by Charles C. Camosy
[Editor’s Note: Dr. Mary Hirschfeld is Associate Professor of Economics and Theology in the Department of Humanities at Villanova University. She holds Ph.D.s in economics (Harvard, 1989) and theology (Notre Dame, 2013). Her work is along the borderline between economics and theology. In addition to having published numerous articles, she is the author of Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy (Harvard University Press, 2018), which has been awarded the 2019 Economy and Society International Award by the Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice. She spoke to Charles Camosy about the current debate over socialism and capitalism taking place in the United States.]
Camosy: Lots of talk about socialism in the news these days. Bernie Sanders is a front-runner for president. Younger people say they are increasingly skeptical of capitalism and much more open to socialism. But I also get the sense that these terms aren’t being used with much precision. Speaking as a student of economics, what is socialism?
Hirschfeld: “Socialism” is not an analytical term in economics. Instead, economists would use more precise terms to pick up various institutional features one might call “socialism.” So you can find economic analysis of central planning, or state-run enterprises, or the size of government-run welfare programs and the like. I should add that the term “capitalism” is much the same – a word that figures in public discourse much more than it does in economic analysis.
Originally published on 19 March 2019 at Crux.