The demise of the Communist system in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has caused many to believe that socialism cannot exist, either in the present world or as an ideal. I shall argue that, in both cases, it can: but this requires some revision of what constitutes socialism, for if one thought socialism were coextensive with the Soviet model, then clearly the answer to the two questions would be no. In arguing for my revisionist definition of socialism, I begin by discussing what I believe socialists want – the political philosophy, if you will, of socialism. In Section 2, I ask whether public ownership, as it has been conceived of in the socialist movement, is necessary to realize in a politico-economic system what socialists want, and conclude that it is not. In particular, I claim that the direct control of firms by the state is not necessary for socialist goals. Socialists should be eclectic in their attitude toward property relations: there may be many such relations more amenable to reaching socialism's goals than traditional state ownership of the means of production. In Section 3, I propose an explanation for why the centrally planned economies eventually failed, by virtue of their failure to solve what economists call principal–agent problems, and finally critique and amend that theory.
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