Political terms evolve and Kevin Williamson makes an rare but important distinction. Providing for the poor from the public sector is not not synonymous with socialism. Socialism is more about government control of the economy than mere redistribution.
from Venezuela Reaches the End of the Road to Serfdom by Kevin Williamson at National Review
Canada in most meaningful ways enjoys a more free-market economy than does the United States, which is why our friends at the Heritage Foundation rank it several steps higher on their economic-liberty index. Denmark has a very free-market economy, too, though it is ranked one step behind the United States; Iceland is ranked ahead of Japan and enjoys a dramatically more free economy than is the Western European norm, ranked at No. 20 as opposed to No. 75 France and No. 86 Italy.
The reasons for these disparities are pretty obvious: The Nordic countries have relatively high taxes and big welfare states, but they also have free trade, relatively liberal regulatory regimes, transparent and effective public institutions, etc. The United States gets dinged for crony capitalism and overly complex regulation. As Nima Sanandaji points out in these pages, four of the five Nordic countries have center-right governments, with the social democrats holding power only in Sweden. But even Sweden has undergone decades of reform in what would be understood in the United States as a generally conservative direction, as indeed did Canada a few decades ago.
Welfare states are welfare states and socialism is socialism, and, in spite of the Bernie Sanders gang and the Right’s talk-radio ranters, they are not the same thing. Welfare states use taxes and transfer payments to enable higher levels of consumption among certain groups, usually vulnerable ones: the poor, the sick, the elderly, children. Welfare states are not synonymous with big government: Singapore, for example, offers surprisingly generous housing and health-care benefits despite having a public sector that is (as measured by spending) about half the size of our own and a little more than a third the size of France’s. Switzerland has a fairly typical portfolio of welfare benefits (including a health-care system that is approximately what Obamacare was intended to look like, if Obamacare hadn’t been written and enacted by fools) with a public sector that is smaller than our own. You can view the data and make your own comparisons here.