being rewarded so highly. This is all part of a dynamic capitalist system which values individuality and rewards ability and risk-taking. In any case capitalism isn't a monolithic system - capitalism can have elements of control in it. After all, taxation is a capitalist creation and almost all capitalists accept a role for state regulation to prevent market rigging and to help those in absolute poverty.


Capitalism rewards people in perverse ways. Some footballers or company chief executives earn a thousand times more than nurses. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The poor are fooled into thinking that they can gain in capitalism, when really all their wages do is hold them in place – their savings are swept away in the first moments of unemployment, a concept central to capitalism but one that socialism destroys.

Argument #4


The guiding hand of government is too strong in a socialist system; it means that change is slow – which means that innovation is missed. This isn’t just pro-business, it has real effects on the lives of citizens - people are poorer because of it. In a capitalist system, economies are diverse enough that when problems happen in one sector, others are often insulated by their differences. In a socialist system, where everything is centrally controlled and diversity is non-existent, when government gets things wrong, everyone suffers. Ultimately, socialist systems are so inefficient and corrupt that labour has to be forced for the state to continue functioning (though this may also be a logical outcome of thinking less of the importance of individual freedoms compared to some abstract communal good). The failure of the USSR and other command economies shows the poverty of socialism and the failure of central planning, as on a smaller scale does the failure of nationalised industries in many western countries.


Economies in capitalist systems are essentially unplanned, so they often crash, producing depressions that damage the lives of millions. Socialist economies are planned, which means that problems can be foreseen and prevented. Ultimately, socialism guides with the aim of human happiness in mind, rather than the glorification or gratification of a particular individual or class. To gain this for all rather than just for some requires an element of social control – the excesses of capitalism will forever mean that too many fall by the wayside as the strong profit, and the weak are left behind. Critics who point to the failure of the soviet bloc don't understand that this was not true socialism, which has never been properly tried, but a corrupt version of central planning which served selfish elites rather than the good of the people as a whole. Examples such as Britain's National Health Service, or the European social model of welfare provision show the strengths of a socialist approach.

Argument #5


In capitalist systems, society is ruled by the individual. Who would want to live any other way? In socialist systems, society is ruled by the state. Why would one want to live like that?


In socialist systems, society is ruled by the people. Who would want to live any other way? In capitalist systems, society is ruled by money. Why would one want to live like that?

Argument #6


Competition yields better products and more efficient processes in all fields of man's activity. Whilst it is true that monopolies sometimes form, these are combated by regulatory methods like monopolies commissions (witness attempts to break up Microsoft, or regulators forbidding the merger of some airlines on competition grounds). So capitalism actively tries to stop monopolies. On the other hand, monopolies are inevitably a part of every aspect of activity in socialist systems - the monopoly of the state.


It is false to say that capitalism secures competition automatically. As everyone knows, monopolies are often formed under capitalist systems. Capitalist monopolies are pernicious - they mean that individuals profit obscenely as they can charge exorbitant costs, since citizens cannot obtain services anywhere else. On the other hand, socialist monopolies are benign since the state has the interests of citizens at heart, rather than the enrichment of a particular person.

Argument #7


Socialism cannot protect human rights because it seeks the good of


Capitalism may use the language of human rights, but it only really respects the right of the weak to starve in the gutter, and the right of the strong to keep them there. Socialism understands rights more widely and fully, and provides for the right to work, the right to an education, and to health care free at the point of use. It cannot be right for a few individuals to block the progress of all towards these great goals.



  • This House believes that capitalism is better than socialism
  • This House believes in the sanctity of private ownership
  • This House prefers capitalism

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