The question of how to define “Socialism” is actually extremely complex.
This is because it is a word with competing meanings. Think of how in the US the word “literally” can mean both exactly and in a hyperbolic sense.
So, what are the things that the word “Socialism” can mean?
Well, the original concept was an idealized theory that philosophers still talk about. Basically, there would be democratic control over the means of production and people would have access to the things they needed. This theory is similar in many ways to Communism, which is actually a really neat idea (though it has never been truly achieved on Earth- it’s still fun to learn about.)
However, this definition of Socialism is obviously more of an economic theory.
What about the completely different Political Theory of Democratic Socialism?
Well, that’s where it gets complicated.
All the successful countries have an economy that is based on Capitalism. Private companies control the means of production and the flow of products. The people have access to necessities only through the structure of private companies, and have no direct control over what is offered or the price of the goods.
But every country also chooses to Socialize some things (that means that some things are controlled by the government.)
Why is this a good idea?
Well, take the example of your house being on fire. When this happens, of course you want to be able to call the fire department and have them put it out. You don’t want to have to give your credit card information over the phone before they will come, and you don’t want to get a huge bill for their services.
So basically, as a society every country has decided that some things should be public (or “Socialized.”) This just means that those things are not private. The government collects taxes, and then those taxes are used to provide basic thins. In most countries, those things are education, healthcare, police and fire services, and transportation subsides.
However, in the US we do something odd. We Socialize corporate losses. If the big banks make poor investments and therefore go bankrupt, we bail them out with your tax money. If a big auto maker loses money, we give them government money. Etc… This is a system where profits are private (the companies can keep them) but the losses are public (your tax money pays for them.)
Some people in the US think this is normal, but it isn’t. In other countries, companies that do poorly will fail, and a new company will grow to take its place. If profit is private, then so is loss. This is much more fair, and creates a truly free market. People think the US has a free market, but if companies can’t fail, then the bad companies will not be weeded out and the good ones rewarded, which is what the free market is all about.
But we don’t just chose to make corporate losses and other odd things public. We also choose to make some things private when they shouldn’t be.
Healthcare should not be for-profit, but we have made it so. The US spends more than any other developed country on healthcare, but has one of the lowest qualities of care in the developed world, and not everyone has access.
This is an odd choice. I mean, we’re Socialist like everyone else. Some things are public and some are private. But our choices are all wrong! Higher education costs a fortune and so does healthcare, but a rich person can let their company fail, and it will cost them nothing to have your tax dollars bail them out. How does that make sense?
So by the world accepted definition of collecting taxes to pay for certain things, the US is a Socialist country and so are all other developed countries. We have simply made some very poor choices about what to Socialize and what to leave private.