Can a good government embrace both capitalism and socialism?

People's opinions concerning what qualifies as a good government can vary greatly.
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Capitalism and socialism have been blended together in differing amounts around the globe throughout the 20th century. What brought the two together in the first place? Pure capitalism emerged from the Age of Enlightenment's revolutionary attitude toward personal liberty, individualism and a decrease in governmental meddling. For a number of years, capitalism reigned supreme. But with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, people started to realize something. Once capitalists saw how much dough they could rake in at the expense of their workers, and with those workers having very little say in the matter, it became clear that a little compromise could be helpful.

So in the United States, as an example, the federal government started to rejoin the game and control the economy more closely. Companies conglomerating too much and killing competition? Boom: the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The push grew even stronger between 1900 and 1920, and some of the major agencies that were created to this effect include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).


During the New Deal era, these programs ramped up to an even greater degree. Workers starting to raise a ruckus about low wages? Smack down: minimum-wage requirements and the expansion of labor unions in industries like steel and auto manufacturing. Federal agencies and programs from this decade include the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC) and the Social Security program.

Eventually, enthusiasts of capitalism and proponents of industry started complaining about what they saw as a tarnished economic system -- capitalism imbued with too much socialism. But by then, Social Security was in place, for example, and people were increasingly dependent on programs run by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education, among others.

Ultimately, this article poses a difficult question to answer, because it also leads to another question: What constitutes a "good" government? If you feel positively about your government -- like the 46 percent of Americans who reported feeling that way in a 2010 Gallup poll -- then the answer is yes, government can embrace both capitalism and socialism [source: Gallup]. If you'd like to see the situation swing a little further toward socialism or capitalism, then perhaps the answer is no.

Is it better to have an economy that promotes ingenuity and hard work but can sometimes do so at expense of others? Or have one that supports people who are unable to work, but can sometimes favor those who refuse to earn a paycheck? If the latter is true, what social adaptations must take place to promote a more diligent and capable populace? Or should policies reflect changing times when economic inequality means the disadvantaged should get support for societal factors beyond their control? It's a difficult issue with no clear-cut answers, which is one of the reasons economies typically remain in a state of flux.


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