Those words (actually: "Tonight we renew our resolve that --") spoken during the State of the Union Address deserve careful scrutiny. Aside from the narrow perspective of the speaker, one must consider the many factors that would determine the authenticity of the statement.
To reduce the extensive histories of nations and mankind to a simple debate between Socialism and its presumed opposite - Capitalism - is to disregard the complex associations of political, social, and economic phenomena of societies over the ages. The discussion here will touch on only the most basic issues from my personal viewpoint. Let us start with the definitions of socialism and capitalism.
As commonly defined in a dictionary, socialism is a formal structure of the economy where the government owns or controls the resources and productive wealth of a nation for the benefit of all the people. Capitalism is an economic system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Both concepts, then, are methods of distributing the wealth of a nation or society.
Capitalism is the outgrowth of traditions of wealth acquisition going back to pre-industrial societies where wealth was based primarily in land ownership. Here is a very cursory summary, derived basically from Wikipedia:
In feudal times land was granted by a monarch or regional lord to his loyal supporters. Society then was divided into land owners and those who worked the land and were obligated to their lord as servants. As skilled crafts developed and domestic and foreign trade expanded with colonial exploration and competition between nations (during the 15-18th C.), society diversified into independent classes of craftsmen, professions and merchants.
In cities, associations of craftsmen (guilds) and trade merchants were formed, such as the Hanseatic League in parts of Europe, England's Hudson Bay Co. and the East India Companies of France, England and The Netherlands. These companies were normally chartered by the state and given exclusive rights for specific undertakings in designated regions. They were financed by the pooling of resources of its merchant members and by lenders of those times. In the example of clipper ships plying the China and India trade out of Salem, Massachusetts in the 18th C, (as I learned by visiting there), shares of the cost of individual voyages were sold to common citizens. These were the prototype enterprises that grew in size with industrial expansion to become the corporations of today
Private and state enterprises in the 15th C. were initially financed by wealthy families acting as investors or lenders, such as the Medici of Italy, and later in the 18th C., the Rothschilds. To finance the rapid developments of the new industrial age at the beginning of the 19th C. - to build the factories, railroads, shipping, etc. - and to finance the wars of competition among colonial powers, the wealthy family institutions grew into the complex system of local, national, and international banking and finance of today that is intrinsically bound to the affairs of government and the industrial world. The investors in these financial institutions are the virtual owners, by a paper trail through the contemporary corporate world, of the mass of wealth of a country.
The seemingly limitless opportunities for wealth creation in this period of rapid industrial expansion and trade were accelerated by extensive developments in science and technology throughout the 19th and 20th C, continuing through present times. In this "laissez-faire" free-for-all environment, few restrictions were imposed on the flourishing economy, resulting in material abundance that radically transformed the social conditions and standards of living of industrial nations into what we have today. Capitalism is often proclaimed to be an essential attribute of Democracy.
There is no question of the great benefits to civilization from this era of government-promoted free-enterprise economics under the label of "Capitalism", but now we must take stock of our present circumstances and question whether it is not past the time for a different mode of operation. Originally, the on-going industrial revolution nurtured by capitalism filled a deficit of necessities and amenities in an undeveloped, less-populated world. But the unquenched ambition of competitive capitalism has resulted in an overwhelming flood of material goods that is suffocating and poisoning the planet, causing wild fluctuations in social and economic stability, while not establishing a peaceful and harmonious world for all.
Socialism has an equally long history. It is commonly described by opponents as a tyranny suppressing the freedoms and creativity of individuals, per the Ayn Rand philosophy. This view stems from the association of socialism with the extremities of communist Soviet Union, Mao China and North Korea presently, among others, which were military dictatorships imposed over backward peasant populations. Behind the facade of socialism, these regimes exhibited the same traditions of corruption, suppression and inefficiency of their feudal predecessors.
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